Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this 2017-18 NBA season: Nos. 10-6
It’s tip-off week in the NBA, and for Kansas basketball fans that means it’s time to catch up with the whereabouts and chances for may former Allen Fieldhouse stars who now call The Association home.
Paul Pierce has retired, Thomas Robinson is playing overseas and Brandon Rush just got waived by Milwaukee. But 16 Jayhawks still appear on the league’s 30 rosters as the 82-game grind commences.
Some former Kansas standouts will be easier to find on national games and streaming highlights than others. To help those who love college basketball far more than the NBA, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 16 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best. We’re talking about which players you’ll want to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).
10. Tarik Black
While it’s entirely possible Tarik Black took on a cutback in playing time by signing this summer with Houston, the former Kansas big definitely found a better basketball situation with the Rockets than he experienced with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Houston, led by James Harden and Chris Paul, is positioned to be one of Golden State’s few challengers and one of the top seeds in the Western Conference.
If Tuesday night’s Rockets upset win on the Warriors’ championship ring night is any indication, Black might not experience much of the potential Houston-Golden State rivalry this season. His coach, Mike D’Antoni, only deployed one traditional post player, starting center Clint Capela, versus the perimeter-oriented defending champs.
Still, Black and Nene will be much more useful and playable against non super-teams. After two-plus seasons with the Lakers, Black might see his averages of 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 16.3 minutes from a year ago take a hit. But the broad-shouldered, 6-9 center is bound to experience far more victories.
9. Wayne Selden Jr.
Not that one Jayhawk would ever wish an injury on another, but Ben McLemore’s broken foot just might open the door for Wayne Selden Jr. to cement his spot in the Memphis rotation.
Selden, after going un-drafted in 2016, proved himself in the G-League (then known as the D-League) this past year and turned that success into a spot in the NBA. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard, though battling a quad injury of his own entering the season, now has another chance in front of him.
Selden should have numerous opportunities between now and McLemore’s return — possibly in November — to demonstrate to his teammates and coach David Fizdale he’s a trustworthy option on the perimeter. His numbers in 14 games as a rookie, first with New Orleans, then with the Grizzlies, weren’t impressive. Selden shot just 7-for-28 from 3-point range and 43.1 percent from the floor, while averaging 5.1 points and 1.1 rebounds in 16.9 minutes.
Still, he should find confidence easier now as a player with a two-year contract and a little experience. Selden shouldn’t have too much pressure on him as he and James Ennis battle for the starting 2-guard spot in McLemore’s absence. And the better he plays the more he will contribute once McLemore is back.
8. Frank Mason III
One of the more popular KU basketball players in recent memory, its not Frank Mason’s ability that kept him from cracking one of the top spot’s on this list. It’s the opportunity — or potential lack there of — awaiting him in Sacramento.
After the Kings selected a pair of point guards, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Mason, in the June draft, they also signed veteran point guard George Hill. Right or wrong, that leaves the recent National Player of the Year as the odd man out in Sacramento’s rotation.
The good news for Mason fans is any time one of those two point guards ahead of him gets in foul trouble or has to sit out a game here or there, Mason will be on the floor showing the NBA flashes of what made him great at Kansas, with his speed, 3-point shooting, play-making and toughness.
(And an occasional backflip.)
Mason’s new coach, Dave Joerger, recently told The Sacramento Bee about what he expects from Mason:
“It’s a tough league and he’ll go out and you know what you’ll get from him is a guy who’ll compete his tail off and can make some shots, try to get up and guard you,” Joerger said. “Pretty tough dude and not afraid of taking shots at the end of the clock and certainly at the end of games.”
7. Mario Chalmers
The Memphis Grizzlies — otherwise known as every KU basketball fan’s new favorite NBA team — apparently love the Jayhawks.
Not only do McLemore and Selden play into their plans, but the organization liked the idea of keeping veteran Mario Chalmers around so much they waived 2016 first-round pick Wade Baldwin to make sure they had room on the roster for Chalmers, whom they signed this past summer to a partially-guaranteed deal.
One of the league’s many ultra-talented point guards, Mike Conley will continue to run the show in Memphis. But when he needs a break, the 31-year-old Chalmers will be there to take over.
The former Miami Heat guard missed the entire 2016-17 season after rupturing his right achilles in late 2016, during his first stint with the Grizzlies. During Chalmers’ year-plus out of the league, Memphis changed head coaches, bringing in former Heat assistant Fizdale, who knows Chalmers as well as any coach in the league.
It shapes up as an ideal situation for the 6-2, ninth-year vet, who has averaged 9.0 points and 3.3 assists with 35.8-percent 3-point shooting over the course of his career.
“A lot of players come back in 6-8 months and they use the season to try to get prepared for the next season,” Chalmers told The Commercial Appeal recently. “I feel like I’m ready. Physically, I feel better than before. I’m just trying to come in and stay solid. I want to be the guy they asked me to be and pick up where I left off.”
6. Kelly Oubre Jr.
Washington has one of the best-fitting starting lineups in the NBA. The Wizards’ bench? Not so much.
Somebody has to step up and give D.C. a legit presence as a sixth man.
[Generic professional wrestling announcer voice] My GOD! That’s Kelly Oubre Jr.!
Oubre might be best known in the NBA at this juncture for his run at Kelly Olynyk during the 2017 playoffs. But that soon could change, with Washington set up to be one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, and Oubre a crucial role player on all-star John Wall’s squad.
In his second season in the league, Oubre quickly won over head coach Scott Brooks with his defensive ability. The 6-7 small forward’s 3-point shooting didn’t inspire much confidence, as he made 54 of 188 (28.7 percent) during the regular season. But Oubre at least picked it up in the playoffs, going 11-for-30 (36.7 percent).
Now entering Year No. 3 looking to improve upon his averages of 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 20.3 minutes a year ago, Oubre figures to be more involved than ever on both ends of the floor for Washington.
“I’m super excited, man," Oubre told CBSSports.com. "That's what I work hard for each and every day. I hone in on my handles and my playmaking ability. But my main deal is defense. [Brooks] also told me as long as I'm playing defense at a high level, playing smart, competitive defense, that I would be able to do things."