Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey unlikely to assume same offensive roles as Tyshawn Taylor, Thomas Robinson
With eight new scholarship freshmen on the roster, it's hard to predict exactly how the Kansas men's basketball team's offensive roles will establish themselves for the 2012-13 season.
If history is any indication, though, KU fans shouldn't expect seniors Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey to do the same heavy lifting offensively that departed players Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson did in 2011-12.
The reason for this is a 2007 study from Ken Pomeroy that attempted to look at players' offensive roles from one year to the next.
For this study, he used possession percentage, which is the percentage of possessions a player ends by making or missing a shot or creating a turnover with a few adjustments made for offensive rebounds and assists (20 percent is average).
After looking at possession percentages of players one year to the next, Pomeroy came to the following conclusion in his study:
"Players do jump from being decoys to go-to guys in one season, and some even regress the other way. Those are the exceptions. By and large, a player's role on his team in one season is a good indicator of his role the following season."
One of the examples he used from the time was Duke's Josh McRoberts. After playing his freshman year with J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, most Blue Devils fans expected him to carry the load offensively during his sophomore season.
There was only one problem: McRoberts played passively his freshman year (17.1 percent possession percentage), and it's hard for a player to dramatically shift his role from one year to the next.
Though McRoberts' possession percentage went up to 21.9 percent his sophomore year, Pomeroy said the forward still received criticism for not taking over games.
Let's take a look at last year. Did Taylor and Robinson have the offensive profiles to suggest they could become go-to guys?
Here are both of their possession percentages from the past two seasons, according to KenPom.com:
2010-11 — Taylor 21.2 percent, Robinson 26.7 percent
2011-12 — Taylor 27.7 percent, Robinson 29.7 percent
Taylor's jump in offensive involvement was significant — according to Pomeroy's study, only about 1 in 20 players will experience a usage increase this large from one season to the next. Still, Taylor was an above-average offensive contributor his junior year, so a jump to 26.7 percent wasn't completely crazy.
Robinson, meanwhile, was a high-usage guy even when he wasn't the focal point of the offense his sophomore year. It shouldn't have come as any surprise that he could handle a go-to guy role for KU last season.
So what about Johnson and Withey, the two guys who are being expected to produce the most offensively for KU next season?
Here's a look at their possession percentages from a year ago:
Johnson — 17.5 percent
Withey — 18.0 percent
At times last year, both players drew criticism for being too passive offensively. For Johnson, this was mostly focused on his lack of aggressiveness with penetration, as he had just 46 free-throw attempts while hoisting up 64 more three-pointers than two-pointers.
Withey also rarely looked for his own shot, with many of his attempts coming off open looks created by assists (before the Final Four games, a whopping 79.7 percent of his "close twos" were assisted last year).
So what does this all mean?
Well, if Pomeroy's study holds true today (he told me that it should with the amount of data he used), KU fans shouldn't expect Johnson and Withey to immediately step in and become the offensive contributors that Taylor and Robinson were a year ago.
Though Pomeroy told me it's not impossible for players to make possession percentage leaps from the teens into the high-20s, more than likely, both players will end up in the 20-24 percent range.
That would leave a lot of possessions unclaimed for KU.
So who might pick those up?
Kevin Young is a possibility (19.3 percent), though he needs to improve his defense and reduce his fouls to pick up increased minutes.
Travis Releford, meanwhile, seems unlikely to take on a huge role, as he posted the second-lowest possession percentage of KU's regulars last season (13.9 percent).
It appears, then, that there is an opportunity for freshmen Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis (and potentially Anrio Adams and Andrew White) to make a big offensive impact for KU in their first years.
In all likelihood, KU's offense will be more balanced in 2012-13, with the Jayhawks needing a few good freshmen to immediately step into scoring roles.