An appreciation of all things Landen Lucas
So this is what it took for the legion of Kansas basketball fans who had spent most of the 2015-16 season — and, really, the past couple of years — trashing every move that Landen Lucas made and begging Bill Self to keep him off the floor and out of the lineup?
Sounds about right. A 16-rebound, 4-block, 9-point performance in arguably the biggest game of the season to date has a way of quickly changing minds.
Of course, even with Lucas’ monster night against West Virginia — and don’t sell him short by calling it anything else; Lucas absolutely dominated portions of Tuesday’s 10-point victory — there were still those out there who called his game garbage and said he was lucky. Those sentiments came mostly from the Twitter trolls, so a quick “consider the source” disclaimer would be a good thing to throw in here. But, still. Why do people have such a hard time giving Lucas credit when credit is deserved?
Just this morning, as I was driving to work, I heard a sports talk radio host discrediting Lucas’ big night by saying he picked up most of those 16 “easy” rebounds because the opposing team was so focused on Perry Ellis, who finished with just one rebound. Offensively, I’ll give you that. Ellis attracts so much attention from opposing defenses that it often leaves teammates wide open for easy shots, some they miss and some they make.
But I’m not buying that when it comes to rebounding. For one, Ellis is not and has never been anything close to a force on the boards, so, usually, one man doing his job of properly boxing Ellis out is sufficient. It’s not as if two and three bodies immediately go lean on Ellis when a shot goes up, leaving Lucas all alone to wait for the ball to fall into his hands. Not even close.
Lucas grabbed some big time boards last night, against a physical team that bumps and shoves every time the ball is in the air. He was a manchild. And he nearly matched the rebounding total of WVU’s entire starting five by himself.
KU loses that game without Lucas. Maybe by a lot.
So it’s time to at least start giving the man the courtesy of not trashing him for his limitations and celebrating him for the things he does well.
And I’m not just talking rebounding here. I’m also not talking offense, either. He still has a long way to go in that department before he can be considered a real threat, but the best part is he knows that. And he doesn’t care. It’s not like this is a guy unaware of who he is who chucks up 15 shots a game when he should probably be taking far less than half that number.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Lucas’ performance on Tuesday night was how well he kept his cool when teammates and opponents around him were on the verge of melting down in a physical, highly competitive game that meant a ton to both teams.
The best example of this came after Devonte’ Graham was called for a foul on a play where Graham clearly did not believe he did anything wrong. With Graham jumping up and down and the pain of officiating injustice splashed across his face, Lucas calmly walked up to his teammate and said, “Hey, keep your composure.” He said it twice for emphasis and then let Graham handle the rest.
Those are the types of things people don’t always see. Or, if they do, don’t always choose to recognize. And those are the reasons, among others, Self is so comfortable playing Lucas big minutes.
He’s a great teammate, a selfless competitor and a guy who would do anything to help KU get a victory.
It just so happens that more often than not, doing the dirty work of grabbing rebounds, setting screens and making life easier for others is what Lucas is best equipped to contribute.
But what’s wrong with that?
Get this: In the 22 games he has played this season, Lucas has failed to grab an offensive rebound in just three of them. And the biggest reason for that was a lack of opportunity. His average minutes played in those three games (Oregon State, Baylor and at TCU) was 9.
Other than that, Lucas, who is arguably KU’s best rebounder, has snagged at least one offensive rebound in 19 other games, grabbing multiple offensive boards in nearly half of those.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been hard on Lucas — and Self’s insistence on using him — throughout his career. So, yeah, can you go back and find things I’ve written that say Lucas can’t play? You bet.
But I’ve been over that for weeks now, largely because, for weeks, it has been crystal clear that Lucas is improving and working his butt off to get what he can when he’s out there.
This team needs a guy like that. Heck, this team needs several guys like that.
There still will be games this season when Lucas plays 10 minutes and doesn’t do much. Self has made it clear that the rotation at the 5 is almost entirely dependent upon match-ups. And Lucas is not able to match-up with the quicker post players in college basketball.
That’s just the reality of it.
Want to know what else is reality? Lucas earns everything he gets out there and almost none of it comes easy.
Remember that when you look back at his 9-16-4 line from last night. If you do, you’ll better recognize why he was the story of the game, why it’s accurate to say he dominated portions of the game and why it’s fair to say KU would’ve lost without him.