Although he's capable of scoring more, does KU guard Devonte' Graham need to?
So far this season, Kansas junior Devonte’ Graham has made up one half of the best backcourt in college basketball and done so without having the kind of season anybody expected he would.
A common pick for player most likely to lead the 2016-17 Jayhawks in scoring before the season began, Graham has done that exactly one time in 24 games this season (Jan. 21 vs. Texas).
Graham’s partner in crime, national player of the year candidate Frank Mason III, has led KU’s offensive attack 17 times and currently leads the Big 12 in scoring at 20.4 points per game. If he keeps up his current pace, Mason will become the first player in Big 12 history to average 20 points and five assists per game during an entire season.
For now, though, let’s focus on Graham. There will be plenty of time to write and read about Mason in the coming weeks.
While Mason has done a lot of the heavy lifting for KU’s offense this season, freshman Josh Jackson has led the Jayhawks in scoring five times and reserve sophomore Lagerald Vick is right there with Graham in leading KU in scoring once, Nov. 29 vs. Long Beach State.
Which brings me to the whole point of this blog. Monday night in Manhattan, where the Jayhawks completed the season sweep of the Wildcats with a hard-fought, 74-71 victory, Graham was one of three Kansas players in double figures, joining Mason (21) and Jackson (18) to lead KU to the victory.
Graham’s 10 points came on just five shots, as he hit 2-of-5 from the field, including two clutch 3-pointers and all four free throws he attempted.
When you consider the fact that he added seven rebounds and six assists, you can’t classify Graham’s outing as anything other than a wildly productive night.
My issue, though, wasn’t his production. It was the number of shots. I get that Graham has settled into a role where he defers to the red-hot Mason, clears the way for the crazy-talented Jackson and finds other ways to impact the game, be it by keeping the ball moving, defending, picking specific spots to score or some combination of the three.
But is Graham taking five shots really a good thing, especially on a night when Vick attempted seven?
Graham has played the second-most minutes (827) and attempted the third-most shots (243) on the team to date, so it’s not like this is some kind of epidemic. Far from it, in fact.
All three players who make KU’s offense go have settled very nicely into their specific roles and seem to be comfortable letting things play out the way they will. That’s an advantage for Kansas every night because it makes the Jayhawks difficult to prepare for and even more difficult to stop.
There’s no doubt that Graham is a willing and capable scorer. He has shown that throughout his career and has had stretches, even halves, this season when he shot lights out only to pull back and focus on other aspects of the game — most notably, winning — the rest of the time.
Graham is averaging 13.3 points per game — good for 13th in the conference — so he’s making the most of his shots when he takes them. I just think he could stand to take more. Not at the expense of Mason or Jackson, of course, but there should not be another game the rest of the way where Vick takes more shots than Graham. That now has happened five times this season, but, prior to Monday, had not happened since KU topped Davidson on Dec. 17. It would be good news for Kansas if it was merely a fluke and not a sign of things to come.
This team needs Graham to factor heavily into the offense and put pressure on opposing defenses from start to finish, if for no other reason than to continue to ease the squeeze opponents can put on Mason and Jackson.
One final point about Graham’s season thus far, for those of you who made Graham your pick when asked before the season who would lead KU in scoring, present typists included. Consider this about Graham’s current 13.3 points per game average: In four of the previous 13 Kansas seasons under Bill Self, that total would have been right there in the mix to finish as KU’s leading scorer. And two other times a 13.3 average would have put Graham just a couple of points behind the team leader.
There are a dozen other ways to do it, but those facts, at least to me, further hammer home just how special of a season Mason is having.