Why Svi Mykhailiuk's decision to stay at Kansas is an even bigger deal than some may think
While most people I talked to, both in our business and others, eventually came to believe that Kansas junior Svi Mykhailiuk would stay in the NBA Draft and skip his senior season at Kansas, nearly everyone I talked to seemed to think that Svi’s return to Kansas, should it happen, would have been little more than a luxury for the Jayhawks.
Now that we know the verdict, a deeper look shows that the junior guard’s decision to stick around for one more season — Svi announced Wednesday evening that he would return to KU for his senior year — was actually pretty crucial for KU.
Say what you will about Svi’s game, his defense or his mindset on the floor. The guy did enough during the 2016-17 season to inspire KU coach Bill Self to put him in the starting lineup for 25 of the 36 games Kansas played. When taking into account the fact that five of those 11 non-starts were games in which Self elected to start just three guards instead of four, the young Ukrainian actually really started more like 81 percent of KU’s games a season ago.
Given the number of new and young faces that will make up the Kansas roster during the 2017-18 season, bringing a player like that back is absolutely huge.
Had Svi left, Devonte’ Graham’s 36 starts and six apiece for Lagerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike would have represented all of KU’s starting experience on the roster. Now, instead of just 48 starts, the Jayhawks are returning nearly 30 more.
And that’s important whether Svi even stays in the starting lineup or not.
Enough of a possibility exists that has Lagerald Vick taking another monster step and becoming so talented and productive that it’s impossible to keep him out of the starting lineup.
If that happens, Svi’s return becomes even more important because he will represent a legitimate and experienced body on the bench.
Had he decided to leave, Vick would’ve almost certainly slid into the starting lineup, leaving only incoming freshman Marcus Garrett and second-semester transfer Sam Cunliffe as backcourt options for Self off the bench. Both are going to be good, perhaps very good, players at Kansas. And they might each have big roles as soon as next season. But neither could come anywhere close to bringing the same kind of savvy, experience and veteran presence to the team as Svi can.
And let’s face it; when you’re talking about a team coached by Self, that’s worth a lot. There are few things Self likes more than reliable players whom he can trust. And if he trusted Svi enough to start him 25 times last season, you know he’ll trust him enough to play just about whatever role one can imagine as a senior.
Included in that last thought is the potential for Svi and Vick to play on the floor at the same time some next season.
Graham and Newman next year will be what Frank Mason III and Graham were this year. At least in terms of minutes. So they’re gonna play a ton. But that four-guard look, which worked so well for KU last winter, is no doubt something Self will look to use again next season and Svi will play a huge role in making that possible.
He’s no Josh Jackson. Very few are. But he has the necessary size and, more importantly, the experience in that system to make it an option for the Jayhawks, who once again will have limited depth and experience in the front court.
Don’t expect Self to use the four-guard look anywhere close to as often as he did this season, but he already has said this offseason that his team’s personnel in 2017-18 will dictate that he’ll have to use it at least some. Svi’s return makes that a much more comfortable thought.
Could the Jayhawks have fielded a damn good team next season without Svi on the roster, one that would have been well positioned to challenge for all of the accomplishments Kansas basketball fans have become to celebrating for years? You bet.
Newman and Graham are a dynamic one-two punch, Udoka Azubuike stands to be a different maker down low and with Vick poised to take another huge step and five-star freshman Billy Preston in the mix, the Jayhawks, right there, would have had five pieces that most teams would kill for.
But bringing Svi back as a sixth piece gives the Jayhawks the one thing that has helped set them apart from so many others during Self’s first 14 seasons in town — enviable depth.
Beyond that, the Svi the Jayhawks are getting just might be — and probably should and will be — the best version of the young gun that Kansas fans ever have seen.
Armed with the senior urgency that comes with knowing it’s your last shot to win a title (which should inspire him to take more ownership and be more of a leader for the young guys and newcomers), and also with fresh and rock solid feedback from NBA folks about what they want to see more of, Svi is in line to make his biggest jump yet, both of the physical and mental variety.
If he does, Kansas once again will be a tough out from beginning to end and the young Ukrainian who took his decision all the way down to the wire will be glad he did and even more glad he chose to come back.