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A quick glance at Devonte' Graham vs. Frank Mason through 6 games

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Frank Mason III, shown here in a Sweet 16 victory over Purdue, and Devonte' Graham, shown during Tuesday's blowout of Toledo, are not exactly carbon copies of one another, but Graham has raced out of the gate much the way his predecessor and former teammate did a season ago. (Nick Krug photos)

Frank Mason III, shown here in a Sweet 16 victory over Purdue, and Devonte' Graham, shown during Tuesday's blowout of Toledo, are not exactly carbon copies of one another, but Graham has raced out of the gate much the way his predecessor and former teammate did a season ago. (Nick Krug photos) by Matt Tait

If you're looking for a definitive sign about just how talented and impressive this Kansas basketball offense has been during the team's first six games of the season, look no further than the most recent list of the team's top scorers.

Even with his 35-point outburst in Tuesday's 96-58 victory over Toledo — a point total that's worth at least two games by the balanced Bill Self scoring standards — Graham still sits just fourth in overall scoring at 15.8 points per game.

Technically, Graham is in a tie for third, with Lagerald Vick, and both are just one point behind Udoka Azubuike for second. But even after a 35-point explosion that came just a few games into the season, Graham is still looking up at a couple of teammates in the scoring column.

Not that he cares much.

In fact, one of the big reasons Graham sits where he sits is because he spent the first handful of games chasing assists instead of shots.

The bottom line is this: Graham can get a shot pretty much any time he wants one. And he has the green light to take just about any shot out there. But instead of abusing that freedom and making it all about him, Graham continues to prove that he's a team-first guy and will, almost without fail, take whatever is given to him.

If it's a night like Tuesday, when the shot was falling and the opponent had no answer, Graham is happy to keep pumping up shots and racking up points.

If it's not there, or even if something better is — say a hot streak from Svi Mykhailiuk or an obvious size advantage for Udoka Azubuike — then Graham will almost always go there instead.

That's what makes him so talented and tough to stop and what makes second-ranked Kansas so dangerous, among other things.

Graham, like Frank Mason III before him, is the unquestioned driver of the bus. He makes Kansas go, he leads them in good times and bad and the whole reason he's even still here was because he wanted the opportunity to do just that.

He's getting it, in every way possible now that he's a senior, and nights like Tuesday's, where he scored a career-high 35 points and controlled nearly every aspect of the game, have inspired some around the country to exclaim that Graham is doing a heck of a Frank Mason impersonation so far.

While the goal for Graham was never to be Mason — only to have a similar season — it's only natural to want to compare the two given their status as senior point guards who had been around Bill Self's program for a while and were in the position of leading the team both on the court and as the face off of it.

With that in mind, here's a look at how the two stack up through six games of their senior season, with Mason clearly having the edge in scoring — but, again, Graham has not exactly been looking to score so far — and Graham getting the edge in assists, rebounds and turnovers, all in fewer minutes.

Where Graham's season goes from here is anybody's guess. The competition will get tougher and the demand for him to score more also might rise.

But if he can keep up anywhere close to this pace, it's going to bode well for his journey of following in Mason's footsteps and for KU's quest to get back to the Final Four.

First 6 Games Points Rebounds Assists Turnovers 3-Pt Shooting FG Shooting Minutes
Devonte' Graham, 2017-18 15.8 4.8 51 15 13-of-36, .361 33-of-74, .446 33 mpg
Frank Mason III, 2016-17 21.5 4.3 30 18 12-of-25, .480 45-of-82, .549 35 mpg

Comments

Stephen Simmons 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Please let Devonte be Devonte. Frank swept all of the POY awards and was one of the best players in the history of the program. Devonte is amazing in his own right but plays with his own style and unique strengths. The comparisons, while mildly interesting, aren't really fair and set false expectations. Enjoy him for who and what he is, and let him enjoy the spotlight without having to contend with Frank's shadow.

Geoffrey Alonso 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Wholeheartedly agree. Graham has always been a facilitator who can score vs Mason who was the opposite. Furthermore the teams were different. Mason had no inside scoring presence, so it mostly came down to the guards anyways.

Both are great players with different twists on the same position. Besides, it is a long season, let it play out when we get to the meat of the schedule.

Gerry Butler 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Very well put. - -All knows we loved Frank- -a special very special type of player. Yet like you said Devonte is Devonte - and what he does , he does very well. We don't need to compare the two, let Devonte do his own thing and were going to be fine. Not sure if silently Devonte wishes that he wouldn't be compared to Frank - -you'll never hear him say as much. I think this years Devonte lead team is going to do just fine.

Matt Tait 2 weeks, 4 days ago

It's funny how powerful people seem to think these stories are. Even with me writing this blog, which merely looks at a few stats through a few games, Devonte' still gets to do his own thing.

Neither this blog, nor anything else we could ever write, will change the way the guy plays or approaches the game.

Thanks for reading and for the feedback, though. Always appreciated!

Joe Black 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Very well said. Thanks for taking the high road when dealing with others that do not like something you wrote. Keep up the great work Matt.

Tom Ballew 2 weeks, 3 days ago

No offense, Matt, I agree with you. I sure don't think that Devonte is going to lose much sleep over this article.

Pius Waldman 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Graham needs to be a mite more selfish and try to score more. Competition will be greater as the season develops so success will depend on better shooting. So if he shoots more comparison to Mason makes sense. Alonso points out the comparison of bigs from last season is a reason Mason had more opportunities to score.

Alan Dickey 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Thanks for the analysis and numbers Matt. I think your narrative and numbers helpfully illustrate the different strengths of Graham and Mason. It's interesting that Mason scored 36% more points than Graham, but Graham gave 70% more assists than Mason. Both were/are great in their own way.

Matt Tait 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Thanks, Alan. Glad you enjoyed it. Some folks have, others haven't. Such is life.

I thought it was interesting mostly because it illustrates the different roles these guys have/had to open the season where they're the man. With Mason, that team absolutely needed him to put up points every night, especially early.

That has not been the case with Graham, which, I think, speaks to the more dangerous overall offense that Kansas has this season compared to last.

Alan Dickey 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I agree. Imagine if it was a two-and-done world, and Graham also had Josh Jackson to throw the ball to.

Dirk Medema 2 weeks, 4 days ago

The fact that Devonte hasn't needed to score as much also points to one of greater parts of his game and there's even been an article about it. The article was about him getting on Malik about attacking. Devonte facilitates the O by more than just assists. He facilitates by being a mini-Coach Self with that amazing balance of smile and azz kicking. Svi might be exploding this year just because he is a year older or maybe he is being "coached" in that direction.

The other significant distinction also showed up last game. Both years there has been a shutdown defender- Josh & Legerald, but both years the next option has been Devonte as it was 2 years ago as well.

The numbers comparisons is easy but it is all the other ways Devonte leads that will potentially make him even better and at the same time less appreciated - at least outside those that follow the team closely.

Alan Dickey 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I agree Dirk, but Matt wrote a good article about Graham's leadership qualities just three days ago here: http://www2.kusports.com/weblogs/tale-tait/2017/nov/27/the-value-of-devonte-grahams-leadership-/

This one was titled "A Quick Glance ...," and I think it did give us that.

Joe Joseph 2 weeks, 3 days ago

It's only natural to make comparisons. The narrative heading into this season was all about DG and how he was going to be able to carry the load created by the absence of FM. Nobody expected him TO BE Frank Mason, but a lot of people were hopeful he would be able to produce in a comparable fashion to Frank Mason. So, for that reason, it's a tad bit unfair to criticize one for making that comparison.

But I will say, it does feel like near blasphemy to compare any current Kansas player to the only consensus POY in KU history - especially this early in the season.

Steve Bryan 2 weeks, 3 days ago

The way Graham has played so far reminds me of Steve Nash, who could score at will but spent most of the game facilitating for his teammates. Especially in the first 3 quarters. When his team needed him to take over the scoring, he did.

Dirk Medema 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Alan - Thank you for posting the link to the article I mentioned.

A quick glance doesn't necessarily mean just a numeric comparison hence the reason for my comment.

I think we basically agree it is 6 or is it a half dozen?

Steve Zimmerman 2 weeks, 3 days ago

I enjoy reading this kind of article. Thanks for writing it up! We know already they differ in many ways, but both are comparable to win NPoY, in terms of helping the team better and win!

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