Jayhawks still searching for early-season Lagerald Vick
Count Kansas basketball coach Bill Self in the group of people wondering what exactly has happened to KU junior Lagerald Vick during recent weeks.
Vick, who exploded during the early portion of the season and actually was leading this team in scoring at around 18 points per game toward the end of the non-conference slate, has cooled off considerably since the start of Big 12 play and is not making nearly the kind of impact he was early nor operating as the same kind of on-the-court presence he had been either.
On paper, Vick's numbers don't look all that different nor are they alarming. He's still averaging 14.1 points per game (fourth on a team that features five players averaging double figures) and is third on the team in minutes played at 33.1 per game, just 0.6 minutes behind Svi Mykhailiuk.
So, clearly, the Jayhawks need Vick out there and, given the fact that they now have won five in a row since falling to Texas Tech, he evidently is doing enough right to help this team win.
But many of those wins have been nail-biters and the belief in most circles is that if Vick were just playing and producing closer to his early-season form, those down-the-wire thrillers might have been comfortable victories.
Heck, a case could even be made for Kansas being unbeaten in Big 12 play if Vick were playing closer to his ceiling. His two-point, two-rebound disappearing act in 34 minutes against Texas Tech was by far the low point of his season. And if he just had hit his averages in that game, KU likely would have had a shot to win.
Because Vick has been underwhelming lately and other Jayhawks have been coming on — namely Malik Newman, Udoka Azubuike and, of course, the arrival of newcomer, Silvio De Sousa — we have not had any opportunities of late to talk with Vick to find out what's changed for him in terms of production. He's a tough nut to crack, though, so even talking to him might not provide answers.
And it's almost impossible to tell from the outside looking in exactly what's going on. At the outset of every recent KU game, Vick has looked locked in, bouncing up and down with the kind of swagger you'd expect just before the opening tip and staring at opponents with that confident-bordering-on-cocky grin before the game tips off.
But he's just not playing with the same kind of tenacity and attack-first mentality. And Self, slowly but surely, is starting to point that out.
“We were playing four against five,” Self said of his offense after the Baylor victory. “I hate to say that, but Lagerald and Marcus (Garrett) didn't do anything offensively. Marcus tried to get in there and stuff, but he missed some easy shots and really wasn't a factor. And then, in a game like that, where we've been playing four guards all year long, you'd think a junior (Vick) would be able to get in there and make a play or just force help or do something and we were never able to do that. It was ugly. And hopefully we can correct some things moving forward.”
After scoring 21 points in KU's Big 12 opener — a road win at Texas that capped a stretch of six games in double figures out of the past seven at the time — Vick has reached double digits in scoring just once in the last six games. And even that was a barely-got-there, 10-point effort against K-State.
In that time, Vick is averaging just 7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game — half of his scoring average for the season and nearly two full rebounds fewer than his average — despite playing nearly the same number of minutes — 32 minutes per night during this recent outing vs. 33.1 mpg for the season.
Self's not saying he needs or expects Vick to hit 20 points every night. But he is saying that he has to be more of a factor and wants him to use his skill set to make the defense uncomfortable and make plays for other Jayhawks.
“The way that we've been designed to play with four guards is to be aggressive and attack,” Self said. “And (vs. Baylor) we had one guy out there that never put us in a position to put the defense on their heels. And I think that makes us easier to guard.”
Because KU has not lost these games, it's hard to be too critical of Vick especially given the fact that he has played so many minutes in each win and had stretches where he came up big.
But after subtly critiquing Vick's funk and hoping for better days ahead after recent outings, Self went a little stronger following last Saturday's three-point Baylor victory, a clear sign that Self is still in search of the right buttons to push to get Vick back to form.
“Physically, we’re just getting whipped,” said Self after last weekend's Baylor game. “Lagerald’s getting his ass kicked every day.”
The quote did not end there. Self went on to call out Udoka Azubuike, Svi Mykhailiuk and the KU guards while praising the effort put out by freshman Marcus Garrett.
But the fact that Self used the strongest language on Vick is an indicator of the expectations the KU coach has for one of the few veterans that KU has — and needs — on this roster.
It's not hard to see that a return to normal by Vick not only would make the Jayhawks much tougher to beat in their chase for that 14th straight Big 12 title but also when the postseason rolls around. Especially when you consider that Newman has started to turn a corner and Azubuike continues to develop as an unstoppable offensive force.
There's still plenty of time for Vick to get that early-season magic back. The only question is, will he?