The Kansas basketball team knocked down double-digit 3-pointers in a pair of early November victories. However, it doesn’t sound as though Bill Self is expecting the Jayhawks to have that type of output every time they take the floor.
They were nowhere near that territory in their third win of the season, when KU’s shooters combined to make just one of their 14 long-range looks in a win over East Tennessee State.
It was the worst 3-point shooting night for KU since March of 2015, when the Jayhawks went 0-for-8 in a Big 12 Tournament win over TCU.
So the combined 7.1% 3-point shooting from Devon Dotson (1-for-5), Ochai Agbaji (0-for-4), Marcus Garrett (0-for-2), Isaiah Moss (0-for-2) and Tristan Enaruna (0-for-1), might be a little concerning for Self, right?
“No, no. You know, guys, we’re going to be like this,” Self said after a 75-63 win. “That’s who we are. We’re not going to average making — what are we averaging making, more than 10 3’s a game? That’s not real. But making one’s not real either.”
Four games into their nonconference schedule, the Jayhawks (3-1) are 29-for-79 (36.7%) from long range. In a small sample size, they’re now averaging 7.3 3-pointers a game on 19.6 attempts.
The way Self described KU’s shooting, though, it would seem he doesn’t anticipate the 3-point arc becoming a source of consistent offense this season.
“We can be a team that can shoot 35 percent from 3, 36 or 37 if we shoot it well. But we can have some bad nights, because we’re streaky,” Self said. “Certainly those nights you need to throw it inside, and fortunately we were able to do that.”
Indeed, KU slobber-knocked ETSU in the paint, 54-24. But future opponents will play better transition defense and do a better job of keeping Udoka Azubuike from getting as many touches inside.
Then what? At some juncture of the season, KU will have to knock down 3-pointers to win a game, whether it’s those actual shots making the difference or their ability to connect opening up the floor by stretching the defense and giving Azubuike space to catch and finish.
A career 39.6% 3-point shooter, graduate transfer Isaiah Moss shouldn’t have many nights like his 0-for-2 outing versus ETSU. He had a great open look from the right wing that rimmed out near the 11-minute mark of the first half. Almost 10 minutes later he got an even better view of the hoop from the left corner but missed again.
Moss played too loose with the ball in the second half, with two poor turnovers, to stay on the floor. That’s something the 6-foot-5 guard from Chicago will have to rectify. KU needs him on the court, playing within the flow of the offense and taking the type of open looks he should keep getting off drive and kicks from Dotson, Garrett and Enaruna, or from defenders clogging the paint to limit Azubuike.
The season is too young to project what type of shooting years sophomores Dotson and Agbaji and freshman Enaruna will have. But banking on either Dotson or Agbaji to make a leap as an effective outside shooter would seem premature. Dotson shot 36.3% as a freshman, and Agbaji finished at 30.7%.
Meanwhile, Garrett, a junior, is a career 25.7% 3-point shooter.
If none of those three returning rotation players improve from long range, it may fall on Moss — and maybe Enaruna (3 for 6 this season) — to make defenses respect KU’s shooting.
Most of KU’s 3-point attempts versus ETSU could be charted as good offense. Percentages even indicate that more of those very same shots will fall on other nights.
Only one failed 3 designated as a truly bad decision. Agbaji forced one on the wing and had it promptly smothered by his defender, a rare blocked 3-pointer.
A few others were debatable to marginal. Dotson, who already had made one, took a higher degree of difficulty 3 off a ball screen, leaving a step-back attempt short. The sophomore point guard also dribbled into a missed 3 up top, late in the first half, with a defender sticking to him and 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
In the second half, with ETSU surging off of its 3-point makes, Dotson went for another 3 he could have easily passed up. Dotson hadn’t even used a dribble on a catch in the left corner but settled for a contested try with 17 seconds on the shot clock. Dotson’s fourth and final miss came at the top of the key, with 5 seconds on the shot clock and a little more than 2:00 to play. After using a ball screen from Garrett he settled for an NBA range 3 with a hand in his face instead of driving to create a better shot for himself or a teammate, or perhaps drawing a foul.
Every other KU 3-point try at least made sense within the offense and the moment. KU’s lone make was a quick catch-and-shoot for Dotson off a simple pass out to the perimeter from David McCormack at the foul line. And 8 other KU misfires looked similar, in that they wouldn’t qualify as a bad shot.
Though Garrett missed both of his tries, each came in rhythm and with the defense sagging off of him. They were good attempts he’ll need to continue to take with confidence. Even Enaruna’s air-balled 3 in the final minutes looked natural and open as he caught a pass and elevated. The execution was where he was lacking.
Once Agbaji (5-for-20 on 3’s this season) works his way out of his little funk, it’s easy to see KU’s shooting becoming presentable or better on most days. Three-pointers have a funny way of being contagious sometimes, whether they’re dropping or rimming out. If Moss is his normal self and one of the other guards knocks down a couple, KU could be just fine in a lot of games.
As Self referenced, the Jayhawks shouldn’t be this far off the mark again. Dotson said something similar.
“There’s going to be some nights like that. But we’re going to be fine. In practice we knock them down,” Dotson added. “We’ve got to bounce back.”
Some college basketball coaches go to their bench begrudgingly. The starters start for a reason and when they rest it’s out of necessity.
Few coaches can turn to one reserve, let alone two or three, and trust that something positive is about to happen as a result.
But Bill Self might be in that enviable position before long, a rare coach able to look down his bench and see a variety of subs he would even gladly insert into the starting lineup in a pinch.
And if Tuesday night’s matchup with East Tennessee State was any indication he’ll need that to happen sooner rather than later.
Too often the No. 4 Jayhawks needed team leaders Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike to save them in a 75-63 victory.
They have capable bench players who should spend most of this season making Dotson’s and Azubuike’s responsibilities feel less burdensome.
Silvio De Sousa, Isaiah Moss and Tristan Enaruna were simultaneously the first backups to check in versus the Buccaneers. And the moment the trio hit the floor together it was easy to convince yourself a bench lineup with those three would give any team in the country problems.
At his best, De Sousa, a 6-foot-9 junior from Angola, is all energy all the time. Especially in a reserve role, as he was in the Jayhawks’ bon voyage victory before they head to Maui, De Sousa can exert himself with no boundaries, nor worries about wearing down.
His instant impact showed up the moment he stepped onto the floor, a little fewer than six minutes into the first half. Devon Dotson ran a pick and roll with De Sousa and the big threw his right arm up as he headed toward the paint, indicating he wanted the lob. Dotson delivered, and so did De Sousa, flushing it through.
KU’s lead went from three to nine in a hurry with its best bench players influencing the flow. Enaruna made his presence felt next, utilizing those long arms of his and turning a swipe on one end of the floor into a layup for himself on the other.
Moss was the only one of the three not to score in the first half. But after his 21 points in 15 minutes showcase game against Monmouth, it’s hard to doubt him as an impact backup.
A 6-5 senior who already graduated from Iowa, Moss isn’t perfect. He might even need a reminder on an out of bounds set from time to time about where to line up. But it’s still November, and he is a veteran who will have all that figured out sooner rather than later.
Enaruna is an ideal utility wing. He doesn’t just shoot. Or just defend. He gladly does a bit of everything. The freshman, like the older Moss, blends in on offense. Enaruna can even create off the bounce. Late in the first half the versatile wing from the Netherlands attacked from the left side of the floor, spun to get in the paint and then threw a pass no one except Udoka Azubuike saw coming, freeing the 7-footer for an uncontested dunk.
In crunch time, De Sousa soared in transition while filling in for Azubuike at center. He caught a lob from Dotson off a sprint that rocked the fieldhouse. Shortly after, he blocked a 3-pointer when those shots in particular from ETSU were the ones narrowing the gap.
In the final two minutes, De Sousa twice wisely caught a lob high and returned to the floor instead of forcing an off balance attempt, and he went right back up for a lay-in each time. After the first one, he ran down the floor on defense to block a shot.
“He was great,” Dotson said of the junior big man in the game’s final minutes. “He made some great hustle plays and got his hands on a lot of balls out there, so he was very active. He helped us out a lot down toward the end.”
Azubuike agreed: “After I got subbed because I got tired he came in and brought energy and pretty much helped us win the game.”
Self, of course, thought Azubuike (21 points) was KU’s best offensive player against ETSU. But the coach also said De Sousa had as much to do with the win as anybody on the roster.
“He hadn’t had a chance to play. I put him in and defensively he was terrific,” Self said of De Sousa. “Blocked maybe three shots in the last five or six minutes and then had one great finish. That was probably the best play of the game,” Self added of the big man’s race in transition for an alley-oop. “It was good to see, because he really hasn’t had a chance to contribute in a way I know he’s capable of and he knows he’s capable of.”
With KU up five points and 5:44 left to play, Self subbed in De Sousa for Azubuike.
“I just think that he trusts me and he wanted to see what I can do,” De Sousa said of the opportunity. “I personally think he wants to try to test me.”
After De Sousa, who scored 8 points on the night, contributed a steal, two baskets, and was credited with two blocks and a rebound during the final minutes, he thought he performed pretty well on that test.
“I think I got a 90,” he said. “That’s a good test for me.”
It’s way too early to call KU’s bench unit a great one. It wouldn’t be true at this stage of the season, either. ETSU outscored KU’s bench 19-14.
When the game felt a little tighter in the second half, after ETSU sliced into KU’s double-digit lead, Moss turned the ball over a couple of times, blowing transition opportunities.
“I think he got a little out of whack,” Self said of Moss, who had 2 points in 17 minutes. “He didn’t make a couple open looks and then his ball handling in the second half was real poor… Isaiah’s got to be better with the ball. He was just too careless.”
Plus, Moss needs to be — and can be — KU’s 3-point specialist. The Jayhawks finished the night 1-for-14 from deep and Moss missed his two tries.
Enaruna, who scored 4 points and added 4 assists and 4 rebounds, air balled a wide-open 3 with KU up 11 in crunch time, too.
We don’t even know if all three of KU’s best substitutes will spend all season in their current roles. Yet they’re so promising as three jolts of energy off the bench that they should think of themselves as players who need to be as reliable as Dotson and Azubuike — even if they don’t play as many minutes.
They bring so much to the table between them that they should be a solution game in and game out, and not a problem.
Give them time. By late January leads won’t be in jeopardy with these three on the floor together. And deficits will erase rather than grow larger.
The attrition began in boot camp, when one reserve guard, Issac McBride, left the program on his own accord. Then came another blow to the Kansas basketball bench on Friday night, during the first half of the season’s second game, when freshman forward Jalen Wilson broke his left ankle.
That depth and wealth of talent the No. 3 Jayhawks boasted entering the preseason suddenly looks significantly thinner than anyone, including coach Bill Self, expected a little more than a week into November.
With Wilson expected out of the lineup for at least three months, the significance of every bench player in the rotation just got magnified.
At least a couple of them already look qualified to sub in and provide more than a breather for the starters.
Graduate transfer Isaiah Moss and freshman wing Tristan Enaruna accounted for all 17 of KU’s bench points in a 74-62 victory over UNC Greensboro. But Enaruna, who also secured five rebounds and dished a couple of assists, said he and Moss can provide more than shooting and floor spacing.
“I think something we can bring is a lot of ball movement, dribble drive to create for others,” Enaruna said of the bench duo. “Just involving everybody else who’s on the floor and making everybody else better.”
Both blended in ideally on offense when Bill Self opted to use four-guard lineups for all but the opening few minutes of the home opener. Moss eased into his KU debut (he missed the loss to Duke with a hamstring injury), almost going out of his way to fit in and keep the ball moving. But his natural instinct to catch and shoot showed up in the second half, and the 6-foot-5 former Iowa guard knocked down 2 of his 6 3-pointers.
Enaruna, who went 1-for-2 from deep and scored his other two baskets inside, one off a knifing drive and another on the offensive glass, expects Moss to be a staple of KU’s four-guard lineups.
“He’s a really important dude, because he really forces the defense to guard the perimeter,” Enaruna said of Moss. “Obviously he’s a great shooter. Probably the best shooter we have. So I think he’s going to help us out a lot on the perimeter with kick-outs and all that stuff, which opens up a lot for the bigs.”
Neither Enaruna nor Moss played hurried or lost, and as the Jayhawks continue to develop in this early stage of the season and beyond, Self will need both of them at their best.
“They’ve got to be important. We’ll keep starting two bigs, I’m sure. But they’re going to be important and so is Christian Braun,” Self said of KU’s third perimeter sub. “They’ve all got to play. We’re down to nine guys. If you say we’re going to play four guards, well, we’re down to six players that can play those four guard spots. So all of them are going to have to be important players for us to keep moving forward.”
At some point this season, the bench unit might include David McCormack, if Self rolls with four guards from the opening jump. For now the only big in the bunch is Silvio De Sousa, a junior still trying to find his rhythm, energy and spot in the rotation.
If Self does green light a four-guard look, either Moss or Enaruna is the most likely addition to the starting lineup. But as Self said, that would leave only one of them and Braun as KU’s guard options off the bench.
“Losing Mackey (McBride) early, we didn’t anticipate that,” Self said. “And then this, with Jalen, that’s certainly not what we thought would happen. So Tristan and Christian are going to be real important. Isaiah, we kind of know what we’ve got. When he’s healthy, he’s done it before. But those two will be real important to our success.”
KU’s bench unit could be electric with Moss and Enaruna coming in and scoring, driving and sharing the ball. But it sure doesn’t seem like they will both be reserves for long.
Shorter rotations aren’t a bad thing for basketball teams. A lot of college programs would love to be nine deep. The trick for KU is getting all the pieces to mesh together. And the most natural solution leads to a bench with basically two centers (McCormack and De Sousa) and two guards, neither of whom are point guards (Braun and either Moss or Enaruna).
Maybe Braun and De Sousa will play more in the future. But at the moment KU has a clear top seven that doesn’t include them. That all could change in an instant, or be more of a drawn-out process, depending on how both of them develop and adjust.
As KU looks for its best bench combination to materialize, Moss and Enaruna seem like players who can be trusted. Just don’t expect both of them to be 6th men all season.
Not one of the four four-star freshmen on the 2019-20 roster screams guaranteed NBA lottery pick at this point, the earliest stage, of each of their college basketball careers at the University of Kansas.
Yet not one of them has failed to impress their new teammates and coaches in one fashion or another during their brief time on KU’s campus.
The Jayhawks’ supposedly underwhelming — at least by the ridiculous standards of this particular program — freshman class is full of players Bill Self is convinced will contribute at some point in the future, even if the coach has not figured out quite yet how much KU will ask of forwards Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna or guards Issac McBride and Christian Braun during their collective debut season.
For what the freshmen may — for now — lack in jawdropping talent or five-star power, it seems they are making up for it with the types of efforts that will earn them not only respect, but also playing time.
“They came in here ready to work,” sophomore David McCormack said Monday of what the youngest and newest players on the team have done to stand out so far. “They play hard. Definitely. The whole group of freshmen, they’re tough. They don’t take crap from no one when it comes to practice or games or anything.”
Perhaps that’s why Self thinks all four could end up factoring into KU’s rotation this coming season.
“I think they’re all good players,” Self said on more than one occasion of the freshmen on Monday. “I think we’ve got to figure out some things with the minutes standpoint, which may be a situation we didn’t think we would have to deal with. But, hey, they’ve all been good (on the court since arriving).”
Ahead of his 17th season at KU, Self made it clear neither Wilson, Enaruna, McBride nor Braun will leave the type of footprints as freshmen that some of the more heralded recruits Self and his staff have landed through the years, citing the names Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ben McLemore and Josh Jackson.
“But these guys are going to be really good college players,” Self predicted.
From what senior forward Mitch Lightfoot — he’s already a senior? — has witnessed from the freshmen during the summer, he thinks they can make a “huge” impact for the Jayhawks.
“The thing about these freshmen is they play so hard. They’re all willing to get better from what I’ve seen,” Lightfoot shared. “They like to learn. And then coach is obviously confident in them and he’s letting them know that. I think that’s important for them for their development.”
Wilson, who just committed to KU this past week, didn’t arrive in Lawrence until the weekend. On Monday afternoon, when he left KU’s locker room inside Allen Fieldhouse to head to a training session, he turned the wrong direction before Self redirected him toward the correct destination.
The coach and the 6-foot-8 forward who had previously planned to play at Michigan are just getting to know each other. At the moment Self was asked what Wilson will bring to KU’s lineup, the coach made sure to point out that he had only worked with the freshman once since Wilson enrolled.
“But he gives us size, he gives us toughness and he gives us skill,” Self said. “He’s not going to wow you like some people may think, like Josh (Jackson) could from an athletic standpoint and quick twitch standpoint. But he just knows how to play. He’s a winner. And I think his ability to shoot the ball is probably as good, close to as good as anybody on our team. And to have that as a guy that’s potentially a bad matchup four at least at times during the game, I think, is going to be real important to us.”
All four freshmen figure to prove themselves as vital components of a winning KU team next season. Wilson and the 6-8 Enaruna give the Jayhawks some flexibility and size on the wing whenever needed. McBride looks like an ideal backup point guard for Devon Dotson, and would also feel comfortable playing with Dotson. Braun could prove to be one of the Jayhawks’ better 3-point shooters.
None of them will be asked to carry more of a load than they can handle. And all of them just might end up too hardnosed and essential to keep out of a deep KU rotation.
Though the state of the Kansas basketball roster remains in a bit of flux roughly six months before the 2019-20 season officially begins, one definite Jayhawk who seems capable of cracking the rotation is freshman Tristan Enaruna.
Originally from the Netherlands and more recently a four-star prospect at Wasatch Academy, in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, Enaruna won’t arrive in Lawrence ready to dominate, or even start. But the Dutch forward sure looks and speaks like the type of player Bill Self will love to coach.
When KU announced that Enaruna signed his letter of intent, Self invoked the names of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins while trying to give KU fans an idea of what to expect from the freshman, at least from a “size, athletic ability and skill set” standpoint.
It’s important to note at this point that Self wasn’t labeling Enaruna as a one-and-done 2020 first round NBA draft pick to be by mentioning the new signee in the same breath as Oubre and Wiggins. Enaruna has been on the international basketball radar for a few years now, but the intrigue surrounding him remains rooted in what he may one day become.
Sure, if you squint your eyes just right while watching Enaruna highlights he may sort of resemble Oubre or Wiggins while rising up for a fastbreak jam. However, it seems far more likely that during his freshman season at Kansas Enaruna will favor those two most as a long, athletic wing defender.
Earlier this year, months before Enaruna committed to Kansas, he was in Charlotte, N.C., for the Basketball Without Borders international showcase. It was there that he spoke in detail with ESPN NBA Draft analyst Mike Schmitz about his game.
After exhibiting his abilities in a gymnasium occupied by numerous NBA scouts, Enaruna said his plan was to play aggressively on both ends of the floor.
“A few years ago I was relying too much on offense. If my offense didn’t go well then my defense was probably pretty bad, too. So I worked on that,” Enaruna explained.
According to what the young prospect told Schmitz, he had trouble finding a rhythm during the first half of his senior season at Wasatch Academy, but his game improved during the second half of the schedule by playing “tougher.”
So Enaruna is an incoming freshman who apparently values defense and toughness? It’s hard to imagine a better route to playing time on a Self coached team.
While Enaruna also professed to be a more consistent shooter now than he was a few years ago, his defense will probably be ahead of his offense as a first-year player at the collegiate level. And if he’s consistent on that end of the floor, with his 6-foot-8-ish frame and reported 7-foot wingspan, Enaruna should get to play through more offensive missteps than your typical KU freshman.
Enaruna, like most college basketball players with a pulse, has NBA dreams. In fact, it may be his confidence and willingness to combat on the defensive end of the court that eventually gets him that far.
When Schmitz asked him at Basketball Without Borders about how he thought he would fit into today’s NBA, Enaruna’s response pointed to the “positionless" nature of the game, with bigs capable of driving and shooting.
“You have to be able to guard multiple positions. And I think that I’ll fit in that situation pretty good,” Enaruna said.
While YouTube highlights of Enaruna show him doing plenty offensively — pulling up for 3-pointers, finishing above the rim with his long arms, driving past lazy defenders, attacking off the bounce and dishing to teammates inside and more — it’s hard to watch many of those clips without hearing Self’s voice say “that’s not ball” regarding the level of effort being exerted by some of Enaruna’s victims.
For as smooth as he looks with the ball in his hands at his edited for YouTube best, it will be the not as clickable dirty work on defense — in which Enaruna seems to take great pride — that will make him valuable for KU next season as a reserve.