Marcus Lee strolled into Lexington this season as part of Kentucky’s historic recruiting class as the 25th overall recruit. At the time, there was much optimism in how Cal would utilize Lee’s explosive dunking and blocking ability. Twenty-three games into the season and it seems Lee has not shown enough in practice to warrant much playing time. With that being said, what is Lee’s role for the Cats and how can it benefit himself as well as the team in the future?
To this point, Marcus Lee has seen action in 16 of the Cats’ 23 games. That doesn’t seem like Lee is playing the role of a bench warmer until you consider he has only played 109 minutes all season. That balances out to only 6.8 minutes per game with most of those coming when the game has already been decided. Yes, Marcus Lee is only a freshmen and it would appear that his time would eventually come. Unfortunately, Lee could find himself watching top recruits outshine him from this point on.
As of now, Lee finds himself behind Julius Randle and Alex Poythress in the rotation considering Poythress finds himself in the front court frequently. So what about next year? Randle enters the draft and if Poythress decides to return, he assumes the starting small forward role. Along with that comes more of Cal’s ‘super recruits’ such as big men Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr. Lyles comes in as the 7th overall recruit while Towns enters as the 9th overall recruit.
Simply looking at the talent level, it’s clear Lyles should start as the power forward. Dakari Johnson could very easily find himself in the starting role as the center next season, which would leave Towns coming off the bench. Where that hurts Marcus Lee is the versatility of Karl Towns, who is 6’11 and can shoot, handle and pass the ball. These skills could help Towns find some minutes in the post alongside Johnson as well as Lyles. This means fewer minutes for Lee while the super freshmen take the spotlight.
To make it worse, Lee’s junior season looks to be much of the same. For the 2015 season, Kentucky is currently recruiting eight big men with seven of them being 5-star recruits in the top 15 of their class. I’ll confidently put my money on Cal landing at least two of the recruits which means more big name recruits running the front court for the Cats. This could quite possibly mean another year on the pine for Lee.
Of course Marcus Lee could take strides in his progression and find himself getting many more minutes. Unfortunately, at this point, it is hard to see that happening. When it comes to playing at Kentucky, the top talent will continue to come year after year.
So what does this mean for Marcus Lee? Is a transfer the only way to get the exposure he could receive with his talent level? Not necessarily. Let’s examine what role could Lee play for Kentucky in the future.
Let’s state the obvious first. You’re considered to be a veteran if you come back for a second season these days so Lee would easily find himself as the seasoned veteran of the team. Marcus could be the one who enters early season games on the road with some solid hustle plays like Jarrod Polson.
Secondly, is there another program out there that could provide the talent level he faces everyday in practice? Kentucky arguably has the most dominant front court in college basketball and Lee battles them every single day in practice. To be able to face players like WCS, Julius Randle, Dakari Johnson, and Alex Poythress on a daily basis will surely give Marcus an extra insight into how to guard and score on premier talent. The same remains for the future teams. Towns and Lyles will come in next year and have to shoulder everything Lee has learned when they see him in practice. This experience helps the younger players considering some of the best talent in the country is wearing the same jersey as them.
All the experience and physical development Lee can gain from this point forward, could eventually lead to Lee finding the younger players looking up to him along side some valuable playing time.
So what is a realistic expectation from Marcus Lee over the next few years? I’m thinking a big jump in improvement from season to season. Maybe 10-12 minutes per game next season and if he can bulk up, 16-20 minutes per game as a junior. Maybe he could play the same role as Andre Roberson who played for Colorado last season. He went on to the NBA off solid rebounding and defense. Very similar inside game and rebounding ability so Marcus could be utilized at some point in his career. Just not now.
What do you think Lee’s future with Kentucky holds?