When Ashton Hagans and Reid Travis arrived on campus last month, the question on the minds of many Kentucky fans became, to platoon or not to platoon? With a roster that goes two deep and memories of the 38-1 squad pummeling teams fresh on our minds, it’s easy to see why fans would want John Calipari to resurrect the platoon system; however, the more I think about it, the more it seems like a bad idea. Here’s why.
It hurt Kentucky in recruiting
While the platoon system did a lot of good, it also did some bad. Even though Kentucky largely abandoned the system as the season went on, other coaches gleefully used it against Calipari in recruiting, selling prospects on coming to their school and playing 35 minutes per game instead of the 20 or so minutes they’d get in Lexington. As a result, the Cats missed on several top targets in the 2015 class, including Jaylen Brown, Cheick Diallo, Malik Newman, Carlton Bragg, Brandon Ingram, and Stephen Zimmerman. In May 2015, Calipari even wrote on his website that he never wanted to platoon again.
“If you ask me if I’m ever going to platoon again, my answer is NO,” Calipari wrote. “Last season was an absolute outlier. It’s just not the way I like to coach. I would rather play seven or eight guys because I believe that gives us the best chance to win. I think we wrote the book on platooning this year, but I hope we stick it on the shelf and never have to use it again.”
Calipari wants player to fight for minutes
Naturally, Calipari has already been asked about platooning with this group, and while he didn’t totally rule it out, he made it clear that’s not his first choice.
“It’s not something I would want to do,” Cal said at a recent satellite camp. “But if there are 10 guys all within the same [talent level] — we know we can do it because I’ve done it before. But it’s not something I want to do. I want guys to compete. This isn’t communism. Somebody is way better than you, he plays and you don’t.”
Last week, Cal doubled down, telling reporters on the SEC Summer Teleconference that he wants six to seven players averaging in double figures, an unprecedented feat that would be even more difficult using the platoon system. (In 2014-15, only three players averaged in double figures: Aaron Harrison, Karl Towns, and Devin Booker.)
“I’d like to have six or seven guys in double figures scoring. There’s no one that’s going to average 25 points a game. You may get 25 in a game, but we don’t play through two guys. Everybody here is treated the same way. The other thing I said was, this isn’t communism. If you don’t deserve to play, you won’t play. If you do deserve to play, I’ll figure it out.”
Too many playmakers
If the early practice footage and scuttlebutt from the Joe Craft Center is any indication, you’re not going to keep Keldon Johnson and Ashton Hagans off the floor for very long, let alone half a game. Same goes for PJ Washington, Reid Travis, and EJ Montgomery. Splitting the team in two platoons is a nice way of ensuring everyone gets minutes, but Calipari’s recent comments suggest he’s not going to keep playmakers on the bench just so everyone can eat, especially after being burned the method on the recruiting trail.
Not enough elite defenders
The 2014-15 team had one of the best defenses in the history of college basketball. As Jay Bilas put it, trying to score on them was like trying to throw a frisbee through a forest; expecting the same from this Kentucky team is unfair. Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson, EJ Montgomery, and Immanuel Quickley all pride themselves on defense, but last year showed that Quade Green and Nick Richards can improve in that area, as can Reid Travis, according to my conversation with Stanford beat reporter R.J. Abeytia. I have high hopes for this group defensively, but a big reason why the platoons worked was the number of rim protectors and defenders on each unit. So far, I don’t think you can say the same about this group, which isn’t a slight to them, but instead, an appreciation of just how formidable the 2014-15 team was.
Too many appealing combinations
The main reason I don’t want Kentucky to platoon this season is there are too many appealing combinations with this group to stick to the rigidity of two different squads. Based on the roster, this is how they could break down into two platoons:
- Ashton Hagans/Immanuel Quickley
- Quade Green/Jemarl Baker
- Keldon Johnson/Tyler Herro
- PJ Washington/EJ Montgomery
- Reid Travis/Nick Richards
The first (left) platoon is powerful, but would you get enough shooting? Even if you swapped Quickley and Green, probably not. I’d much rather start with the left group then rotate in shooting and length as needed. Herro’s midrange game is strong enough he can sub for Keldon Johnson. Similarly, EJ Montgomery’s length and ability to catch lobs could put him into the starting lineup before long. If Jemarl Baker is the type of shooter we’ve heard he is, there’s no reason why he couldn’t rotate in at the two. By sticking to two platoons, look at all that mix-and-match fun you’re missing out on.
Look, I get it. Kentucky basketball was rarely as fun as it was when the tanks came over the hill and demoralized teams left and right. But just because you can platoon doesn’t mean you have to, or, in this case, should.
…All of that said, I fully expect Calipari to use it at least once in the Bahamas to mess with us all.