“He’s most comfortable as a trailer, he wants to guard the worst player on the other team, his range is unlimited, and he has a quick release.”
This, as you probably know, was the scouting report on me in my college intramural leagues from 2001-2005. I’m slow and can’t jump. But I sure can shoot it. That’s why I love watching Kyle Wiltjer so much. I feel like the scouting report on him is much the same, only he is not trying to win a tee shirt and student center bragging rights. He is trying to repeat as a national champion and get another ring. Despite my distaste for defense and rebounding, I went on from college intramural leagues to church leagues, where I once made a three in Ronnie McMahan’s face. Kyle will move on to the NBA where he will make threes in the faces of the best players in the world.
Kyle plays a style of game that many of us can relate to. He is not an above the rim player, but he is very skilled offensively and specializes in one area of the game; shooting the basketball.
After the Blue-White game there seemed to be some concern from UK fans and even Coach Calipari about Kyle’s ability to defend. It’s justified, I guess. He did look a step slow as Jon Hood had his way with him at times, but may I ask you what you expected? He wasn’t a good defender last year and a player can only improve the quickness they don’t have a little bit at a time. It may be the case that we as UK fans are going to have to live with Kyle’s lack of defensive prowess. Kyle brings so much to the table offensively that I wish we would just go ahead right now, before the season, and make a pact to look at his defense, say “it is what it is” and move on. We don’t need to worry about it.
Let me give you 3 reasons not to worry.
1. Nerlens Noel & Willie Cauley-Stein- On the floor with Kyle and near the rim at all times will be 7 footers Nerlens Noel and/or Willie Cauley-Stein. You’ve heard of them, right? If a player beats Kyle off the dribble, he will be greeted by a player who has the potential to be a better shot blocker than Anthony Davis, or a man who has a hyphenated last time. As we learned last year with Kidd-Gilchrist, adding a hyphen into your last name makes you better defensively.
After whoever Kyle is guarding has taken him off the dribble and had their shot tossed into the Heavy Hitter’s lap a couple of times, said player will either stop driving the ball and try to shoot over the 6’10” arms of Kyle Wiltjer, or ask to be taken out of the game to cry. One of the biggest strengths of this team will be team defense. Goodwin, Poythress, Noel, Cauley-Stein, and Mays are all strong and quick. What Harrow lacks in strength can be made up for in quickness and athleticism. I know Cal always says he can’t hide players here, but it will be rare that we play a team that matches up talent wise. Stick Kyle on the least effective offensive player that’s a 3, 4, or 5 and he’ll be fine.
2. 43 % (35-81) 3 pt. FG- It is a well known fact that whichever team scores more points wins the game. I didn’t decide it, that’s just the way most sports determine their winner. While playing 11 minutes per game last season, Kyle Wiltjer made nearly every other three pointer he shot. This season I expect those minutes, makes, and attempts to at least double. With UK’s youth, we will need Wiltjer’s scoring. Especially early in the year while Poythress, Goodwin, and Harrow are adjusting to the college game. UK needs his scoring on the floor even if he is struggling defensively. Some don’t believe this, but I believe you can make up for bad defense with good offense. Kyle’s specialty is offense.
3. Offense/Defense substitutions- If a game is close late, Cal can always substitute Cauley-Stein for Wiltjer on defense. Though Cal is often talked about as being a great recruiter, he is a very good game coach. He will figure out how to use Wiltjer most effectively in late game situations. At times this season we’ll see some zone when Wiltjer is in the game. His length can be very effective in the middle and you want him to be around to be the rebounder that is getting fouled after a defensive stop.
Is Kyle Wiltjer a good defensive player? No. But you shouldn’t worry about it. Because he’s a great scorer and he makes great videos like this one.