Last season, as I’m sure you remember, Kentucky won their eighth national championship and with it came the departure of the six main stars. While those six either graduated or departed for greener NBA pastures, one player who logged significant playing time returned for his Sophomore season, Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer in his Freshman campaign was known as an offensive specialist who was devastating from the perimeter and possessed a sweet baby hook down low, but he did show his youth at times on the defensive end of the floor. Recently, Kyle took part in the Adidas Nations Camp and didn’t perform as well as he probably would’ve enjoyed. While it looks concerning when you view his stat sheet in that game, just know that the numbers he posted there are as meaningful as the points on “Whose Line is it Anyway” (That show needs to come back). Anyway, the best way to predict future performance in my mind is to look back at his past body of work. So, to get an idea of how he may perform this season I went back and looked through Wiltjer’s numbers to see where work is needed to become one of college basketball’s breakout Sophomore stars.
Wiltjer was very efficient for a Freshman in his short time on the floor, he finished the season with an Offensive Rating of 112.8 while using 20.8 of the team’s possessions while on the floor (note that a rating of 100.0 at 20% of possessions is around average). He did this by shooting a spectacular 43.2% from three (35-81), 81.5% from the charity stripe (22-27), and rebounding nearly 7% of available offensive rebounds while he was in the game. But, improvement is needed in his interior scoring as he shot only 44.4% from two (36-81), and turned the ball over on nearly 17% of personal possessions (a high number of turnovers won’t show in his basic numbers due to low playing time). It’s no secret that Kyle wasn’t the team’s best defender, he did block 17 shots in his brief playing time, but some of the issues with his defense were his foul prone nature, committing 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes (the highest on the team last season of people who logged significant minutes), and the tendency to look lost on defense. But, that’s something you must look at film to truly measure for yourself. So now that we know his statistical strengths and weaknesses, how will he fit on this team?
It’s safe to assume Wiltjer’s role will be somewhat similar to last season’s campaign, after all a 43% three point shooter needs to continue doing just that, but there should be much more emphasis on interior play this season. While reviewing some game highlights of Wiltjer’s play he did have a tendency to look a bit timid down low against high level competition, but he also showed some brilliant post moves like this assertive play against Samford and the memorable hook against North Carolina. The encouraging thing about those clips is that he looks settled when his back is to the basket. The things keeping him from doing that full time last season, in my mind, were his strength and quickness. An off-season of conditioning should do wonders for Kyle in those departments, not too mention it should tremendously aid his confidence (the added strength should assist with ball protection down low as well).
It will be Wiltjer’s defensive improvement that will be the difference in an above average season and an excellent one. Last season he finished with a defensive rating of 97.8 which was second to last on the team. His foul prone nature was the main detractor in his performance, as stated earlier he fouled an average of 3.8 times per 40 minutes. To me there are two different things to conclude from fouls per 40 minutes, either a player is aggressive in obtaining his fouls (someone who goes for steals and rebounds, an MKG type) or someone who is passive (fouling on shots) in getting whistled. Wiltjer was an example of the latter. After reviewing some of his fouls last season he did tend to get beat often which was a testament to his strength and quickness (or lack there of). Much like his offensive post game, an off-season of elite conditioning will do wonders for Kyle in preventing passive fouls like he was often called for his Freshman season.
Wiltjer was a fine young talent in his rookie campaign as a Wildcat. Although outshined by his more talented teammates, one could clearly see the potential. He will remain an excellent offensive player this year with his shooting ability alone, but with some strength and conditioning he should become more confident in his post play (those flashes of post brilliance shown in the video were no fluke). The big question going into next year for Kyle won’t be his offense, it will be his ability to defend around the post and stay on the floor to aid a thin roster. The difference in an All-SEC type season and another above average one will not be his offensive performance, it will be his defense. Given his proven ability to learn quickly and will to be coached I’m confident in his ability to do so.