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The Impact of a Wing on Defense


Though he only spent one season as a Kentucky Wildcat, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a beloved figure in Wildcat Basketball lore. From his personality to his family background, fans all around the Commonwealth love this kid. His impact wasn’t just felt off the court either. His play on the court, particularly his defense from the wing position, was paramount in Kentucky’s run to an eighth national title.  Of course, tenacious defense from the wing position isn’t new for John Calipari, hyper-athletic wings have been highly important to his defensive success over the years.  Perhaps nothing personifies this theory more than the 2012-13 season where Kentucky struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor.

John Calipari, dating back to his Memphis days, has always been an elite defensive coach. Cal’s teams always block shots from the interior, slow opponents from the perimeter, and rarely commit fouls. While his teams are known on defense for a variety of reasons, it’s the versatility from the wing position that’s the true calling point of Calipari’s defense. Use Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as an example. Last year, he rebounded, stole, blocked shots, and generally infuriated opponents to the point where they couldn’t score.  Sure, Anthony Davis was important, but Kidd-Gilchrist’s tenacity helped shut down a variety of different offensive players. This has been a massive part of Cal’s defense in his time as Kentucky head man, just reminisce about the defensive prowess of DeAndre Liggins or John Wall in the guard/wing position.  Of course, this season we lacked a man who had these capabilities, and the numbers show it.


The numbers for this season represent Kentucky before Nerlens’ knee injury.

As you can see, this season wasn’t typical of a Calipari coached defense.  Why? Well, for starters, it certainly wasn’t the play of our big men. Up until Nerlens’ knee injury, he was neck-and-neck with Anthony Davis’ record block pace and was the team leader in steals by a significant margin.  Willie Cauley-Stein, while certainly not Nerlens’ equal, was a very capable defender, blocking 60 shots and stealing 24 balls on the season.  This duo was excellent at patrolling the lane, but their counterparts who were guarding the perimeter just couldn’t get the job done.  This low level of guard play during the 2013 campaign wasn’t something to write home about as it frequently seemed as though we were outmatched in the backcourt. When comparing the size of Kentucky’s guards and wings over the past number of seasons, you’ll see why players like Elston Turner were able to overpower our defense.


For kicks, I’ve added the height of the members of this year’s recruiting class.

As you can see, this year’s squad just didn’t have the size from the guard/wing position that previous teams possessed. Whereas last year’s team had two 6-foot-7 wings in Darius Miller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist who could step out and stop anyone, this year’s tallest perimeter defender was 6-foot-4 Archie Goodwin. With the exception of this season, everyone of Cal’s teams have contained a player (or multiple players) like this. 2011’s Final Four team had Liggins and Miller. 2010’s Elite Eight squad had Wall, Miller, and Dodson. Even his late Memphis teams had multiple players like Tyreke Evans and Derrick Rose who could guard just about anyone.

So now that we know the impact these wings have on Calipari’s defense, let’s look forward to next season. As it currently stands, Kentucky has seven commitments, three of which play the guard/wing position. The combination of the Harrison twins and James Young gives this class the record for height in the guard/wing position.  Not too mention, there’s some pretty decent size protecting the rim as well.  While the 2012-13 campaign wasn’t exactly up to Calipari standards, next year there shouldn’t be an issue defending opposing guards because of the variety of wing defenders in which to choose from.

Article written by Jonathan Schuette

13 Comments for The Impact of a Wing on Defense

  1. I love wings
    8:05 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    Spicy garlic is my favorite.

  2. TMacFromNichVegas
    8:06 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    Jacob likes Cajun chicken fingers in New Orleans!

  3. mikey
    8:07 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    This year we had Julius Mays at the position previously played by MKG, Darius, DeAndre Liggins. When you’re forced to play someone like JM you are not going to be very successful. This year we didn’t have the horses. Next year will be mucho different.

  4. down
    8:07 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    Down 170 votes still vote for tolly ho yo!

  5. Rei
    8:21 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    we still have room for Hawkins and Wiggins too! I read somewhere that Polson might go on and graduate and play ball somewhere else as a GS.

  6. Catlogic15
    8:32 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    Well, there you go.

    Statistics are awesome.

    And goshdangit, vote for Tolly Ho and get this done!

  7. McMermaid
    8:32 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    Great analysis, Jonathan. I totally agree. We missed size at the guard position. We have had a shut down defender at the guard position every year but this year. I am sure that is where some of Cal’s frustration was. Keep up the good work Jonathan

  8. QuicknessToughnessStrengthDesire
    8:46 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    Having a tall wing defender is important, but the height of players does not make or break a defense. I hate to even mention them, but look at the size of UL’s backcourt, who happen to have one of the best defenses in college basketball this season. Russ Smith is 6’1. Peyton Siva is 6’0. Being a tall backcourt player certainly doesn’t hurt, but having quickness, strength and a strong desire to play defense are what matter the most. You’re own chart helps prove this. The second shortest backcourt (2008 Memphis) was part of the second best defensive team under Calipari. They had quick, tough, strong guards on that team. Why is Gary Payton, who is the same height as Archie Goodwin (the tallest defender on this year’s Kentucky team), considered to be one of the greatest defensive guards to ever play in the NBA? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not because of how tall he is.

  9. MacGruber
    8:48 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    Don’t be bringing facts to this board. 😉

  10. Wall2Cousins
    8:57 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    STFU about that cookbook chit….lameaschit

  11. Tim in Korea
    11:40 pm April 2, 2013 Permalink

    Who can be our lock-down perimeter defender next season?

  12. cornbreadmafiacook
    10:50 am April 3, 2013 Permalink

    #11: young will be the man; if wiggins commits, he’ll be hell on opposing backcourts as well

  13. Bubba in Glenpool
    12:46 pm April 5, 2013 Permalink

    Jonathan, great research and great post. It’s appreciated!