It’s been eight days since Kevin Knox shocked the Big Blue Nation by committing to Kentucky. Naturally, the addition of a Top 10 player in the class of 2017 created excitement. Now that the dust has settled, there’s an elephant in the room: Calipari has too many forwards.
John Calipari doesn’t have many weaknesses as a recruiter, but he always struggled to recruit true small forwards. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is an exception, but MKG is not an offensive player. This year he has not just one, but three small forwards in his recruiting class who excel offensively. Along with the returning players, here’s who will be in the crowded frontcourt:
- Kevin Knox
- Jarred Vanderbilt
- P.J. Washington
- Sacha Killeya-Jones
- Wenyen Gabriel
- Tai Wynyard
- Nick Richards
- Mo Bamba (maybe)
Even though Calipari has excelled with size (the 2015 team started three guys 6’10” and over), only Richards and Bamba are true centers. For arguments sake, I’ll leave Bamba out of the equation. That leaves six players vying to play two forward positions. There are a few ways Calipari can make it work.
Tai Wynyard and P.J. Washington are both bruisers on the defensive end of the floor. Exceptional rebounders with a wide base, they can sacrifice some size and still adequately defend the opponent’s center.
This leaves room for the others to stretch the floor. Gabriel, Knox and Vanderbilt are all at their best facing the basket and can extend their game all the way to the three-point line. SKJ doesn’t have that range, but that’s more of an assumption because we haven’t seen much of him since high school.
With Richards in the middle, Calipari can still employ three other small forwards because of their versatility. Knox and Vanderbilt weren’t great three-point shooters during their senior seasons, but have dramatically improved their shooting over the last six months. Each of them could play on the wing, while Washington or Killeya-Jones plays the four-spot. This puts four players on the court at 6’8″ and above.
Spacing. The last two seasons Calipari has had two of his best backcourts. Spreading the floor, he let them use space to create shots near the rim or find an open man an the three-point line.
Nobody in college basketball is more adaptable than Calipari, but if Hamidou Diallo does not return, the Cats will only have two players (Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) who can truly create off the dribble. As basketball becomes more perimeter-oriented, next year’s team is going in the opposite direction.
There will be some growing pains at the start of the season, but if there’s a will, there’s a way.