Big Blue Nation is becoming a fan base divided in its opinion of Isaiah Briscoe.
After a not-so-good game down in Georgia — after which John Calipari joked (but maybe didn’t) that he told Briscoe, “I’m glad you fouled out” — some are beginning to wonder if Briscoe’s minutes-per should be reconsidered.
That’s not to say Briscoe isn’t a good player; no one believes that. But in a stretch that has seen solid, consistent play from Dominique “Old Reliable” Hawkins and a good game from Mychal Mulder, there is a legitimate debate that maybe Briscoe should take a seat whenever he is in a funk, as he was in Athens.
In the postgame press conference following that game, John Calipari said, “We got a couple guys I gotta sit down with and talk to and figure out like, ‘Look, if this is who you are, you gotta take a step back.’ We gotta go with the guys that are playing. We got four games left. This ain’t like, ‘Okay, we’re in midseason, you’re good.’ This is like, ‘You gotta figure this out.’”
It’s safe to say Isaiah Briscoe is among those “couple guys” Calipari was referring to, and with only four games left until it is win-or-go-home in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, Calipari and Briscoe are running out of time to “figure this out.”
In the meantime, have a look at what, in my personal opinion, makes Briscoe good and what makes Briscoe bad.
THE GOOD: He gives his all.
There isn’t a player on the team who fights harder than Isaiah Briscoe. You know you’re going to get effort from him every night, whether he is scoring or not, on both ends of the floor. He hustles, crashes the glass and doesn’t back down from anyone.
THE BAD: He can’t shoot.
Though it has improved since his freshman season, Briscoe is still a pretty horrible shooter. He’s missed 17 of his 20 three-point attempts in his last 10 games (a 15 percent clip); and in Kentucky’s last five games, he is 1-for-10 from outside and 7-for-17 from the foul line.
|LAST FIVE GAMES|
In that five-game span, Briscoe made only one two-point basket that wasn’t a layup.
THE GOOD: He defends, rebounds.
Of the Cats’ starting five, Briscoe is the best defender and the second best on-ball defender on the entire team, behind only Dominique Hawkins. Briscoe often draws the assignment of guarding the other team’s best offensive weapon and he has done a pretty good job in that role. His D is arguably his best part of his game.
Briscoe is also a quality rebounder given his size, with 5.4 rebounds per game for the third best rebounding average on the team. He puts that wide frame and lower body strength to good use on the block to get in position for loose balls.
THE BAD: He is turnover prone.
Briscoe leads the team in turnovers and it has been a huge problem over the course of the last month. Aside from his one turnover in the win over Tennessee last week, Briscoe is on a streak of games with three, six, four, three, four and four turnovers.
Overall, Briscoe’s 42 turnovers in conference play is the fifth-worst total in the SEC.
THE GOOD: He can drive, draw fouls.
When he isn’t turning it over or taking ill-advised jump shots, Briscoe is as good as they come at taking it to the rim and either finishing or drawing a whistle. Nobody can bully and maneuver their way to the rack like Isaiah Briscoe when he has a full head of steam.
However, when he isn’t getting the call, as we’ve seen a lot lately, his driving can do more bad than good. And when he is getting the call, he has to make the free throws.
THE BAD: He doesn’t fit within the offense.
Kentucky’s halfcourt offense is best when De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo are playing a two-man game with room to work, while the shooters, namely Malik Monk, are ready to catch and fire. But with Briscoe’s inability to hit shots as a guard, defenses are packing the lane and leaving him unguarded around the perimeter, which (a) clogs things up for Fox to drive; and (b) dares Briscoe to shoot, which rarely ends well.
Briscoe is too much like Fox in that he needs to be driving and not shooting, so having him out there with Fox often has an adverse effect on production. Neither he nor Fox can shoot, at all, and it’s never good to have two guards on the floor at the same time who can’t hit outside shots. Without the threat of a shooter from one of those two guard spots, the driving, which is the strength of the backcourt, is taken away. That is why we’re seeing those long-range two-pointers that make you want to rip your hair out. They’re having to settle for those because the defense is packing it in.
While I’m on the subject, I think this is Kentucky’s biggest problem offensively and probably worthy of its own post on here some other time. But in short I’ll just say I don’t think Fox and Briscoe’s games complement each other as they should. They have the same strengths and weaknesses, and Briscoe loses out because Fox is the true point guard, the better floor general and lightning fast with the ball in his hands.
THE GOOD: He has single-handedly won games.
If we’re going to criticize Briscoe for his mistakes, we have to acknowledge the fact Kentucky would have two or three more losses without him.
First, the Cats don’t win at Vanderbilt without Briscoe. With Fox and Monk in foul trouble in that game, Briscoe scored a team-high 23 points with seven rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes played. Every time Vanderbilt made a big bucket in the second half, Briscoe responded on the other end to silence the crowd.
Briscoe also shined in the close call at home against Georgia, in which he had 23 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. And then at Alabama, Briscoe scored seven straight points when the Tide tried to mount a late comeback.
THE BAD: His attitude.
There are some concerns from NBA scouts that Briscoe may have a little bit of an attitude problem. I had heard the same from a couple people I know in AAU circles when he first got to Kentucky and I’ve heard it from some people around campus since he’s been at UK.
We’ve even seen glimpses of it in games, whether it be arguing with officials or getting involved in unnecessary extracurricular activity with an opponent, and it’s not the best look for your presumed leader.
Of course, an attitude can be good — I love a confident trash-talker — but not always. As someone who hears more than most sitting courtside at Rupp, I can tell you there isn’t a player on the court who whines more to officials throughout a game. In those circumstances when things aren’t going his way, I think the attitude hurts him, and in turn, hurts the team.
THE GOOD: He has one of three triple-doubles in school history.
It’s hard to knock a guy who has done that.
THE BAD: He is too short for his position.
Going back to the fitting within the offense thing, Briscoe is a guard who is in his second season out of position because there are two better guards on the team. Last year it was Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray who pushed Briscoe over to the three; this year it is De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. He’s become a small forward in a college point guard’s body.
If not for Ulis and Fox, maybe Briscoe is great penetrating point guard with good shooters around him to make up for his own shooting insufficiencies. But that’s not the case as he has been asked to catch and shoot on the wing, rebound, and guard guys much taller than him, at 6-foot-2.
He’s a small small forward.
THE GOOD: He is one hell of a basketball player.
Is he playing out of position? Yes. Does he throw off the offense? In my opinion he does. Does he drive into “No Man’s Land” along the baseline and immediately turn it over? Absolutely. Does he need to become a better shooter? Yes, yes, yes. Has he ever thrown one alley oop that hit its target? Not that I can remember.
But through all the flaws one can highlight in his game, Isaiah Briscoe is still a guy you want on your team. He is going to defend. He is going to hit the boards. He is going to give 100 percent on each end. He is going to get physical inside despite being the smallest player in the paint and he is capable of taking over a game when he is able to drive and get whistles. Just ask the folks in Nashville or Tuscaloosa about that one.
At the end of the day, Isaiah Briscoe is going to do much more good than bad. But with Kentucky in its current state, the question is how much Briscoe is too much Briscoe when he isn’t at his best.