It is no secret that Kentucky will be a young team next season. With five players deciding to take their talents to professional basketball, along with Nate Sestina obviously moving on, the lack of veteran leadership is inevitable. Creighton graduate transfer Davion Mintz will provide some experience in the backcourt, but after missing out on Matt Haarms, the frontcourt will be relying on a couple of extremely talented freshmen.
B.J. Boston and Terrence Clark are arguably as good as any freshman that Coach Calipari has landed in the last few years. However, it will be the development of Keion Brooks that will be the most important factor to the 2020-2021 team’s success. Keion is a versatile offensive weapon who should have an opportunity to showcase a much more vast skill set than fans witnessed this past season. He was a standout scorer in high school and excellent in the EYBL circuit showcasing the ability to score from all three levels. He has also proven to be a gym-rat who will be working tirelessly to get the most out of his talent.
We have seen some huge freshman-to-sophomore improvements in just the last couple of years at Kentucky, from P.J. Washington and Immanuel Quickley. As a freshman, Washington was well ahead of where Keion was this season, but his improved 3-point shooting as a sophomore could be something that Brooks will look to mirror next season. Washington was just 5 for 21 in his freshman campaign, which is nearly identical to Brooks’ 5 for 19 shooting this season. As a sophomore, Washington improved to a 42.3% 3-point shooter, making 33 of his 78 attempts and became a lottery pick. In terms of Immanuel Quickley, his freshman season more closely resembles that of Keion Brooks. Quickley played 18.5 minutes per game and scored 5.2 points on just 37.2% shooting. This season, Brooks averaged 4.5 points in 15 minutes a game, but shot a much better 47.2% from the field. Keion’s strength has never been his perimeter shooting, but he is very efficient from mid-range and has the ability to drive it in either direction off the dribble. Whether he becomes a lottery pick like P.J. Washington or SEC Player of the Year like Immanuel Quickley remains to be seen, but it is very possible that he will experience a similar sophomore leap. I’ve highlighted three different areas were I think Keion will start to excel next season and will break down each of them below.
The most obvious path to Brooks becoming a major performer and potential NBA draft pick is by continuing to improve his perimeter shooting. He is already proficient from mid-range and around the basket and his 52% shooting from 2-point range backs that up. After P.J. Washington shot just 5-21 from 3-point range as a freshman, nobody necessarily would have expected him to become a 40%+ shooter from deep, so the potential is definitely there with Brooks as well. Either way, with his mid-range prowess, he will be able to score in plenty of other ways as well as he blossoms into a larger offensive role.
In that short video there were eight or so clips from this season showcasing what Brooks can do in terms of shooting the ball. He doesn’t have the fastest release, but it is a high release, which, along with his height, allows him to get shots off against almost any defender. I don’t see him becoming a lights out 3-point shooter a la Immanuel Quickley, but I think it is realistic that he could make one a game at a high percentage similar to what P.J. Washington did as a sophomore. Also, his ability to score from the mid range should force defenses to respect that and give him more clean looks from outside. If Brooks can become a serviceable 3-point shooter and find more good looks from the mid-range it isn’t that hard to imagine him taking a huge sophomore leap.
Despite playing just 15 minutes a game, Brooks averaged one offensive rebound per game this season. He plays with maximum effort, which is the main key to being a great offensive rebounder. He also seems to have great instincts as you can see him crash the glass with an idea of where the ball will end up after coming off of the rim. When you mix that effort and instinct with being a good athlete at 6’9” you have the makings of a nightmare for opposing coaches on the offensive glass. It isn’t outrageous to think that Brooks could have two offensive rebounds a game next season while playing closer to 25-30 minutes, which would also give him an easy extra bucket or two.
There was almost never a time this season when Brooks didn’t crash the offensive glass. In many of the highlights shown here, he is nowhere near the basket when the shot is attempted. However, he flies to the glass and refuses to be boxed out. That sort of effort is what leads to becoming a dominant threat as an offensive rebounder.
OFF THE DRIBBLE
Going back to his high school days, one of Brooks’ strengths has always been his ability to drive the ball both ways. As a freshman, he was never asked to carry much of the load offensively so his opportunities to showcase that skill were pretty few and far between. However, his ability to create off the dribble will definitely be a big part of his improvement in year two.
In those clips you can see Keion’s ability to attack closeouts off the dribble. Especially as he develops into more of a 3-point shooting threat, there will be more and more opportunities for him to drive by defenders. He has a quick first step and with his length and ability to finish above the rim he can be a dynamic threat attacking closeouts next season.
Since arriving on campus, Brooks has put in the work in the weight room and on the court. As a much-heralded high school recruit he may have expected to perform at a higher level as a freshman, but he was a solid, steady presence for a 25-6, SEC Championship team. That is something that is very rare; it just doesn’t seem as rare for Kentucky fans because it is the world we operate in. Brooks has already proven to be efficient from the mid-range and a very effective offensive rebounder. As he continues to develop into a more dangerous 3-point shooter and is able to showcase more of his playmaking ability off the dribble as a larger part of the offensive plan it is very easy to see Brooks becoming a focal point of the Wildcats offense next season. The building blocks are there for Keion Brooks to be the next player development success story of the freshman-to-sophomore leap.