Sometimes I think people just need something to complain about. When your team is 14-2 and beating opponents by over 20 points per game, when you have stars at 4 of your 5 starting positions, when a #1 seed seems likely, when the team is incredibly fun to watch. But being a fan means being miserable I guess because the main point of discussion I hear far too often is UK’s struggles at the 4-spot (formally power forward). And I am not arguing that Derek Willis, Wenyen Gabriel, and Sacha Killeya-Jones have been good this year. Willis has been good in minimal spurts, Gabriel has been non-existent on the floor far too often, and SKJ is basically not in the rotation. They haven’t been good. But here is my question:
WHY DO THEY NEED TO BE?
Are we so accustomed to success at UK that we can’t accept only have FOUR superstars in the starting lineup and not five? And why does having a weaker spot on the floor then translate to UK being so vulnerable in the NCAA Tournament? Do not ALL teams have weak spots in their starters and much more than one. We have 4 guys who would be All-Americans on most teams but because they are sharing the ball they likely won’t be. No other team in the country has that. Just those 4 guys produce this every game:
Monk: 21.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.0 apg
Fox: 16.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 6.4 apg
Briscoe: 15.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.2 apg
Adebayo: 13.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 0.9 apg
COMBINED: 67.3 ppg, 19.2 rpg, 13.5 apg
That kind of production alone could make UK competitive in most games. Throw in the reserves at the guard spots and Humphries and you get another 13 ppg, 8 rpg, and 3 apg. So the 4 stars plus bench averages a combined 80.3 ppg, 27.2 rpg, and 16.5 apg. That wins games without any production from the 4-spot. Even still, WE HAVE GOTTEN SOME PRODUCTION FROM THOSE GUYS! They are not producing zeros on the stat sheet. Willis is the 5th leading scorer on the team with 7 points per game. Who was the 5th leading scorer on each Cal team?:
2010: Darius Miller (6.5 ppg)
2011: Deandre Liggins (8.6 ppg)
2012: Marquis Teague (10.0 ppg)
2013: Ryan Harrow (9.9 ppg)
2014: Willie Cauley-Stein (6.8 ppg)
2015: Willie Cauley-Stein (8.9 ppg)
2016: Derek Willis (7.6 ppg)
There aren’t any stars there. Maybe WCS at best. So why do we have to expect some kind of star production from Willis? He needs ROLE PLAYER production and that is exactly what he is giving you. None of those guys above gave UK consistent performance. They all were inconsistent players. Every single one of them. So expecting Willis or Gabriel to be some consistent producer is unrealistic.
Now, you might say: what about defense? I agree. Teams can truly attack the 4-spot right now. But again, believing that all 5 guys on the floor at all times will be great defenders is absurd. Devin Booker was a terrible defender. Tyler Ulis had his struggles on that end. All guys have weaknesses and we have to have perspective on what we are going to get from people. For some reason, too many fans are unreasonable right now on what we are going to get and should expect from the 4-spot. We have role players on the roster playing like role players. We should accept they are doing their job and it’s ok if they are not stars. I think we have enough of those already.