Everybody knows that in today’s NCAA, elite teams with elite recruiting classes don’t often have the luxury of Junior and Senior leadership. At Kentucky, Sophomores know that they are expected to take control and act as leaders for the team. This year that responsibility falls on Sophomores Nick Richards, Quade Green, and P.J. Washington.
P.J. Washington had an early impact on last year’s team (although he was overshadowed by the rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander). Washington did go through the draft process and participated in the combine. He was told by most scouts that were interested that they needed to see him with an improved face-up game, to go with his excellent baseline and post play. Perhaps, in the past, he would’ve been drafted so that the team could help him develop that in house. But in today’s NBA, first round picks are expected to be polished, and by 22-23 years old you need to be fully developed and fitting in your role. So P.J. decided to return and work on adding some offensive skills. In addition to his back-to-basket arsenal, the staff at UK did a lot to help P.J. master some good mid range moves and improve his form from the outside. Him developing offensively combined with bigs Travis and Richards should allow Washington to grab more rebounds per game, as well as stretch the floor better at the 3 or 4 position. His footwork on the perimeter has improved, as has his ball security away from the basket. P.J. has a nose for the basket and the BBN should be very excited for his Sophomore year.
Nick Richards. One of my favorite players going into last season, and far and away the most exciting prospect to me. I told everyone who would listen last year, “Wait for Richards next year, he’s gonna be a stud.” I know everyone always looks to Cal as a Point Guard-savant, having coached Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyler Ulis, Brandon Knight, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. But his track record of developing bigs in a way that fills vital holes in their game is even better. Anthony Davis was recruited as a guard most of his high school career, and by draft day had a decent skill set in the low and high post. Willie Cauley-Stein turned into a lottery pick after coming in as an unskilled 7-footer. So I knew Richards would be exciting. Last season, Nick lacked aggressiveness, confidence, touch, and didn’t seem to be a great athlete. In the Bahama games, although it’s only August, we’ve seen him carry himself differently. His head is never down. Never “chin on chest” as a former coach of mine once put it. He’s hitting face up jumpers, he has soft hands in the post, and he is running the floor beautifully. Richards’ footwork has improved dramatically, and he looks like someone who should start every game for the Cats.
Quade Green was last season in competition for the starting Point Guard spot. While he lost to the surprising Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Quade showed great potential as a shooter, as well as moving off the ball very well. Having Immanuel Quickley to handle the ball, as well as having Washington space the floor more than he did last season should lead to better looks for Green on the perimeter. Look for him to improve his 3PT%, FG%, and PPG. Green coming off screens on the wing looking for either Richards, Washington, or Travis rolling/fading will offer him more opportunities as a playmaker as well. Quade can shoot the ball, and this team looks like they have more jump shooters than last year’s, and the offensive system will surely reflect that. While Green’s improvement and growth hinges on Washington playing further out more often as well as Quickley proving he can be a skilled ball handler and facilitator, I’m sure we will see Green take on more of a shooter role than he had last year.