The fifth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks again look to be the favorites of the Big 12 Conference — which they’ve won the last 11 years with Coach Bill Self in charge. The Kansas roster remains as talented as ever, with NBA talent flowing throughout, and scouts will have an eye on the team as they endure the Big 12 Conference this upcoming season.
It should be an exciting season for the Jayhawks, who have a well-balanced roster with a blend of talent, experience and size. Kansas brings in two four-stars in shooting guard LeGerald Vick and power forward Carlton Bragg alongside five-star big man Cheick Diallo — who has yet to be cleared by the NCAA. Talented upperclassmen remain in junior point guard Frank Mason, junior swingman Wayne Selden and junior sharpshooter Brennan Greene. So, who are the top prospects on this talented Kansas squad?
5. Perry Ellis 6-8 230 SF/PF Senior
Ellis was the Jayhawks leading scorer last year at 13.8 points per game, and the skilled senior power forward has an old school game. Ellis lacks the speed and athleticism to play on the perimeter in college but plays a stretch 4 role for the Jayhawks as he’s expanded his range and efficiency each year from the outside (39.1 percent from three on 46 attempts last year). Ellis will have to continue this production from the outside if he wants a role in the NBA because that’s likely his best spot, a la former Kansas players like Marcus and Markieff Morris.
Except Ellis lacks the physicality, size and ball skills of the aforementioned Morris twins, which will make his transition harder. Ellis will be a liability on the defensive end from the get-go at the next level with his lack of length (6-10 wingspan), but he has the basketball IQ and to compensate some at the other end of the floor. Expect Ellis to be the leader of this Kansas team as a senior this year, and if he’s able to increase his lethality from long range, it could propel him into second-round territory of the 2016 draft.
4. Frank Mason 5-11 185 PG Junior
Mason should have a big year for this Jayhawks team as a junior, after being the teams second-leading scorer as a sophomore (12.6 ppg). The quick, athletic junior just started honing his point guard skills the summer of 2014 and showed a lot of promise while almost doubling his assist output (2.1 as a freshman to 3.9 as a sophomore). Mason also improved shooting from the perimeter, increasing his three-point percentage from 32.7 to 42.9. The fact that Mason went from an unheralded recruit once committed to Towson and looked like the most valuable player for Kansas last year is impressive, but there’s still work to do for his NBA outlook.
Mason is known to be an energetic defender, but it’s going to be a difficult transition for him with his lack of size at the highest level. Mason’s upside is likely as a J.J. Barea-type backup point guard, as his ability to shoot and elite quickness will be able to create separation off the dribble against other second units. Mason needs to improve finishing at the rim (50.0 per hoop-math.com) and shoot a decent 38.5 percent on two-point jumpers, which could stand improvement, but if he rounds out his offensive game, Mason could see himself become a second round selection in the 2017 draft.
3. Wayne Selden 6-5 230 SG/SF Junior
Selden has had an up-and-down start to his career at Kansas, as the junior swingman regressed a tad as a sophomore in some areas while improving in others. Selden improved as a shooter as a sophomore (36.5 percent from three after shooting only 32.8 as a freshman) but regressed from the field — 43.7 as a freshman to 38.2 as a sophomore. Still, Selden remains a solid perimeter defender and a nice passer from the wing with an NBA frame at 6-5 with a 6-10 wingspan and 230-pound frame. Selden has role-player potential when he reaches the NBA, but has a ways to go before becoming a potential draft pick.
Luckily, Selden has time on his side to grow into the player he’ll become for Kansas, and it shouldn’t be too shocking if he takes a step this year. Selden will be an important piece to this Kansas team as a defender and ball-mover, and could become a lethal three-point shooter this year as well. Selden came to Kansas with a lot of hype as a former McDonalds All-American, and could leave Kansas as a second-round pick if he continues to improve on both offense and defense.
2. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk 6-8 200 SG/SF Sophomore
Mykhailiuk had a rough first season for the Jayhawks, averaging just 2.8 points and 1.2 rebounds per game in only 11.2 minutes per game. But the natural ability remains for Mykhailiuk, who is still only 18-years old and a sophomore ready to take his game to another level. This year should be much more encouraging for his NBA outlook, given that his comfort level and skill level shine with another year playing under Bill Self. Mykhailiuk has the reputation of a good shooter and an all-around skilled offensive player but hasn’t necessarily shown that enough to make the leap anytime soon.
This season could mark a different Mykhailiuk, as he looks to take charge a year wiser and make use of his offensive skill set more effectively. NBA scouts knew his name at 17 before arriving at Lawrence for a reason, and Kansas can use another lethal shooter from the wing. When looking at potential weaknesses at the NBA level, Mykhailiuk lacks NBA length for a swingman (measured 6-6 in 2014). This will hurt him defensively and while finishing at the rim. But when you take into account Mykhailiuk’s potential and youth, it’s obvious why scouts have him tabbed as a potential first-round pick in the next few drafts. It’s time for Mykhailiuk to prove talent evaluators right and it starts during his upcoming sophomore season.
1. Cheick Diallo 6-9 230 PF/C Freshman
Diallo has received clearance to practice for Kansas while waiting on the word if he’s eligible to play the upcoming season. Diallo gives the Jayhawks a relentless presence they currently lack on the frontline without him, and at 6-9 with a 7-4 wingspan, Diallo’s size brings positional versatility and a shot-blocking presence.
Diallo will be an excellent energy player, attacking the boards on each end and finishing emphatically around the rim. It’s plausible Diallo develops into a Kenneth Faried-type down the line, as they both share similar characteristics in size, skill set and tenacity — although Diallo’s athleticism likely gives him the edge as a prospect.
However, Diallo is extremely raw on the offensive end, and it’s hard to see him ever developing into a reliable offensive option. That’s a bit of a rarity in this new-age, pace-and-space era of basketball we currently live in. Diallo likely can get to the NBA on his skillset alone, but his lack of skill might put a cap on his potential draft range as he’s likely only a huge difference-maker on the defensive end of the floor.
Diallo will need to continue to add weight as he makes his way to the NBA, which should help him provide resistance in the paint. If Diallo gains eligibility and shows what he’s capable of as a defensive ace, look for Diallo to be selected in the lottery come the 2016 draft.