In “Moneyball” Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane was forced to replace the production of star players Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon.
Kentucky basketball will most likely not be relying on sabermetrics or obscure, diamond-in-the-rough players to replace Julius Randle and James Young next season, but head coach John Calipari will be searching for new productivity. Randle and Young combined for nearly 40 percent of the team’s offense with a combined 29.3 points per game and carried the rebounding load with a combined 587 boards.
Head coach John Calipari and the Kentucky brand are enough to ensure the roster is reloaded with All-Americans after every season, but replacing the team’s top two scorers could be as challenging as a Billy Gillispie day-of-game practice.
Asking these two sophomores to score more may not even be necessary. The Harrisons are twins, which means they possess an ineradicable, ingrained synergy. After being spurned by NBA scouts, Andrew and Aaron could combine on the court to form one shared persona next season: Angry Harrison.
Telling the twins the first round of the NBA Draft was out of reach may have been the best thing to happen to the Harrisons–and Kentucky basketball. Every other position was loaded with All-American depth except for the backcourt until the twins made their announcement. The Harrisons will be poised, experienced and fueled by a desire to prove their belonging to NBA scouts this season.
Top Candidates to Replace the Scoring of Randle and Young
1. Aaron Harrison
Projected points per game: 14.3
Aaron Harrison, the most clutch player in the history of the NCAA Tournament, was third on the team in scoring a season ago with 13.7 points per game, making him the favorite to replace Randle as the team’s go-to scorer.
Aaron Harrison certainly has the ability to carry the load offensively, but will he be able to dominate consistently? Harrison scored 20 or more points in eight games, but in eight other games, Harrison played 20 or more minutes and scored in single digits, including three points in a Feb. 15 loss to Florida.
Those less-attractive games do not even register in the minds of most Wildcat fans. Harrison obliterated the bad memories of last season with THREE game-winning three-pointers in the NCAA Tournament.
Harrison exhibited the confidence and skill required to lead Kentucky basketball in scoring and absolutely can do it, but his closest competitor for the scoring crown may be his best friend.
2. Andrew Harrison
Projected points per game: 13.4
Andrew Harrison has an extended season of experience under his belt, a gigantic chip on his shoulder and a solid understudy behind his back. The understudy is incoming freshman Tyler Ulis, a five-star point guard who will help Harrison become a better player, although Harrison may not need the assistance.
Harrison willed himself through injury and his team through the toughest draw of all time in the NCAA Tournament, a performance that included a 20-point performance against Wichita State in the third round. Harrison can light up the scoreboard when the Wildcats need him, but like his brother, struggles occassionally.
Harrison shot only 36.7 percent from the field last season, but his shooting improved over the course of the season and Harrison also grew into the role of distributor late in the year. Despite his tendency to share the ball, Harrison was still fourth on the team in points per game with 10.9.
Harrison could lead the team in scoring, but with a frontcourt as athletic as the Wildcats’, he made focus on playing defense and throwing alley-oops.
3. Trey Lyles
One of those frontcourt teammates on the receiving end of those lobs is incoming freshman Trey Lyles. Lyles could not only insert himself into Randle’s old position at power forward right away, but also inherit the title of leading scorer for Kentucky basketball.
The 6-foot-10 Lyles can seemingly do anything on the basketball court. He has agility, athleticism, toughness and a surprisingly-deadly jump shot that can extend behind the three-point line.
As a senior at Indianapolis Arsenal Technical High School, Lyles led his team in scoring and shot 58 percent from the field. Lyles was an accurate free throw shooter during his senior season as well, shooting 74 percent from the line.
Lyles may not be ready to carry the offensive load for the Wildcats, but I predict he will be ready to lead Kentucky basketball in another statistic.
Top Candidates to Replace the Rebounding of Randle and Young
While at Kentucky, Randle rebounded more often than Taylor Swift.
Randle led the SEC in boards with 10.5 per game and the Wildcats as a team led the nation in total rebounds. Thanks to his dominance on the boards, Randle’s teammates appeared to be lacking in the category, despite Kentucky leading the country in total boards.
Young was quietly third on the team in rebounds with 4.3 per game. Grabbing four rebounds per game may not seem jump-out-of-your seat impressive, but four rebounds could mean the difference between winning and losing in basketball.
With an average height of 6-foot-9 in the frontcourt, Kentucky will be the favorite to pull down the most total rebounds again this season, but which Wildcat will grab the most basketballs that bounce off the peach basket?
1. Trey Lyles
Projected rebounds per game: 8.6
Lyles is the favorite to lead the team in boards, almost by default. If Lyles does win the starting power forward position, he will likely be playing the majority of the minutes among front court players. Marcus Lee could give Lyles a run for the power forward position, but if Lyles is the starter, he should hit the boards harder than a checked winger in hockey.
Both Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns have the ability to play power forward for stretches, but Lyles is a pure power forward and like Randle, will play more minutes than the rapidly-rotating centers if he earns the starting spot.
Lyles can rebound on the offensive and defensive end because of his athleticism and toughness, but whether or not he has the ambition to lead the entire team in boards is like most things about next season, yet to be seen.
Projected rebounds per game: 7.5
If one of Cauley-Stein’s goals for next season is to lead the team in rebounds, he may have to do it as a substitute, but Cauley-Stein may be determined to improve his game enough to grab the leading-rebounder title and the starting center position for the entire season.
3. Alex Poythress
Alex Poythress is the most athletic Wildcat on the upcoming roster and his leaping ability resulted in him finishing third on the team in rebounds a season ago with 4.5 per game. This was a significant dip from his freshman campaign, when he averaged 6.0 boards per outing.
Like Cauley-Stein, Poythress did most of his rebounding coming off the bench, but Poythress played even fewer minutes. In just 18.4 minutes per game, Poythress solidified himself as one of the best rebounding small forwards in college basketball.
Poythress energized the Wildcats with soaring rebounds and highlight-reel dunks last season. Against Louisville in the Sweet 16, Poythress’ crucial rebounding was enough to “win the game” for the Wildcats, according to his head coach.
If Poythress improves his all-around game even more and earns the starting small forward spot back, he could defy logic and pull down more boards than his colossal front court teammates.
Some basketball fans may choose to defy logic as well, by placing the pressure of a perfect season on the Wildcats yet again. Before casual fans and select members of the Big Blue Nation proclaim another 40-0 season, one thing must be understood. Replacing the production of Randle and Young will not be a simple task. These two players were critical for the Wildcats all season long and without them, Kentucky may have been playing against Robert Morris in the NIT again.
In “Moneyball,” Beane realized replacing one departed superstar with another was not economically feasible and instead replaced one player’s production by using multiple players. This tactic has resulted in the Oakland A’s remaining in contention every season.
When the Wildcats won the title in 2012, all five starters averaged double-figures in scoring. With the immaculate depth that Kentucky will possess next season, attempting to replace two players with two new players may not be prudent. By spreading the points and rebounds out among the team, a cohesive, championship-winning unit could be formed once again.
If any program can find a way to replace the production of unstoppable freshmen, it is Kentucky. By chance, if the Wildcats do not go 40-0 or win the national title next season—the latter is perhaps more conceivable than ever—true Kentucky fans will still love their Wildcats, because just like Beane’s assistant in “Moneyball,” Peter Brand, told Beane about the allure of baseball,
It is hard not to be romantic about Kentucky basketball.
If you would like to begin reading the Wildcat position previews for the upcoming season, click here.