By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
In this next to last post about the players of the John Calipari era I thought it would be appropriate to cover the ” post” players (no bad pun intended). One of the hallmarks for Calipari during his time at UK is his ability to recruit phenomenal talent. Like the point guard and shooting guard positions he has recruited an all-star list of players to play the post position for UK. That list includes the likes of Demarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, Julius Randle, Karl-Anthony Towns and most recently Bam Adebayo. Among that list are College All-Americans and multi-year NBA All-Stars. All have played an integral part in the success of each team they have played on.
The post position is critical to the success of any basketball team. In my opinion the best offenses in basketball run through the post position. To use a football analogy, if the point guard in basketball is the quarterback then the post player in basketball is the grind it out running back. He is the player you can go to in the last few minutes of a tight game to get easy baskets in the paint and potentially get fouled for an additional free throw in the process. Every successful team needs to have an accomplished post player. Knowing that the post position is so critical to the success of the team let’s look at what attributes made UK’s post men help their respective teams achieve success.
In looking at the most successful post players for UK from 2009 to present statistically a couple of numbers jumped out, minutes played and rebounding. From the most successful teams, the 2012 National Champions and the 2014 Runners Up, Anthony Davis and Julius Randle both played significant minutes per game. They both averaged about 31-32 minutes per game. Davis shot 62% per game while taking about 9 shots. Randle shot 8 times per game while making 50% of his shots. They both also averaged about 10-11 rebounds per game. That is significant because one of the elements of the “dribble drive” offense is for the guard to take the ball up to the rim through dribble penetration and allow the big guys underneath to put the ball back in the basket on any misses. Offensive dominance on the boards is necessary to make that happen.
An example of this not happening is Skal Labissiere on the 2016 team. Because Skal was limited in strength, stamina and knowledge of the game he only played 16 minutes per game. To his credit he hit 52% of his shots but only rebounded 3 per game. Every shot Skal did not shoot at a 52% average meant someone else had to shoot a more difficult shot at potentially a lower percentage. The 2016 team averaged 48% from the field that year.
Another important characteristic of a great post player is that of a defensive stopper when a perimeter defensive player gets beat off the dribble. If the post player rotates properly on defense and cuts off the driving offensive player it forces the ball back outside for a more difficult shot. If the offensive player decides to shoot against the more physically dominate post player it usually means a blocked shot leading to a fast break basket for UK at the other end of the floor. So having the stamina to play 30 or more minutes if you are a dominate post player helps erase mistakes on defense and allows the offense the ability to run through the post and generate more shots for a high percentage shooter.
Karl-Anthony Towns of the 2015 Final Four team was an example of a player that was dominate on the offensive end shooting 57% overall and rebounding at about 6 rebounds per game. Unfortunately for his team he only played 21 minutes per game because of the platoon system. This reduced the ability of the team to get the ball into the hands of a player shooting 57% when the team overall average shooting percentage was 47%.
Most of UK’s post players have been dominate either on defense or offense but usually not both. The best example of a completely dominate post player from the Calipari era is Anthony Davis from the 2012 National Championship team. He had the ability to score in the paint, play the ” pick and roll” for an ” alley-oop ” pass in a two man game or pass the ball out to the corner for Doron Lamb or Darius Miller to shoot the 3 pointer. He also blocked almost 5 shots per game. He could change the outcome of the game on either end of the floor.
Kareem Abdul-Jabber, former UCLA Bruin and Milwaukee Buck and one of the greatest post players to ever play the game, said, “One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team”.
That seems to very appropriate for UK’s post players. There have been so many good ones during John Calipari’s coaching stint at UK but even in 2012 with an incredible talent like Anthony Davis it took stellar play from the point guard, shooting guard and two very physical and talented forwards to win a National Championship.
To win another one UK will need a post player that is dominate on both ends of the floor and has the stamina (or 7 man rotation) that allows him to stay on the floor for 30 or more minutes per game.