UK Forwards: Physical or Finesse, which is better?

Alex Poythress (Vicky Graff Photo)


In this third post in a series about UK basketball during the John Calipari era, I thought I would take a look back at the forwards that have played for UK during that time period. Although the forwards for UK from 2009 through 2017 are not necessarily household names in the NBA today, they are considered some of the best in college basketball these last eight years.

The list includes Patrick Patterson, Terrence Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Trey Lyles, Kyle Wiltjer  and Derek Willis. Of that group only Kidd-Gilchrist and Cauley-Stein were named All Americans (Wiltjer was named an All-American while at Gonzaga).

Of the player groupings (center, forward, guard) that I looked at this grouping is the least awarded player group during the John Calipari era. I think this is shown by the fact that only Kidd-Gilchrist and Trey Lyles were “one and done” players.

This group also seems to be the most dissimilar through the years. In the early years of the Calipari era players like Terrence Jones and Kidd-Gilchrist, while being very capable shooters, were also very athletic and physical around the basket, especially as offensive rebounders. It seems that as time moved on into the middle and current years of the Calipari era the type of players have become slightly more finesse oriented like a Kyle Wiltjer, Trey Lyles or Derek Willis and not nearly as physical as a Terrence Jones.

The most recent group of forwards have a similar overall shooting percentage (mid to upper 40 percent range) as a Jones or Kidd-Gilchrist but without the physical inside presence.

This lack of physical play was especially evident in the years that UK did not have a dominant post player like Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns. An example of that was with the 2013 team. When Nerlens Noel was lost for the season due to an injury it was very apparent that freshmen Cauley-Stein and Poythress along with sophomore Wiltjer couldn’t provide the inside presence needed to get UK into the NCAA Tournament.

A similar situation occurred in 2016 when Skal Labissiere struggled to perform in the post throughout the year and Marcus Lee, Poythress and Willis could not match the physicality of other teams on the inside, either on offense or defense.

This past season with Willis and Wenyen Gabriel playing the four spot UK struggled for most of the season to match the physicality of other teams on offense and defense even to the point of having Calipari try a four guard lineup and also two center lineup to try to offset the weakness at the four spot.

With all that being said it appears that the “dribble drive” offense needs physical, athletic players playing the forward position to clean up missed shots and be available on the “alley-oop” play off the pick and roll. On defense if UK does not have a “rim protector” at center similar to Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns they must have physical, athletic players at the four spot to help eliminate easy baskets on the inside from post up moves and straight line drives to the basket.

If UK continues to have great guard play and a dominant post player then more physical play from the forward positions could land UK back in the Final Four with an opportunity to pick up title number nine.




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