Julius Mays could play a similar role to Doron Lamb's early career this year. - Kevin C. Cox
A look at how the Kentucky Wildcats are likely to play offensively this year.
The time is coming for the games to begin in basketball. The Blue-White game is tomorrow night, and a week from then we'll begin our exhibition season. With all these brand-new players, talented as they are, we are all wondering exactly what type of basketball we'll see from them. What we'll be discussing here is mainly the offense, saving the defense for another article.
Pick and roll
The pick and roll is fast becoming Calipari's go-to offensive set, primarily because it is a) difficult to defend and b) works really well with talented, athletic players. Last year, Kentucky used the pick and roll to great effect, but it was in 2011 when the Brandon Knight - Josh Harrellson side pick and roll became a major part of the Kentucky offensive arsenal.
In 2012, the side pick and roll gave way to more high ball screens near the key area, and the inevitable dunks that resulted to Anthony Davis were the stuff of legend in Kentucky. Along with that came some dribble-drive stuff that mostly started with a high pick and ended with a lob inside to Davis or Terrence Jones, or kick-outs to Doron Lamb and Darius Miller.
This year, I think we'll see more of the same with Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel playing the part of Davis and Jones. While I do expect to see both Cauley-Stein and Noel in there together at times, I don't think it will be the everyday lineup. More often, you'll have Wiltjer in there to add the perimeter threat.
We've all seen pick and rolls, but in case you forgot what they look like, or why they are so tough to guard, let Anthony Davis himself show you:
That little two-man game will work just as well with Nerlens Noel or Willie Cauley-Stein in the place of Davis.
Pick and pop
We're going to see a lot of this play this year because we have a perfect setup for it. Kyle Wiltjer is the ideal guy for this action, but it depends a lot on how well Ryan Harrow and he communicate.
The key to the pick and pop is the ability of the ballhandler, usually a guard, to get to the rim. This is why Calipari has emphasized that he wants Harrow to be the best layup shooter in the SEC. If Harrow can get to the rim off the pick, he's going to get a layup or get fouled most of the time.
Here is an example of the action I'm talking about, courtesy of Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnet:
It's pretty easy to visualize Wiltjer in Garnett's place there.
Here's some video of Wiltjer last year. At about the :24 second mark, you'll see a perfect pick and pop, and again at the :44 second mark.
The key to defending the pick and pop is to aggressively double-team the ballhandler on the pick, forcing him to turn away from the shooter, who's going to be open. A switch won't work, either, because then Wiltjer just shoots over the smaller defender.
Dribble drive motion.
I think we'll see a little bit less of the dribble drive this year than we have in years past, not just because our personnel are not perfect for that offense, but because John Calipari is becoming much more comfortable teaching the pick and roll and pick and pop.
With that said, Archie Goodwin and Ryan Harrow in particular will be in quite a few dribble drive sets because of their ability to beat players off the bounce. Any help rotating over on those sets are going to result in dunks, just like they did last year.
The bottom line
This year's team will be different from any of the previous three. They will be longer than 2011, but not as strong. They will be a little shorter than 2012, but possibly with better ballhandling. I think tempo-wise, it will be closer to 2010, which was a team that played much faster than the most recent two editions of the Wildcats. Goodwin and Harrow are going to be murder on the break, as will Noel, and you'll see more flying up and down the court from those three guys than we saw last year.
Wiltjer, as Calipari has already pointed out, will be trailing most plays, much like Patrick Patterson did in his last season here. That will free him up for the secondary-break three, something that Kentucky opponents have struggled to deal with.
Early on, I think this team will struggle close to the basket. Kentucky has great length but little bulk, and just as Anthony Davis got pushed around early last year, Noel and Cauley-Stein are going to have some trouble with that. Wiltjer and Alex Poythress are going to have to help out in the post, and it will be really interesting to see how Calipari decides to utilize his weapons. I suspect Julius Mays will play a similar role to Doron Lamb's freshman year early in the season, coming off the bench for 3-point firepower.
Jon Hood and Twany Beckham will likely provide spot minutes early, but depending on how well they play, could challenge for major playing time. Beckham has already developed a reputation as a very tough defender, although he is not a particularly dangerous offensive player. Jarrod Polson could also provide a few minutes of relief, but I don't look for him to play a major role unless there is an injury.