This news happened last night, but it has been expected for a while. Alex Poythress will be returning to a loaded Kentucky roster next year, providing even greater front-court depth to the Wildcats. Poythress is the kind of player that an extra year in college can really help, and despite showing flashes last season, I think every Kentucky fan in America would agree that he isn’t ready to go to the next level.
With that said, Poythress is an extremely talented player who’s development reminds me very much of Terrence Jones. He isn’t the same kind of player as Jones, obviously, but his development is very similar in many ways. Many Kentucky fans were, wrongly in my view, questioning both players' heart and effort at times during their freshman campaign. Their struggles probably had more to do with the inevitable differences between individual development rates in all aspects of their game, including intensity and focus.
Poythress’ return produces many intriguing possibilities for next year, depending on what Andrew Wiggins does. Undoubtedly, and probably very fortunately for Poythress, next year will give him an opportunity to spend more time at the wing forward spot, where he’ll be playing in the NBA, either as a backup to Wiggins or as the starter. In order to be effective there, he has to work hard on his ballhandling this spring and summer. He already possesses a very competent perimeter shot, but he needs to work on consistency.
With a big, strong body like Poythress has, it would be a waste if he didn’t work hard on his interior game, particularly rebound positioning. Alex really struggled this year to consistently get into proper rebounding position, and often allowed himself to be pinned under the basket. He also had problems with proper block-out technique, and surrendered far too many rebounds to the opposing player simply because he was out of position so often.
These are really easy things to fix. What isn’t easy is to accept that rebounding is something you have to really want to do, and until Poythress can internalize a desire to go get the basketball, he will never be a good rebounder. Anthony Davis struggled with rebounding early in the 2011-12 campaign, but as time went by, he learned the importance of positioning and wanting the basketball. By the end of the year, Davis was a very good rebounder, particularly defensively, and it is at defensive rebounding where the quickest and most dramatic developments can be made.
Poythress also needs to develop post moves. He is big and strong and can finish on slashes to the basket, but he needs to develop moves around the basket where he can use his width to hold off defenders and bury them under the basket. Another year should do wonders in that area, if he applies himself.
We didn’t see much of the "beast mode" that Poythress brought in the Duke game early in the season last year. Next year, he’ll have a lot more competition in practice, and it will really help him develop. This past season, Kentucky struggled to fill a practice opposition squad with anything other than walk-ons, and that is a mistake that John Calipari apparently does not intend to make again.