A few days ago in the first part of this series, we looked at the returning UK big guys, and tried to pinpoint the areas of their game that need to improve for UK to have its best chance to return to it's rightful place among the best teams in the nation.
Today, we will continue by looking at the returning players in the back court. At some point, I will be talking about the incoming UK recruits, but for now, we are looking at returning players who's games we are familar with, at least to some degree. So let's get started:
Jodie Meeks: Jodie Meeks is a critical part of the 2008-09 equation because he is one of the few proven scorers on the team. Last year, Jodie suffered an unfortunate series of injuries from a stress fracture in the groin area to an athletic hernia. He had corrective surgery earlier this year and is said to be progressing well
Meeks is a fast, powerful 2 guard who can put the ball into the basket in a variety of ways. Last year when he was healthy, Jodie was our best 3-point shooter. But in his junior campaign, we will need Meeks to do more. The areas I see that Meeks needs to improve (besides his health) are:
Getting into the paint more -- Jodie, for some reason, has never been willing to take the ball to the hole. He tends to spot up for 3-pointers, and while he has demonstrated an ability to get his own shot, often passes up opportunities to drive the ball to the basket. That needs to change
Learn to shoot on the move -- Meeks needs to develop his intermediate-range game, not just shoot 3's. Ramel Bradley became a much better player when he learned to take the ball inside and shoot the midrange jumper off the bounce. Meeks has no shown this skill to be reliably in his repertoire. It needs to be.
Be more intense on defense -- Meeks is a fair defensive player, but he should be better. He doesn't have the lightning quickness of some players his size, but he does have excellent strength and size for a 2-guard, as well as outstanding athleticism. Jodie needs to become a defender in the mold of Joe Crawford at the end of last year.
Ramon Harris: Despite a mid-season stress fracture that forced him to sit out of four games, Ramon really came on as a defender last year, and by the end of the 2007-08 season was arguably the team's best defender. Ramon is extremely versatile in that he can guard anyone down to six feet, and up to about 6'9". He has excellent lateral quickness for his size and a good understanding of how to utilize his strengths to his advantage.
But as stout as Harris' defense is, his offense needs work. Harris took fewer shots last year than Jodie Meeks, despite playing in 16 more games. Derrick Jasper, who was notoriously reluctant to shoot during his time at UK, took only 5 fewer shots than Harris despite playing seven fewer games. With all this in mind, let's look at what Ramon needs to improve:
Ball handling -- The biggest reason for Ramon's reluctance to shoot is his inability to get himself into scoring position. Ramon is a very reluctant ball handler and has no confidence in his ability to beat his man off the dribble.
Mid-range game -- Players like Harris can often wind up with good looks from the 12-18 foot range. Harris almost never put up a shot at that range, and when he did, he had no confidence at all that it would go in. Ramon must develop this part of his game.
Slashing -- Harris has the body type, the length and the skills to be a great slashing player. Unfortunately, he lacks the confidence in his finishing ability and handle to take the ball to the hole with authority. That must improve.
Free throw shooting -- Harris was 5th on the team in free throw attempts, and toward the end of the year, he was getting to the line with regularity. Unfortunately, he was only able to manage a paltry 60% from the line. He must do better both at getting to the line and converting from there.
Michael Porter: Michael Porter made strides last year that were reflected in the growing confidence Billy Gillispie showed in his game. Porter improved his handle and became a decent defender. He is a good shooter from the perimeter and an overall scrappy player.
I don't believe Porter has the overall athleticism needed to be a starting point guard in the SEC, but I had those same doubts about Anthony Epps back when Traitor Rick was in charge in Lexington. Porter is not Epps, and although they have many similarities, Epps was much more confident with the ball than Porter is. But with all that said, what Porter needs most to improve on are:
Ball handling -- To really make an impact next year, Porter's handle must improve significantly. If Porter can become more clever off the dribble, he can do much more to put pressure on defenders.
Taking the ball to the basket -- Porter's limited athleticism makes this harder for him than for others, but he is capable of getting the ball into the paint and getting fouled or making the pass. Ball handling improvements will make this much easier.
Improve his passing -- Porter averaged only 1.1 assists per game last year, far too few for a point guard, especially when he turned it over 1.6 times per game.
- Defense -- Porter was a solid defender, particularly later in the year, and was tied for 4th most steals on the team. Still, Porter's lateral quickness is only average, and he needs to improve his defensive intensity and become better at guarding quicker players.
As amazing as it seems, that's all the back court scholarship players we have returning from last year. Obviously, Kentucky is getting some help from the junior college and high school ranks, and we will look at what we know about them in the next part of this series.