I thought we'd take a look at the potential starters for 2012-13, starting with Kyle Wiltjer. We all know that Wiltjer got some playing time last year, but mostly as a guy who came in to stretch out the defense and give a brief rest to one of the starters. Late in the year, Wiltjer became so deadly from three that he was more of a psychological weapon for Kentucky, a mismatch that forced one of the big players away from the basket to try to guard him in the pick and pop.
They tried, but almost universally did not succeed. Game after game, Wiltjer would come in for a few minutes and stick a three, either on a pick and pop or just being left open or guarded by a smaller guy. It was eerie, and in the second half of the season, Wiltjer shot over 50% from the arc. He didn't come in to do major damage offensively, but more to break a team's spirit when the UK offense was struggling, or to just twist the blade that the Wildcats had already sunk into the foe.
The problems in Wiltjer's game are well-known and straightforward, as are his strengths. Wiltjer is among the best three-point shooters at his size that I have ever seen. His stroke is as near flawless as you will ever see in a player his size. He has a fine touch and a good feel for the perimeter game. Next year, this ability will enable him to force bigs away from the basket, as he is much too tall for most perimeter players to handle, and has a very high, quick release on his jump shot.
But last year, Wiltjer had trouble guarding his position, and was ineffective in any part of the game other than the pick and pop. His post ups were weak, his famous hook shots ineffective. He struggled to rebound and was mainly a liability in any part of the game not involving a 3-point shot.
Wiltjer now has the summer to improve, but there are some things that cannot be taught. Wiltjer will never be quick or agile for his size, although his lateral quickness will improve some with strength and maturity. What Wiltjer needs most is more strength and weight. He looks like he could easily carry 250# plus, and that much extra muscle would really help his post game.
The big question, and the one that will most impact Wiltjer's effectiveness, is, "Can Kyle learn how to defend his position?" Defense, at the college level, can be played mainly two ways -- with athleticism, with intelligence, or with a combination of both. Wiltjer has limited athleticism compared to many of his peers, but his intelligence, judging from his classroom performance alone, is formidable.
What Kyle must learn to do is understand what his opponents are comfortable doing, and force them to do something else. This is very much like what opponents were doing to Terrence Jones at the end of his freshman year -- they were forcing him to go right, where he was much less effective. Wiltjer needs to employ similar tactics, only he has to understand the tendencies of everyone he will be defending. That's asking a lot, but he is more than capable of doing that.
Another way this works is knowing what position to be in when. The Suffocats in 2003 were great at this. The weren't the quickest team in the world, but by utilizing strong teamwork and understanding how to turn offenders into help, they were able to become one of the best defensive squads in Kentucky history. Bottom line, Wiltjer must use his brains in order to maximize his ability to defend.
From an offensive standpoint, he needs to develop his post-up moves. He's big enough to be effective in the post, but he's limited by his relatively small repertoire of post moves. He needs to work on this religiously in order to improve his offensive versatility.
Finally, Wiltjer really needs to become an effective rebounder, if not a dominant one. Last year, he averaged a mere 6 rebounds per 40 minutes played, which works out to less than five rebounds if he were playing minutes similar to what Terrence Jones did in 2011-12. That needs to improve substantially if Wiltjer is to be a major contributor to the team in 2012-13, and he will almost have to be if the Wildcats are to have a successful campaign.