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Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: What are you thankful for this holiday season?

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Although frustrating at times, there is plenty to be thankful for this basketball season with this Kentucky basketball team.

NCAA Basketball: IUPU - Ft. Wayne at Kentucky
Nick Richards is one of the things to be thankful for this basketball season.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

I’m making my best effort to get into the holiday season. To bring the rest of my family up to my spirited, (bourbon induced) happiness level, I asked my thirteen year old son what he was thankful for this holiday season. Without missing a beat, as though he was prepared to answer this very question at some point, he quipped, “Family. Food. And video games.” Same, kid. Same. My initial reaction was more of a Homer Simpson esque, “Why you little…?!”, but after some thought, he absolutely should be thankful for video games. Not everyone has as many as he has (trust me!), but sometimes it’s easy to forget how fortunate we are after we become accustomed to having nice things.

What am I thankful for, you ask? Family. Food. And five star recruits. Big Blue Nation has lot to be thankful for this season. As my holiday spirit shifted to bourbon fueled rage on Wednesday night, I complained about turnovers, missed free throws, and a lack of perimeter defense. My wife was quick to remind me of a dark time back in 2009 in what seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Kentucky lost to VMI that November, coming off a year where the Wildcats lost to Gardner Webb, UAB, and Houston during the non-conference schedule. Fast forward to 2017 when Kentucky fans only vaguely remember the head coach from 2007 to 2009, he who shall not be named, as the Wildcats field a fun and developing team that promises to be competitive in March.

In the spirit of the holidays, here are three things that I’m thankful for this season in addition to family, food, video games (I suppose), and I would add high definition tv (how did we ever watch college basketball before?!):

1) The emergence of Nick Richards

The statline of Nick Richards has been widely discussed on this site and others, for good reason. Richards’ development as an offensive threat elevates the Wildcats’ halfcourt efficiency. If he can consistently knock down a mid-range jumper that gives the Wildcats another option out of the horns offensive set where coach John Calipari brings his bigs up to the free throw line for screen action with the ballhandlers. Richards was relegated to pick and roll action, but if he can add an effective pick and pop with a mid-range jumper, I think UK’s offense becomes significantly better. But I think I might be equally excited and thankful for his 10 defensive rebounds and 2 blocks against Fort Wayne. It’s a rare talent that can efficiently grab defensive rebounds and block shots at a high level. Only a few Kentucky players this decade have been able to block shots at a block percentage of 10% or more (a formula of blocked shots divided by opponents 2pt field goal attempts) and rebound at a 20% defensive rebounding percentage (percentage of possible defensive rebounds a player gets):

Nick Richards could join elite company with continued improvement.

Richards is close to these levels and is in elite company if he can make this list. It’s worth noting that both Demarcus Cousins (25.1 DR% and 7.5 Blk% in 2009-10) and Willie Cauley-Stein (17.3 DR% and 7.1 Blk% in 2014-15) came close. As Richards continues to get better, I think he can be both an elite shot blocker and defensive rebounder.

2) The Wildcats are a 2nd half team

Kentucky’s slow starts are well-noted. But how about the fast starts to begin the 2nd half? Kentucky outscored the Mastadons of Fort Wayne 29-8 during the first ten minutes of the 2nd half on Wednesday, and the Cats have outscored the last three opponents to start out the 2nd half.

Kentucky might start slow in the 1st half, but the Cats make up for it with dominance out of the gates in the 2nd half.

The Wildcats have only outscored one team (ETSU) in the first ten minutes of the 1st half. If Cal can shore up this weak spot, the Cats can avoid becoming another iteration of the Comeback Cats (though that 1998 team fared ok in the end!).

3) Thankful for Quade Green

Quade Green has improved steadily each game. He looks more and more comfortable running the offense, and as noted in a previous post, the offense is better with him at the helm. All of Kentucky’s offense should be thankful for Green’s marked improvement, but the perimeter players have benefitted the most from number 0. More than 75% of Green’s dimes this season have been to perimeter players at the 2 or 3 position – specifically going to Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Green assist chart
Green loves to find his fellow guards when he’s looking to distribute.

Hopefully Green continues to spread the ball around, and maybe even shares a little with the big fellas.

Family. Food. Video games. And what else are you thankful for, Big Blue Nation?