Jarred Vanderbilt’s return from injury in January changed the way this year’s Kentucky Wildcats play basketball. His rebounding, his defense, and his energy have done much more for this team than any stat sheet will tell you.
Now that it seems pretty clear he will not play against Georgia on Friday, who should get the opportunity to step up and contribute?
“It gives Sacha (Killeya-Jones) and Nick (Richards) a chance to play more,” coach John Calipari said in his pregame news conference. “It gives us a chance to put Wenyen (Gabriel) at the 5. That makes us a different kind of team.”
This would not be the worst problem to have in mid-January as you are trying to prepare several other guys to step up when needed. But on the front end of the conference tournament, having to shuffle the rotation is less than ideal.
It can be easy to sit back and say which of these guys you believe would be more productive based on the eyeball test, but what do the numbers say? In the last 7 games, Vanderbilt has averaged 21.6 minutes per game. Who is Calipari’s best option to get those?
Given that Gabriel can play multiple positions and has regularly gotten more minutes than the others, it is easy to say he should see the court more, but going by the numbers the answer isn’t so clear.
Yes, Gabriel has the highest +/- of the three with 7.3 per 100 possessions. This is a stat that compares the statistical contribution of players in the box score. However, Richards is close behind at 6.8 and SKJ is actually sixth on the team with 6.1.
As for other players in the regular rotation, Kevin Knox (5.3), Quade Green (3.9), and Hamidou Diallo (2.3) come in at the bottom.
Richards actually leads the group in offensive +/- (2.6), although the difference between him and Gabriel (2.2) and even SKJ (2.1) is fairly negligible. Gabriel leads by a significant margin in defensive +/- (5.2) compared to both Richards (4.2) and SKJ (4.0).
However, the biggest surprise is in the player efficiency rating (PER) number, which is often an indicator of performance. Believe it or not, Nick Richards is second on the team in PER with 20.6 (Jarred Vanderbilt’s is 21.4). Sacha Killeya-Jones comes in at 13.6 and Wenyen Gabriel’s PER is 13.3.
So where does that leave us, statistically speaking? It becomes somewhat of a toss-up between Richards and Gabriel, depending on need.
Considering that Wenyen Gabriel has better defensive numbers and slowing down Yante Maten will be a priority against Georgia, I see him getting the nod early on Friday. But it is also easy to see a scenario where Calipari splits those minutes evenly to build the confidence of his big men before tournament time.
Who do you believe should receive the majority of minutes available in Jarred Vanderbilt’s absence?