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Film Room: Reid Travis is an absolute problem in the best way possible

John Calipari may not be much of a transfer-taker, but he and his staff cracked a home run with landing All-Pac-12 graduate transfer Reid Travis.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Stanford
Reid Travis comes to Lexington as an established college hoops commodity. Can he help get the ‘Cats back to the Final Four?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

“He is impossible to guard one-on-one at the college level,” said a Pac-12 assistant to ESPN’s Myron Medcalf.

“He imposes his will offensively, gets to the strong hand and physically dominates opponents. He’s a great college player.”

That’s how an assistant coach in the Pac-12 Conference described Kentucky’s new graduate transfer Reid Travis.

Here’s a little reminder that you just watched a 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward bringing the ball up the floor, seeing space in the middle of the floor to drive to, putting the ball behind his back to his left hand and finishing off the glass as easy as you’d like.

Since John Calipari’s arrival in Lexington, Kentucky’s been a prime school to watch in terms of young, raw athletes with freakish builds do some fun things on the basketball court. Reid Travis isn’t young and he isn’t raw. He’s really, really good and has just joined a team that could be really, really good this season.

For those that don’t know too much about Travis’ previous three seasons as a member of the Stanford basketball program, here’s what he did last season for the Cardinal: 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game on 52.7 percent shooting with a 57.9 true shooting percentage.

Like Medcalf noted in his piece about Travis, the All-Pac-12 First Team member went for 20+ and 10 in the two games he played against the 2018 draft’s top selection Deandre Ayton and Arizona last year.

Travis is no slouch. The former 2014 McDonald’s All-American is a legitimate ballplayer and a leader that could give Kentucky the edge they need to win that elusive second championship under Calipari and the ninth in the school’s history.

What makes Travis so good other than he’s built like a house and can probably lift a tank?

Well, for one, he’s smart. You don’t graduate from Stanford without a good head on your shoulders. And two, he’s an extremely fluid and smooth player for his size and gets to where he wants to be on the floor a lot.

Let’s dive into what and how Travis can make Kentucky even more of a monster and a legitimate title contender this season.

The first time I watched this play, I thought of two things.

  1. “That’s the most Julius Randle flashback I’ve ever had with a big at Kentucky since 2014.”
  2. “That’s ... a pretty Blake Griffin-ish move in terms of being fluid and not being an absolute bull like Randle.”

As you probably remember, Randle’s go-to move was that vaunted spin move that drove opposing bigs nuts. You knew he was going to go to it, but yet you couldn’t stop it most of the time.

With Travis, he’s got that Griffin-style of flow to him. He’s big, smooth and can put the ball on the deck and use a variety of maneuvers to find open/easier looks. He puts the ball in his strong hand, crosses over and utilizes some beautiful footwork on the spin for an easy bucket. He’s not the leaper that Griffin was in his Oklahoma/early L.A. Clipper days, but he’s butter with his movement.

In terms of skilled bigs, he’s right there with the Davis-Cousins-Towns group at Kentucky.

I added this play for a few reasons. The first one and probably the least vital of the bunch is the bald, bearded bench coach that’s probably yelling “AND ONEEEEEE!”

He has nothing to do with this breakdown, but it’s important to me that you notice him.

The main reason I added this play is because ... good lord. Kentucky are shaped up to be some bullies on the window again this season.

Between Travis and the returning P.J. Washington alone, there’s no reason to think the ‘Cats can’t be among the top 15-20 teams in college basketball in terms of offensive rebounds again. Those two by themselves are just dangerous to think about on the glass and that’s not even bringing in 6-foot-10 E.J. Montgomery into the fold.

(The ‘Cats of 2017-18 pulled down 439 total offensive rebounds. That was good for 14th in all of college hoops last season. Of course, their shooting percentages should be much better this season.)

My personal favorite thing about Travis that I’ve seen is not only his intelligence, but his ability to play through all kinds of contact. He relishes the contact and welcomes it. He’s so strong (like you saw above), yet has such a soft touch and can finish in a variety of ways around the rim.

Against ol’ Kentucky killer Thomas Welsh? He’s too strong.

After making a deep open catch in transition, Travis calmly escapes a quick double team, steps through to split it and finishes with the left hand.

The Welsh bucket was just some grown man strength. This field goal was utilizing his smarts, size and footwork to escape trouble with ease.

Here’s another spin move from the wing to near the right block, this time against Ayton and he made it look easy against the top pick in the draft. Ayton cuts off the lane, so Travis gets to his strong hand and uses the glass beautifully.

So, we know he’s good around the rim.

But what about his jumper? He may not “shoot” much, but it’s a healthy-looking jumper when he does use it.

You see many of Kentucky’s bigs over the years shoot this shot (maybe a shade closer). Skal Labissiere and Anthony Davis come to mind with this free-throw line(ish) shot attempts. Kentucky should be able to space the floor much better this season with some better shooting guards, so shots like this will be there for Travis if he wants them.

(Note: Travis shot one 3-pointer during his first three years at Stanford. He did shoot 61 last year and made 18 of them. That’s under 30 percent [29.5%]. So, yeah ... the whole “Calipari doesn’t want his bigs shooting triples” thing would kinda make sense for Travis.)

Even with the transfer to Lexington, Travis was likely going to be on preseason All-American and player of the year lists after making the decision to come back to school.

Kentucky was already going to be one of the most talked about teams in the nation and with Travis’ arrival, the already-high expectations for Kentucky basketball just got even bigger.