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Kentucky Basketball: What we learned from the Bahamas trip

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Kentucky’s in great shape. Here’s what really stood out from the week.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

Kentucky’s Bahamas tour showed that this team is a good deal ahead of schedule when it comes to its development.

That’s a big deal for a team with National Championship expectations. The Wildcats looked really good. But that’s not all we learned. We saw a lot of specifics as to why Kentucky is in such good shape.

Here are four things we learned from the Big Blue Bahamas tour.

Tyler Herro can flat-out score

Ever since Herro joined the 2018 signing class, we heard about what a great shooter he is. Turns out that was wrong. He’s not just a shooter, he’s a scorer. He can put up points from any spot on the floor. Throughout the Bahamas games, he showed that scoring ability, as he ran the floor in transition to finish above the rim, hit jumpers in close, hit turnaround jumpers from mid range, and hit a ton of 3-pointers.

Herro led the team in points, 3-pointers, 3-point percentage, field goals, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage (he went 15 for 15 from the foul line).

Herro brings a scoring ability that this team desperately needs. Kevin Knox was the best option in terms of a versatile scorer last year, but wasn’t nearly the 3-point threat that Herro is. Herro makes this team a much better shooting team than the Wildcats were last year, which is a huge deal. Every great college team has to be able to shoot the ball in this era.

Speaking of that...

This team is much-improved from the 3-point line

And it’s not just Herro, though he’s the team’s best shooter (and probably the best scorer). As a team, the Wildcats shot 38.2 percent from 3-point range, and made 6.5 3-pointers per game.

Last year, the Wildcats shot 35.5 percent from deep and made 5.3 3-pointers per game. So this is already an early step up from last year’s shooting struggles.

Four Wildcats—Herro, Keldon Johnson, Immanuel Quickley and, yes, PJ Washington—all shot 40 percent or better from 3-point range for the week. Last year, only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shot 40 percent or better from deep.

And this shooting success came in spite of the fact that Kentucky struggled in game one, going 2 for 20 from 3-point range. In the final three games of the trip, UK shot exactly 50 percent from 3-point range (24 for 48).

Quickley could be the top point guard

While all of the preseason hype has been with Quade Green and Ashton Hagans in terms of Kentucky’s top point guard, Immanuel Quickley has been an afterthought. Most have just assumed he’s a multi-year player that was going to take a little more time to earn a big role with this team.

That is, until Quickley was arguably the best point guard in the Bahamas. He finished with a team-high 18 assists vs. just two turnovers in four games, a staggering 9:1 turnover ratio.

Sure, no one is keeping that up in a regular season, but doing that against pro teams does show Quickley is a real threat to be Kentucky’s primary distributor this season.

One thing holding Quickley back, at least for now, is his offense, as he shot just 30.4 percent from the field (7/23), despite shooting 40 percent from deep (4/10). He’ll have to make big strides with his offense inside the arc if he’s going to win the starting point guard spot, but being a great distributor and three-point shooter is a great start.

He also had five steals and was a pest defensively, so even though his offense is still raw, he may be Kentucky’s most complete point guard this season.

PJ Washington’s next step has been huge

I was concerned that fans were putting too much pressure on Washington to make too big of a jump in his second season. There’s only so much improvement that can be made in just a matter of months. But if Washington’s Bahamas trip was any indication, he’s exceeding high expectations.

His game was somewhat limited last year, but his versatility in the Bahamas was absurd. The Draymond Green comparisons are a bit extreme, but he certainly looked the part last week. He could do everything, as he succeeded in being a fast-break ball handler, a 3-point shooter (he had the third-highest 3-point percentage on the team, and picked the right time to take his shot), a finisher at the rim, a setup man (he dished eight assists) and a rebounder (he averaged 7.5).

He did it all and then some, and because of that it was no surprise that he logged 109 minutes for the week, the second-most on the team, and the most among players that started all four games.

What was your biggest takeaway from the Bahamas trip?