Kansas coach Bill Self seeking more consistent production from the Jayhawks' bench
Encouraged by the play of his reserves during Monday’s road loss to Baylor, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said this week that he would like to see even more production from the KU bench in the days ahead.
But Self made sure to put reasonable expectations on his current batch of back-ups, who are not known for their scoring prowess. He also emphasized that better bench play would not eliminate the need for big games from KU’s starting five.
Tuesday night, during “Hawk Talk” with Brian Hanni, Self said that while reviewing the game film from the loss to Baylor, “the anger emotion crept in a little bit because we were so close and that could’ve been such a different (game).”
“We’re not that far off,” Self added of a Kansas team that has lost two straight and sits at 10-4 overall and 4-3 in Big 12 play. “But we need everybody playing well. We’re not a good enough team to have three out of five starters or two out of five starters play well because our bench isn’t going to be a scoring-type bench.”
KU reserves Tristan Enaruna, Dajuan Harris and Mitch Lightfoot combined to play 55 minutes against Baylor and contributed 14 points, six rebounds and four assists. That nearly doubled what that trio was averaging as a group entering Monday’s game.
“I thought our bench was better,” Self said after the loss. “I thought Mitch and Tristan and ‘Juan all did some good things.”
With freshman Bryce Thompson out of the equation for a few more weeks with a broken finger and junior college transfer Tyon Grant-Foster still working to find his role — Grant-Foster has played a total of just 27 minutes in KU’s seven Big 12 games — the Jayhawks figure to lean on Enaruna, Harris and Lightfoot a lot the rest of the way.
Positionally, that works out well. Enaruna is the first wing off the bench and can be plugged into the lineup in multiple positions. Lightfoot is the clear backup to starting big man David McCormack. And Harris is the clear backup to starting point guard Marcus Garrett.
Self said the idea of playing Garrett and Harris together is not off the table, but because neither player is known for his outside shooting, Self said the Jayhawks have to exercise more patience and emphasize execution in the halfcourt when those two are in the game.
With Enaruna, who Self has said could be one of KU’s best players come February, the focus is on consistency and continuing to take more pride in his role on this team.
Against Baylor, Self said Enaruna played one of his better games, impacting the game in a positive way even when he was not scoring.
“I look at Mitch and I’m thinking, ‘Gosh, good energy,’ and all that stuff,” Self began. “But the thing about it is, when Mitch wakes up every day he’s about 6-8, 6-7 and a half. And when ’Juan wakes up every day he weighs 155 pounds.”
That’s a far cry from what Self has been used to throughout his Kansas career, when future NBA lottery picks and all-Big 12 players have been on his bench on semi-regular basis.
Having those types of players to turn to when one or two of his starters has an off night, is invaluable, Self said.
“I mean, we won a national championship and I don’t believe all five starters always played good,” he said. “But we had Sherron Collins coming off the bench, who was our best, most talented player. Can you imagine, on our team right now, having a bench guy be the best player in an Elite Eight game (Sasha Kaun vs. Davidson in 2008) or a bench guy being your most talented player (Collins). We just don’t quite have that yet.”
“We’ve got to get more bench production,” Self added. “Because (when we don’t) it puts too much pressure on your starters all to be good.”