Joel Embiid’s health, ball-screen defense concerns after Kansas loss at Kansas State
The final three shots and Andrew Wiggins took in regulation in Monday night’s loss to Kansas State are a pretty good representation of what this season has been like for him.
In the final minute with a chance to tie the game, Wiggins airballed a three. A couple of possessions later, he beat his man off the dribble and got into the paint, but his runner bounced off the backboard and rolled off the rim. But being the athletic freak that he is, Wiggins was able to come from the baseline outside the paint and tip in the miss, causing a turnover on the ensuing Kansas State possession that would force overtime.
That’s him right there. That’s who he is. Underwhelming performances where he has a tendency to disappear and leave your mouth agape when you see him make the plays that he is capable of.
It’d be easy to pin this 85-82 overtime loss on another one of those up-and-down performances. Wiggins was 0-for-4 from the floor in the first half, meaning that he’s now 1-for-14 from the field in the first halves of his last three road games. The ‘1'? A half court prayer that came after the first half buzzer sounded at Baylor. He finished the night 4-for-12 from the floor and 8-for-15 from the line.
So yeah, it wasn’t a good night for Wiggins.
But that’s not why Kansas lost. Not even close.
Take a look at the Kansas State’s second half shot chart, via Kansas beat writer Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal:
If you can’t interpret that, it’s simply: Kansas State got 11 layups and dunks in the second half. Every other shot they hit was a three-pointer. When it comes to running efficient offense, that’s about as ideal as it gets.
Now, the reason that Kansas State got so many layups is a bit more difficult to work through. The obvious answer is that Joel Embiid was out of the game for much of the second half. He’s been dealing with a knee issue since the TCU game two weeks ago and a back issue since Saturday’s win against West Virginia. Bill Self said after the game there’s a chance he might sit out some games.
“Joel is beat up,” Self said after Embiid’s third-straight game in which he played less than 18 minutes. “I’m not going to make one excuse for him, because if you’re out there you have to perform. But certainly, he’s going to get some time off.”
Embiid is one of the nation’s best shot blockers, which would presumably make it more difficult for Kansas State’s burly-but-undersized front line to finish around the rim.
But the way that Kansas State was running their offense, there’s no guarantee he would have been around the rim to block any shots. Kansas was struggling with their ball-screen defense -- on one possession, I counted Wildcat ballhandlers running off of six ball-screens -- and you can be sure that if Embiid was in the game, his man would have been the one setting the screens. The goal of any coach is to get a shotblocker like that away from the basket -- by forcing him to guard a shooter, involving him in screening actions, etc.
That’s besides the point, anyway.
Kansas’ defense has to be much, much better if they are going to be a national title contender.