It’s been a rough couple of years for the Kansas Jayhawks at the point guard position. Between Elijah Johnson last season and Tyshawn Taylor in 2011-12, consistent play from the point is a luxury the Jayhawks simply haven’t had. Both certainly had their moments in a Kansas uniform, but neither could be routinely trusted to run coach Bill Self‘s offense.
This season? Well, point guard is clearly the weakest position on an incredibly strong squad. Still, there’s no doubt that junior Naadir Tharpe and freshman Frank Mason have been an upgrade from years past.
The difference simply boils down to turnovers; Johnson and Taylor committed them while Tharpe and Mason don’t. Tharpe averages two turnovers per game, which is the least for a Kansas’ starting point since Russell Robinson in 2007-08. Mason checks in at only one per game while seeing approximately half the playing time that Tharpe does.
Moreover, the current twosome acknowledges and conforms to their role — for the most part at least — on this Jayhawks squad. Johnson took 330 field goal attempts last season while Taylor took an astounding 474 the year before. Tharpe? He’s only had 163 so far — on pace for about 229 total — while shooting 46 percent, including 41 percent from behind the arc. The kid’s been money all season.
Mason, though, has seemed a bit too comfortable shooting the ball at times. The freshman has taken more three-point shots than marksmen Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene while converting at just a 29 percent rate. Kansas fans cringe when Mason pulls up from deep, haplessly shouting their objections at their television screen. Stop doing this to us, Frank.
Mason is a great ball handler who excels at creating plays for his teammates; dropping 20 points a game isn’t and has never been his forte. Expect coach Self to advise Mason to lay off the treys sooner than later. Moving the ball around is where this group’s strength lies.
Tharpe not only sits third in the conference with 5.2 assists per game, but he is on pace for the most in a Jayhawks uniform since the Big 12‘s all-time leader, Aaron Miles, notched 7.2 in 2004-05. Mason is no slouch dishing the rock either, averaging 2.3 assists in somewhat limited minutes. The two know their role: get the ball to Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid and let them do their thing. It’s a role they’ve embraced.
A point’s primary responsibility is to create plays, turning the ball over minimally in the process. It’s a sentiment that Johnson and Taylor often appeared to forget during their quest to become “scoring” guards; Tharpe and Mason have been ideal in this respect.
Though overshadowed by its bigger names, Kansas’ two guards have been been quietly impressive this season. Tharpe has improved all aspects of his game while Mason has shown tremendous promise as a surprise contributor in his first season.
It’s the strongest the Jayhawks have looked at the position in several years; Tharpe and Mason are simply doing their job. Sometimes, that’s all you really need.