As Naadir Tharpe goes, so goes Kansas. It’s been the quiet theme of the Jayhawks’ season thus far, but it was on full display during their 72-65 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday. The junior point guard finished with as many turnovers as points (six) and doomed Kansas with several untimely mental errors.
Not exactly what coach Bill Self desires from the de facto leader of his team entering March. As was the case with the two guards he’s started behind in his collegiate career — Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson — Tharpe has struggled to provide leadership on a night-to-night basis.
For instance, take a seven-game stretch he endured toward the end of this past November. He averaged 6.2 points per game on a dismal 35 percent shooting to go along with 4.4 assists. But over the next seven — which included four contests against ranked opponents — Tharpe shot 60 percent from the field, averaging 14 points and 5.6 assists per game.
Sure, it’s fairly encouraging that Tharpe has played arguably his best basketball against tournament-caliber competition, but his inconsistency should be at the forefront of Jayhawk fans’ concerns. It’s simply not a luxury they can afford at this point in the year.
A look into how Tharpe’s states fluctuate in wins as opposed to losses is even more disconcerting. In Kansas’ seven losses this season, he’s shot only 33 percent on his way to 6.0 points and 4.8 assists per contest. Fairly similar numbers to his horrendous stretch early in the season, right?
However, check out Tharpe in the Jayhawks’ wins and it’s a bit of a different narrative: 50 percent from the floor, 10 points and 5.2 assists per game. Quite the disparity, yes, but I still stand by my sentiment that 2013-14’s Tharpe is Kansas’ best point guard (for Self’s system) since Sherron Collins.
Self’s philosophy isn’t built on the point being the primary scorer. It’s based on quality possessions while limiting unforced errors; sloppy ball handling was a recurring theme throughout the Johnson/Taylor years.
Johnson had five turnovers in Kansas’ season-ending loss to Michigan in last year’s Sweet 16. Taylor had five during the 2012 National Championship game against Kentucky the prior season as well. Clearly, the Jayhawks can’t win it all with a turnover-prone point at the helm. Tharpe is the best Kansas has had in this respect since Russell Robinson, averaging only 2.1 each game.
It’s fair to question where the kid’s head is at times — he’s certainly made his share of ill-advised decisions throughout the year — but the “good” Tharpe is as good as the Jayhawks have had it in quite some time. While he isn’t necessarily the scorer that Taylor was and doesn’t possess the athleticism Johnson had, he takes care of the rock and creates plays for his teammates. Ultimately, that’s what will give Kansas its best shot at a title.
On a roster that boasts both Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, the championship hopes of this Jayhawks team may just hinge on the play of Naadir Tharpe. He’s shown he can be the leader the team needs; it’s only a question of whether he can channel that for six consecutive games two weeks from now.
From here the Jayhawks will play the Red Raiders of Texas Tech on Wednesday night. You can find Texas Tech basketball tickets here.