Bill Self says no Jayhawk this season has made a play like Marcus Garrett did against Iowa State — one that was easy to overlook in real time.
While guarding Donovan Jackson — the Cyclones’ second-leading scorer — Garrett stayed on the perimeter after a pass went to forward Cameron Lard in the post. After Lard took one dribble, Garrett started to make a move, digging down on the ball to poke it away for a steal.
“He’s guarding a good offensive player,” Self said, “but he knows exactly how far he should dive.”
The instinctual play resulted in more than a stop. The Jayhawks ran in transition, and when Iowa State failed to organize properly, Malik Newman ended up with a wide-open three that gave KU the lead.
This all leads to a bigger-picture discussion about the rotation that Self will decide to use moving forward.
As a freshman, Garrett is a flawed offensive player. He’s not an effective outside shooter, and this is something obvious to even the most casual basketball fan.
Garrett has a slow release on his shot, meaning he needs more time and space than others. He’s also not confident — making 8 of 32 threes this year — which has resulted in nearly every Big 12 team sagging off him while using that player as an extra help defender.
And this is an obvious problem. It’s tougher to score when you’re playing 4 1/2-on-5, and essentially, that reality has limited Garrett to 19 minutes per game in Big 12 play.
But that might change moving forward. And the steal above is one example why.
KU point guard Devonté Graham says Garrett is often a focal point in Self’s film-room sessions. Sometimes, Garrett will execute perfectly when rotation rebounding after another teammate has to help defensively. Other times, he’ll box out someone else’s man, which allows Udoka Azubuike to get a rebound.
“(Coach)’ll be like, ‘You really should thank Marcus for all the little things he does,’” Graham said.
Add those up, and there’s probably enough there for Garrett to warrant more minutes.
This still isn’t an easy decision. Basketball’s advanced statistics are not as clear as baseball’s, as it’s more difficult to parse out the value of one player because most of his actions also involve four teammates.
It appears from one measure, though, that Garrett could be helping KU more than most realize, even if he doesn’t do that in the most obvious way.
College basketball fan Will Schreefer has created online spreadsheets — updated Sunday — that show the best three-man lineups for each team.
This measure isn’t a perfect way to gauge individual players — plus-minus in single-game samples shouldn’t be trusted, and even looking at it in larger samples without schedule adjustment can be misleading — yet this is still a stat Self has admitted to using in the past when judging reserves, as their main job is to help improve KU’s standing when they’re on the court.
Garrett’s numbers here stand out.
KU’s best lineup this year has been this three-man combo: Graham, Azubuike … and Garrett. That group has outscored opponents by 0.35 points per possession during its time on the floor together.
The Jayhawks’ three best lineups after that only have one player in common: Yep, that would be Garrett.
If you were wondering, Garrett also is part of KU’s best four-man lineup (Graham-Mykhailiuk-Azubuike-Garrett) and five-man lineup (Graham-Mykhailiuk-Vick-Garrett-Azubuike) while also ranking fourth out of KU’s rotation players in individual plus-minus.
Some of this could probably be explained away. Maybe Garrett has had fortunate timing, or has benefitted from getting extended minutes during KU’s blowouts early in the season.
The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Garrett is not KU’s most valuable player, but his intangibles have helped KU’s on-court success more than one might expect.
“If anybody is making mistakes with Marcus, it’s me, because I don’t think I’m having him out there long enough spurts,” Self said.
That likely will change going forward.
Garrett has a hard-to-miss flaw offensively, which makes it tough for him to pass the eye test with both coaches and fans.
Basketball is about more than that, though. Sometimes, a savvy defensive play can lead to transition offense, or rotating on a boxout can eliminate a bad play before it happens.
It’s possible, too, that a role player could be the best fit with a lineup even if he’s not considered the most talented.
Self appears ready to test that hypothesis with KU’s best glue guy.