His shots aren’t falling. His turnovers, both of the forced and unforced variety, are mounting. And he has been less than a defensive stopper.
Nobody knows what is at the heart of senior point guard Elijah Johnson’s slump, but theories abound: He is playing an unnatural position, and his talents are better suited to shooting guard. His knee might not be 100 percent recovered. He’s putting too much pressure on himself to assume the role of team leader. His confidence is shot. All of the above.
Whatever the cause, the solution doesn’t seem to lie in maintaining the status quo. A change of scenery just might be what’s best for Johnson, and at this point, what’s best for Johnson is best for the team.
Starting the game on the bench and watching Naadir Tharpe start in his place might be just the tonic Johnson needs to break the tension building up within him and tearing down his game.
It also would be interesting to see what, if anything, a starting assignment could do for the smaller, quicker Tharpe.
Tyshawn Taylor’s career turned for the better when he returned from an embarrassing two-game suspension in late February of his junior season at Kansas. Serving as sixth man surely beats watching games in street clothes. What’s the down side to trying it?
Fortunate scheduling makes this the right time to try such a switch, with a trip to TCU next for the Jayhawks (19-2 overall, 7-1 in the Big 12). If TCU (9-12, 0-8) isn’t the worst Big 12 team of all-time, it certainly merits a spot on the short list.
Cynics might view starting Tharpe for a while as little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
But if the move relieved Johnson of tension and gave him a chance to come off the bench and fix whatever might be broken, it could give the team a jolt.
A fresh start might revive Johnson, who in Big 12 games has shot .310 overall, .281 from three, averaged 4.3 assists and 3.9 turnovers and 8.1 points. Tharpe’s Big 12 numbers — .265 overall shooting, .231 from three, 1.9 assists, 1.5 turnovers, 5.4 points — haven’t been any better, and his size can be exploited defensively, but trying a different look is worth a shot.
Quick and blessed with good size, freshman Anrio Adams might tame his game before the year is out enough to help in certain situations, but it’s not realistic to expect he could run the team yet.
Walk-on freshman Evan Manning a couple of years from now might have the experience and the build to help, but probably not yet.
The answer lies with Johnson and Tharpe, not necessarily in that order.