Slump and all, KU coach Bill Self still believes freshman guard Quentin Grimes can help Kansas
Monday night, during the Jayhawks’ latest, grind-it-out, come-from-behind, find-a-way-to-win victory over Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse, it was freshman Ochai Agbaji, and not Quentin Grimes, who stepped on to the court to start the decisive second half for the home team.
But don’t expect that to be the norm moving forward.
So said Kansas coach Bill Self on Tuesday night, during his weekly “Hawk Talk” radio show, when asked about Grimes’ recent struggles, which included a 0-point, 0-for-4 shooting night in 19 minutes against the Cyclones on Monday night.
“Quentin Grimes is a good player and he’s talented and he’s in a little bit of a freshman funk,” Self said during the second part of his weekly radio show. “But he’s our starter, he’s going to continue to start, and we know, for us to have the best chance to win over time, that we’ve got to have our most talented guys playing at a high level. And we think he’s more than capable of doing that.”
Even for the former five-star prospect who has struggled to find confidence and consistency so far this season, Grimes’ performance agains the Cyclones was concerning because of the way he played the last time Kansas faced Iowa State.
In that one — a 77-60 loss to ISU on Jan. 5 in Ames, Iowa — Grimes was the only Jayhawk who showed up and played with any energy and intensity. He led KU with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting (3-of-6 from 3-point range), adding six boards, two assists and a steal in 31 minutes.
The only stats Grimes recorded on Monday night, this time during a KU win, were the four missed shots and one steal in 19 minutes.
What’s more, in the five games since his 19-point outburst at Iowa State, Grimes has scored just 26 points total on 9-of-28 shooting. For the season, the 6-foot-5 guard from The Woodlands, Texas, is shooting 40.3 percent overall, 31 percent from 3-point range, while averaging 8.2 point and 25.6 minutes per game.
While the hope for Grimes and the Jayhawks is that his shooting numbers will go up, don’t expect his minutes-played numbers to go down.
Without 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike, Kansas is fully committed to its four-guard approach. Iron-clad confirmation of that was seen on Monday night against Iowa State, when Dedric Lawson played 38 minutes as KU’s lone big, with Lagerald Vick (37), Devon Dotson (38) and Marcus Garrett (39) joining him in playing major minutes.
Grimes (19) and Agbaji (16) split the rest of the minutes at that fifth spot and likely will continue to do so the rest of the way, with Self going with the hot hand or better contributor on any given night.
In some ways, that should take a large chunk of the pressure off of Grimes, at least from the team perspective. Until he breaks through, he’s always going to press and have high expectations for himself. And that, if managed correctly, is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s that type of mindset and approach that will keep him in the gym, working hard to figure things out.
I’ve heard on more than one occasion that Grimes is an absolute killer in practices. He just has to find a way to transfer that to game day. And there’s still plenty of time — and almost certainly plenty of opportunity — for him to do just that.
With Agbaji emerging — and even K.J. Lawson capable of providing a spark, as he did Monday when he was in there for KU’s 14-0 run that gave the Jayhawks control — Self knows he has another option if Grimes continues to struggle.
And Agbaji, ever the teammate and selfless contributor, does not figure to play differently whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. In that regard, he’s the perfect sixth man, providing Self with an option who can bring energy and instant offense, but can also be counted on defensively and is reliable in terms of poise, execution and presence.
Self saw that in a crystal clear manner on Monday night, when Agbaji responded to his 4-minute outing and worst game of the season at West Virginia last weekend by acting like it never happened.
“I kind of liked it,” Self said of Agbaji’s bounce-back vs. Iowa State. “He showed me, ‘I’ll show you what aggressive is,’ and he was in attack mode right from the beginning and felt like he belonged. I think he’s got a high ceiling. We have all along. I think he can be an all-league type player, eventually. It’s too early to say what he is, but (Monday) night was so encouraging.”
Self still believes the same things about Grimes — minus the Monday night part, of course — even if the first 19 games of his college career have not exactly gone as planned.
“We (have) not, in any way, shape or form, wavered, at all, on what we feel like his role could be for us,” said Self of the player who arrived on campus as a projected 2019 lottery pick and is now pegged as a second-rounder in Jonathan Givony’s most recent mock draft (Jan. 7) at ESPN.com.
A good game can come out of nowhere and happen to just about anybody. But a good stretch can turn around a season.
That’s what Grimes needs, to stack two or three good performances on top of each other and see where that leads.
It worked for Malik Newman last season. And the turnaround came when Newman took control of the situation and started forcing the action through better effort and a more aggressive approach, playing his way out of the slump instead of simply hoping for it to end.
On “Hawk Talk” Tuesday night, Self said, in so many words, that he was looking for the same thing from Grimes, pointing to the high-energy minutes provided by K.J. Lawson on Monday night as a more recent example of how Grimes can keep control of his production.
“He does probably need some good things to happen,” Self said of Grimes. “But I do think he could make some good things happen through activity, with some energy and enthusiasm and things like that.”