The case for freshman guard Bryce Thompson to be KU’s fifth starter

Booker T. Washington basketball player Bryce Thompson announces his signing with the University of Kansas in Tulsa, Okla., on Tuesday, November 12, 2019. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World

About the only thing we know for certain regarding the 2020-21 basketball campaign is who will make up four of the five starting spots for No. 6 Kansas during its season opener. KU head coach Bill Self said as much during Monday’s media availability via zoom.

Barring some unforeseen circumstance, Self expects to have Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, Christian Braun and David McCormack in the starting lineup for Thursday’s matchup with No. 1 Gonzaga. That game is slated to begin at 12:30 p.m. Thursday in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip-Off.

As unpredictable as 2020 has been, it feels pretty safe to assume that the starting lineup for both of this week’s games — and likely beyond — will feature that quartet. So let’s have some fun predicting who will round out the starting five, shall we?

In a multi-blog series leading up to a highly-anticipated matchup on Thursday, I’m going to take a look at some of the top candidates for the final starting spot and how that player would fit in the lineup. My guess is that there could be a few different players start in that spot over the course of the season, so don’t just assume that the race is over after this week.

Our first candidate for that coveted spot will be freshman guard Bryce Thompson.

If I had to set betting odds on the fifth starter, Thompson might be considered the preseason favorite. Tyon Grant-Foster, Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna are in the mix, but it really is easy to make the case for why Thompson will be thrust into a starting role in his collegiate debut.

The 6-foot-5 combo guard would bring a second ball handler to the starting lineup, which is certainly something that should be appealing to Self. Garrett will be the primary guy as he moves to point guard for his senior season, but there are going to be times where it would be beneficial to have him off the ball to open up driving angles.

It’s certainly not the only reason to have Thompson in the starting lineup, but that seems like a big one given Self’s track record of wanting multiple ball handlers on the floor.

Self has also raved about Thompson’s basketball IQ since the day he signed with the Jayhawks. Self coached Thompson’s father, Rod, at Tulsa and has known the five-star guard for quite some time. So those are the types of comments that are more than just coach-speak to me.

Sure, Thompson is still going to make freshman mistakes, but having a high basketball IQ tells me that he will at least be able to do the little things right away. That means knowing when to provide help defense or finding the open man on the offensive end. Those would seem like important qualities when talking about the fifth starter.

But Thompson has immense potential when he does fully adjust to the collegiate level.

Thompson, who was a two-time Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year, showed the ability to score in a variety of ways en route to averaging 24.6 points per game during his senior campaign with Booker T. Washington. Even though Thompson might not be asked to have a major role right away, he has the potential to provide a nice scoring punch as a freshman.

Without any exhibition contests, there is no way of saying for certain what KU’s starting lineup will look like on Thursday. But Thompson’s skill set should fit nicely with any rotation. And, if Thompson does reach his potential as a freshman, there is reason to believe that he would bring out the best version of this year’s Jayhawks.

Maybe that doesn’t mean Thompson will get the nod in the opener, but I’m guessing there is a decent chance that he will be in the mix at some point this season.

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