Defensive improvement, offensive consistency could be key for Dickinson and Storr

photo by: AP Photo/Andy Manis

Northwestern's Ryan Langborg (5) against Wisconsin's AJ Storr (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, in Madison, Wis.

Kansas “caught a break” by getting Hunter Dickinson back for a fifth season, as head coach Bill Self put it Monday.

Even though he hasn’t been a marquee professional prospect, the second-team All-American center already played four accomplished seasons in college, went through senior-night festivities and could have decided to move on.

Now that he’s back, though, Self has pinpointed some areas for the 7-foot-2 center to improve his game as he enters one last year of college basketball. In fact, much of KU’s promise for the 2024-25 season depends on getting the most out of players who are already established veterans, and in an interview with the NCAA’s Andy Katz on Monday Self touched on what that entails for both Dickinson and Wisconsin transfer wing AJ Storr.

For Dickinson, Self said, the potential for improvement comes down to greater athleticism — specifically, he can “guard ball screens better, set and get out of ball screens better” — and more consistent shooting.

When Dickinson and the Jayhawks switched against opposing screens effectively — as they did short-handed against Baylor in February, or when they dominated Kansas State in Lawrence in March, both occasions on which Self praised their defense — they could post elite performances. When they did not, they lost by 29 to Texas Tech, or by 21 to Gonzaga to conclude their season in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

KU’s players have often said that KJ Adams’ athleticism at the power forward spot is what allows them to switch so crisply; Dickinson has a role to play too, though, in the integrity of their scheme.

KU also did a lot better when Dickinson was accurate from deep.

“And we love Hunt, but the one thing that I don’t think he did last year as well as he can do (was) he didn’t shoot the ball consistently,” Self said.

The center entered 2023-24 as a career 36% shooter from beyond the arc, in the fairly small sample size of 125 attempts across three seasons. He proceeded to shoot 23-for-65 (35.4%) in his first year with KU, by no means an aberration.

The way he arrived at that mark, though, tells a different story. As Self pointed out in the interview, Dickinson started the year on a remarkable hot streak shooting 3s. He was 11-for-17 (64.7%) through eight games and still 16-for-31 (51.6%) through 15. He then proceeded to go 2-for-25 (8%) in the next 12 games in the thick of conference play, a significant blow to a team that struggled with spacing and 3-point shooting as a whole, before recovering to go 5-for-9 (55.6%) in his final six appearances of the year.

photo by: AP Photo/Colin E. Braley

Oklahoma State guard Javon Small (12) attempts to get past Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, in Lawrence.

Kansas center Hunter Dickinson (1) puts a three over Gonzaga forward Braden Huff (34) during the first half on Saturday, March 23, 2024 in Salt Lake City. Photo by Nick Krug

Storr, for his part, will help to remedy any offensive issues KU had in 2023-24, as a proven scorer who was named second-team all-conference after averaging 16.8 points per game at Wisconsin last season. As Self noted, “late in the clock … he can go get a basket, and we were lacking that last year.”

Self added that he can get more consistent in his shooting, too. Indeed, Storr ended the year shooting 35.1% from the floor (not just on 3s) on 57 attempts over his last three games.

But defense might be more of a focal point for Storr when he arrives in Lawrence. As his Wisconsin coach Greg Gard put it, according to BadgerBlitz, “I think he could be a really good defender, but we’re not there yet.”

Self echoed that sentiment.

“I think AJ has to be more engaged defensively, obviously,” he said. “There’s no reason why he can’t be a great defender and a great rebounder.”

The 6-foot-7 Storr averaged just 3.9 rebounds last season and, as one measurement of his defense, his Defensive Bayesian Performance Rating as evaluated by was 0.50. The rating essentially quantifies how many points better than average a team would do, in a sample of 100 possessions, “if the player were on the court with 9 other average players.” As a freshman at St. John’s, Storr recorded a mark of minus-0.68.

For comparison, KJ Adams’ rating of 1.44 was the worst among KU’s primary starters last season.

If DBPR is any indication, forming a cohesive defense from the disparate scorers KU has brought in could be one of Self’s biggest offensive priorities. Zeke Mayo’s rating last season was 0.64, and Rylan Griffen, though he has a reputation as a strong defender, got a 0.04, which puts him in the middle of the pack among players who played at least 500 possessions last season.

photo by: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Wisconsin guard AJ Storr, left, goes to the basket against James Madison forward Raekwon Horton (2) during the first half of a first-round college basketball game in the men’s NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 22, 2024, in New York.


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