Devon Dotson’s presence eliminates concerns, raises KU’s ceiling

Kansas guard Devon Dotson (11) floats a shot over the West Virginia defense during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 at Allen Fieldhouse.

A Devon Dotson-less Kansas basketball team would have figured out some way to succeed in the 2019-20 season — Bill Self is still the Jayhawks’ head coach, after all. That alternate reality isn’t one even the most die-hard KU follower could stomach in fan fiction form, though.

If Dotson had decided to go ahead and keep his name in this year’s NBA Draft, maybe Quentin Grimes would have tried to return to KU and play some point guard instead of entering his name in the transfer portal. Perhaps incoming freshman Issac McBride would have emerged as the team’s primary ball handler. More likely, junior Marcus Garrett would have served as a large floor general.

The truth is none of those alternatives could be characterized as ideal. Had Dotson not saved KU from that actuality with his decision to return, observers would constantly have wondered how much better the Jayhawks would have looked with the point guard from Charlotte, N.C., running the show.

The Jayhawks should be what-if free next season, though, with Dotson back and Silvio De Sousa cleared. KU even projects as strong enough with its veteran heavy lineup to keep people from wondering how R.J. Hampton would have looked in a KU uniform.

With Dedric Lawson trying to carve out a spot for himself in the NBA and Hampton playing in New Zealand, this will be Dotson’s team. And maybe that played some factor in his decision to put his NBA career on the back burner for one year. (See Self’s statement on Dotson: “We feel like we have a very high draft pick in next year’s draft returning as our point guard.”)

It looked like Dotson would have been a late second-round pick this year. Now he has a full season of starring for what looks like a legit Final Four contender ahead of him. More national television exposure and countless opportunities to showcase what kind of growth he has made as a playmaker, shooter and finisher after averaging 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman, when he made 48.2% of his shots and 36.3% of his 3-pointers.

Dotson won’t have to lead KU in scoring — a healthy Udoka Azubuike would be more than capable of that — but he could. Dotson had the best free-throw rate (.482) among KU starters this past season, and he became more adept at getting into the paint and drawing contact as his first college season progressed. He’ll be even more comfortable, not to mention stronger, by the time his sophomore season begins, and Dotson is dedicated and competitive enough to become a more effective scorer off the dribble, whether that’s at the rim or at the foul line.

And you know he’ll spend the offseason working on his 3-point shot and trying to improve his ability to drive to set up shots for his teammates, because those are two qualities that will better his chances of getting drafted early in 2020 like Self thinks he can.

A leader in waiting and as obsessed with winning as anyone on KU’s roster this past season, Dotson can now smoothly step into the spotlight, while assuring the Jayhawks play with speed, as well as some confidence and passion. Next year’s KU team won’t look much like its predecessor. Not with a driven Dotson back and taking on an even larger role.

With Dotson, Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot, Kansas has a core of rotation players that looks on paper like a Big 12 title-winning lineup and a top 5 team in the country. Their ceiling could go even higher if some combination of freshmen McBride, Tristan Enaruna and Christian Braun prove themselves ready. Plus, with three open scholarships at this point, there’s a chance Self and his staff could still add even another player or two capable of contributing right away.

As talented as all those individuals are, each of their jobs would have been more taxing without Dotson around. His presence changes everything for the better for KU, and it saves everyone invested in the program from wondering what if.


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