A different look at Jalen Wilson’s importance through the lens of his teammates’ offensive growth

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) works to the basket as TCU's Eddie Lampkin Jr. (4) defends in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

It doesn’t take a genius to know that Jalen Wilson’s scoring prowess and his growth on the offensive end of the floor has been one of the biggest keys to the Kansas basketball season to date.

Wilson has scored in double figures in all but two of KU’s 15 Big 12 games to date. One of the two times Big 12 teams have held Wilson under 10 points came Monday night in the Jayhawks’ hard-earned, 63-58 win at TCU.

Wilson finished with 7 points on just 3-of-11 shooting, misfiring badly on the two 3-point attempts he took. He made up for it in other ways — most notably with his leadership, toughness and 13 rebounds — but Kansas coach Bill Self noted after the victory that Wilson was worse, offensively, on Monday night than he was in the Texas game when he scored just two points on 1-of-7 shooting.

The fact that Kansas won both of those games — but particularly Monday night’s — is a big-time sign of the progress other players have made on this team.

PHOTO GALLERY: Kansas basketball at TCU

Box score: Kansas 63, TCU 58

The KUsports Ratings

Take, for example, the contributions of Ernest Udeh Jr., Bobby Pettiford and MJ Rice on Monday. There was a point earlier this season — and not too long ago — when that trio could not be counted on for even a single point on any given night. Yet, there they were on Monday, combining for 10 points on a night when Kansas only got to 63.

Had most of those points gone to Wilson, like they were earlier in the season when so many of his teammates were standing around waiting for him to carry the load, Wilson would’ve finished with somewhere around 15 points and it would’ve looked like just another night on his scoring ledger.

The important thing about the development though is it demonstrates that Wilson no longer feels like he has to carry the scoring load for the Jayhawks to win. That’s massive. And that can and should make this team very difficult to defend in the coming weeks.

“I’ve said all along that we’ve got five guys that can all go out there and play and take over a game,” Wilson said of KU’s starters. “That’s the beauty of our team. (It’s) not one person, not two people, but all of us collectively doing what it takes to win. Whoever scores that night is (important), but we’re all going to have some type of effort to win. That’s part of basketball. That’s part of championship teams.”

Thanks to Monday’s win, the Jayhawks are that much closer to securing one championship — a Big 12 regular season title — and that much more confident about their prospects of adding a few more trophies to their haul before the season ends.

You all surely know that Wilson is vying to become just the third Kansas player in Bill Self’s 20 seasons in charge of the program to average 20 points per game for an entire season. He’s currently at 19.9, three points shy of exactly 20 per game.

And you probably even know that Wilson’s stretch of 159 points over six games from Jan. 17 to Feb. 4 is the most in that time of span in the Self era.

But different perspectives are always fun to consider.

So, let’s take Wilson’s two single-digit Big 12 games and project those stats out to the rest of the contests with the goal being to illustrate, in a new way, just how important Wilson’s scoring has been to this Kansas hoops season.

In those two games — both wins, interestingly enough — Wilson averaged 5 points per game on 2-of-10 shooting.

Had he done that in the rest of the Big 12 games this season, it would have resulted in five more Big 12 Conference losses and Kansas would be in the middle of a very difficult season, with 10 losses total and a middle-of-the-pack finish in the Big 12 on the horizon.

Sure, other Jayhawks could have stepped up and scored if Wilson’s numbers had dipped that low in those other games. But can you say with absolute certainty that you can name a Kansas player who definitely would have?

So much of this Kansas team’s success on offense has been about Wilson. Yes, his numbers are good — but the shooting splits don’t wow you — and, yeah, it seems pretty obvious to point out that a 20-point scorer is pretty important.

But during a season when Wilson has carried this Kansas team in every way imaginable, it’s been his ability to handle that type of pressure and still deliver that has been the most crucial.

Not only has it put points on the board for the Jayhawks, but it also has freed up Dajuan Harris Jr. to be a scorer, Gradey Dick for open shots, KJ Adams to play above the rim and Kevin McCullar Jr. to have room to breathe.

Wilson is the Big 12 Player of the Year, and if the Jayhawks win these next three games, setting up the very real potential for Kansas to be the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance, he should be the national player of the year, as well.


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