Who Should Start at Small Forward for Kentucky?
Kentucky’s Big Question Mark
Throughout the short span of this season, Kentucky has stayed pretty consistent with it’s starters. Calipari has experimented with a couple different looks, but for the most part, each position has figured out who it’s best players are, except the small forward position.
Ashton Hagans is the undisputed starting Point Guard. Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey are both playing at high levels for the Shooting Guard spot. EJ Montgomery has distanced himself as the best PF on the team, and Nick Richards has obviously solidified his spot at Center.
The only real question at this point is the Small Forward position. John Calipari currently has three Small Forwards who are playing a good amount of minutes, and all three have started at least one game at the position. Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks, and Johnny Juzang are battling for the spot. Dontaie Allen is also a Small Forward, and when/if he returns from injury, he could be an option as well.
Who Has Performed the Best So Far?
Kahlil Whitney opened the season as the starter. He’s the 5 star, top 15 player of the group. Kahlil came into this season as a raw, athletic specimen. Most believed he had a limited offensive game and was another “freak athlete” with no polish. He’s actually shown a decent ability to score, however. He’s knocked down a few threes, and is shooting a solid 33% from beyond the arc. Kahlil is a big-play guy, and has thrown down multiple alley-oops and putbacks. As a decent transition finisher, he’s a good guy to have on the court. He is a bit of a liability on defense though, and has admitted that he didn’t play any defense in high school, meaning the learning curve for him on that end of the court is massive. Kahlil is averaging 5.8ppg, 2.8rpg, and is shooting 40% overall from the field.
Keion Brooks made waves when he committed to Kentucky over the longtime favorites in his recruitment, Indiana. He’s a Swiss Army Knife who can do pretty much anything on the court. Brooks is the best mid-range shooter on the team, as well as a solid rebounder and defender. He’s got good court vision as well, and has shown an ability to pass the ball. Keion’s not an electric athlete, but still has hops and a good feel for the game. He seems more polished than Whitney, but hasn’t performed consistently. Statistically, Brooks is the best at the small forward position, averaging 6.6ppg, 4.1rpg, and 0.5apg. He’s shooting 48% from the field and 33% from 3.
Johnny Juzang got his first career start against Fairleigh Dickinson. Juzang was one of the best pure scorers in the country as a high schooler, but has struggled to see shots fall this season. He’s a pure scorer, specializing in 3 point and mid-range scoring. As a long wing, Juzang is also a solid perimeter defender, and has shown a knack for coming down with rebounds. The big issue with Juzang is his shot-making. He’s averaging an abysmal 21% from the field, and 15.7% from 3PT range. If Juzang could get those shots to fall, he’d likely be the best option to start because of his impact on other parts of the game. His rebounding and perimeter defense is the best of the 3. Johnny is averaging 2.3ppg, 2.5rpg, 0.5apg, and 0.4spg. Other than scoring, those are really good numbers for a guy getting only 13 minutes per contest.
So Who is the Man for the Job?
At this point, it’s a tight race for the starting Small Forward spot. Each player brings something new to the table. It’s a good thing to have so much depth at the position, because if someone’s slacking, there’s options.
I personally have thought that Keion Brooks is the best man for the job for a while now. He’s the most efficient scorer, and impacts every part of the game. His ability to score both in the post and from range is valuable. As a good rebounder and solid defender, he seems to be the most well-rounded player of the group. He’s certainly not perfect, but has proved himself enough in my eyes.
Kahlil Whitney and Johnny Juzang are perfect as the first couple of guys off the bench. Whitney as a 6th man is where he’s at his best for the team. As a guy who can check in and bring energy, along with serviceable shot-making, that isn’t something to be ashamed of whatsoever. Juzang is going to eventually start knocking down shots, and when he does, his impact on the game will skyrocket. He already has the intangibles down, he just needs to see that shot start dropping.
Once Dontaie Allen returns from injury, it’s very possible that he makes his own case for the starting spot. He was the best scorer in the start of Kentucky in high school, and is a shot-making machine. Allen may be more of a shooting guard in the eyes of the staff, though.