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Alex Poythress: Kentucky's 'Wildcard'

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Alex Poythress has been a polarizing prospect since getting to Kentucky. The athleticism, the dunks and the occasional flashes of jaw-dropping feats have left fans and pro teams wanting more. That won’t change next season.

Poythress has been in a peculiar situation with the Wildcats since his freshmen year. In 2013, he played 64.1 percent of possible minutes in 33 games, but watched that number drop to 45.5 percent this past season. Some of that can be accredited to playing behind Julius Randle, while the rest might have to do with Poythress’ lack of a position.

The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Poythress doesn’t have the outside shot or ball skills to play a wing position on the perimeter, but lacks the requisite height to play consistently near the rim. The same situation will happen next year, as Poythress now finds himself not only trying to find his niche on a basketball court, but also battling five other players for what could be two positions.

When Poythress chose to return to Kentucky for his junior season back in April, he stated a lot of the usual stuff most pro prospects say when they decide to skip out on the draft. He mentioned that he wanted to make sure he was as “NBA-ready” as possible before leaving school. While many others in his position have said the same words before — and many will after — those words couldn’t be more true in his case. It doesn’t have much to do with his body, strength, or anything else for that matter; it has everything to do with his shooting.

The pro game is changing every season and it continues to move towards a “smaller” game where just about everyone on the floor can shoot — even stretch out to the 3-point line. As a big in today’s NBA, you better be able to protect the rim or stretch the floor. Poythress, as of now, struggles with both. While the likelihood of him growing three or more inches in a year, the smart play is to start shooting 3s and prove he can knock them down enough to make him somewhat of a threat. If that happens, the rest of his game and athleticism will play up fine at the next level.

Poythress attempted 33 threes each in the past two seasons with Kentucky and he made a grand total of 22. If he wants to be as “NBA-ready” as possible, then both numbers must rise; the 3-point attempts and the makes.

If Poythress is able to accomplish this, he’ll not only help his chances at the next level, but he’ll also make next year’s Kentucky team even more dangerous. If Poythress plays at the typical “small forward” position next season without the outside shot — next to two other bigs — teams will be able to sag off of him and clog the paint. With the amount of bigs Kentucky has and the return of the Harrison twins, offensive spacing will be vital.

Not only will Poythress add another dynamic to Kentucky’s offense if he starts taking and making 3s, but he’ll also unlock more lineup combinations. If John Calipari is interested in going “small” next season and use three-guard lineups, he’ll need Poythress at the power forward position to provide the spacing that will be huge for the ‘Cats.

Poythress can improve his future and Kentucky’s immediate future if he is able to develop a 3-point shot — making him the ultimate “wildcard.”

 

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