I think Tyler has already accurately captured how I currently feel about this season. I won't belabor any points about this team, and why things are the way they are. It doesn't feel very productive or interesting at this point. What I'd like to do with the few weeks we have left together this season is make sure that we cover everyone who's coming back next year.
I've written at length about Te'Jon Lucas already. I spent some time talking about Leron a month or so ago. JCL and Finke are having years that feel much like continuations of their freshman campaigns. So that leaves us with the new boy who had himself a night against Minnesota.
Kipper Nichols has been a complete mystery to me until the last few games or so. I had no idea what to expect when he transferred from Tulane. You heard the practice reports about the guy sitting out tearing it up in practice, but we all remember that Alex Legion would have been a lotto pick without ever playing a game for Illinois if only an NBA scout happened past Ubben. Groce really eased Kipper into the season as well, spotting him just 15 minutes in his first 5 games eligible. There wasn't much to go on.
Kipper broke out in a big way against Michigan, but I remained skeptical. One performance against a poor defensive team doesn't pencil you into the starting five next year. The games that followed didn't feature impact performances from Kipper, but he seemed to be starting to round into a regular rotation player.
Now we're starting to see what Kipper can do for us, and I feel like he's been a very solid addition to the team. A bouncy wing who gives us positional flexibility, solid defense, gobbles rebounds, and finds the occasional bucket. There are flashes there of a player that could be really good if the right parts of his game develop as well.
The thing that jumps off the screen is the rebounding. Nothing basketball fans love more than a scrappy offensive rebound followed by bucket.
When Kipper plays the three alongside Finke and Black teams are flat out going to struggle to keep us off of the offensive glass. All those guys are plus rebounders, who float around the perimeter and then dive in for boards. You can see it in the play above as Kipper sneaks around baseline from the weakside corner. Amir Coffey is watching the drive, but doesn't realize his man is loose around the bucket to collect the board. Tough to track.
Just kind of being in the right place at the right time would be a very positive offensive contribution for Kipper to regularly make. Popping out for the occasional three or finding pockets of space around the basket to be available for a pass should be like 99% of Kipper's offense now.
It's hard to tell if it will develop, but you can see other places where Kipper's offense can grow into something exciting.
Finding JCL in the corner on the first play and finishing around the rim on the second need to happen. A guy who can pick and pop or catch and go on a screaming downhill run towards the rim would be a real lift next year when it's unclear where we'll get offense from.
Just no more of this:
Do you think he yelled "MALCOLM!" when he took that shot? I'm going to go on believing he did.
Now the defense. It feels like a general internet consensus that Kipper plays good defense. While I believe that's mostly true when he's locked in on another team's forwards, there are definitely areas for improvement. A benefit of a player like Kipper Nichols is that his athleticism should let you switch more on the perimeter. But Kipper was certainly less than stellar against Minnesota's guards.
Letting Nate Mason sort of just run past him?
Dying on a screen, and letting players get downhill against Mike Thorne.
Or playing matador while simultaneously helping off of the best shooter on the other team.
I've cherry picked some pretty egregious examples, but I want to temper expectations about this kid as a stand out lock down defender. He looks generally solid, and it's easier to see how he'll develop here than say on the offensive end. Freshmen make freshmen mistakes. That's all.
So Kipper Nichols. A solid rotation player who could grow into a very nice two way wing. A lot to like and a few things to improve upon, but all in all a very nice find for a team wondering what the hell happened to DJ Williams.
I want to drop some random thoughts in this week as well.
Did anyone else see this play?
Kipper Nichols on the bottom of your screen pointing for Lucas to throw him an alley-oop. When was the last time we saw that? Please don't say Kendrick Nunn...I think it was probably Kendrick Nunn.
And who thought we were going to win after this opening bucket?
I know I harp on mid range shots with the fervor only religious converts can muster, but dammit if I don't love watching Malcolm Hill make those shots. A guy taller and longer than him is in his grill. Amir Coffey absolutely knows what's coming and there's nothing he can do about it. There's a very good chance that you never see another Illinois player who can take a one dribble step-back like that totally in the pocket.
That's the shot of a master craftsman. It's a shot like Kobe or Jordan had in their bag. Get the ball at your spot and take your shot. The other 9 guys might as well not be there.
It's unbelievably unfair we have to say goodbye to that kid.