How Kansas will (attempt to) fill Dedric Lawson’s role

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 14: David McCormack #33 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots over Jaxson Hayes #10 of the Texas Longhorns during the quarterfinal game of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 14, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 14: David McCormack #33 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots over Jaxson Hayes #10 of the Texas Longhorns during the quarterfinal game of the Big 12 Basketball Tournament at Sprint Center on March 14, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Kansas junior forward Dedric Lawson announced on Monday that he will be forgoing his senior season to pursue his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.

Lawson was exceptional this season for the Jayhawks, averaging 19.4 points per game and 10.3 rebounds, earning him a First Team All-Big 12 selection and multiple All-American honors.

While Lawson’s departure should come as a surprise to nobody, fans are facing the uncomfortable realization that Kansas now has 700 points and 371 total rebounds to replace.

So, what now?

Well, this isn’t foreign territory by any means. Kansas had fantastic seasons the year after all-time great Jayhawks such as Thomas Robinson and Frank Mason left.

However, those teams had a combination of upperclassmen leadership and All-Conference talent still remaining even after its star players left.

Next year’s Kansas basketball roster may not have that luxury.

For next year’s Jayhawks, a lot of positives need to happen in order to fill Lawson’s role.

The Question Marks

The next couple of months leading up to the NBA draft deadline will play a pivotal role in what the 2019-20 Kansas Jayhawks will look like.

Sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa and junior center Udoka Azubuike are players that will be flirting with taking their talents to the professional level. And freshman guard Quentin Grimes announced he would enter the draft.

If all 3 of those individuals decided to return — and if Kansas won the Silvio De Sousa appeal — filling Lawson’s role appears far easier.

Azubuike has already shown he’s capable of being an All-American caliber player. And there’s no question  De Sousa would thrive by spending another Summer under Kansas Head Coach Bill Self’s guidance.

Their return would put the Jayhawks at yet another preseason Top-10 level.

Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to happen. In fact, it’s very possible that each of them decides to move on.

So for the time being, De Sousa and Azubuike will be considered question marks.

Improvement of Guard Play

Last year’s backcourt was very talented, but also very young and not dependable.

Freshman point guard Devon Dotson proved to be one of the lone consistent offensive pieces other than Lawson, averaging 12.3 points and just over 3 assists per game.

The other guards showed flashes of solid offensive play, but they weren’t able to sustain that for the entire season.

This year’s backcourt had a lot of issues, but where they struggled most was consistency from behind the three-point line.

When the Jayhawks had the twin towers down low in Lawson and Azubuike, they were able to get away with their deficiencies from beyond the arc by playing through their dominant bigs.

But when Azubuike went down with a season-ending injury, the guard play wasn’t enough to complement Lawson on the offensive end.

While they struggled at time this season, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about next year.

With starting guards Dotson, freshman Ochai Agbaji and sophomore Marcus Garrett all returning, along with incoming 4-star recruits in Issac McBride and Christian Braun, the Jayhawk backcourt should show more consistency on offense.

Dotson and Agbaji are borderline the complete package at their respective positions. They both have the speed, strength and finishing ability that will only continue to get better.

If they are both able to improve upon their outside shooting over the summer, that will take their game, and next year’s team, to the next level.

While the two currently signed recruits won’t be McDonald’s All-Americans, they each possess the athleticism, ball handling and shooting ability that will allow them to see minutes right away.

Also, don’t be surprised to see Kansas sign another guard within the next two months.

Adding new and improved weapons in the backcourt will allow coach Self to put more faith in playing 4-guard sets.

They will have more shooting threats on the floor, more speed and a ton of length.

When this backcourt begins to form chemistry with one another, they’re going to be a fun group to watch.

A New and Improved David McCormack 

With freshman forward David McCormack and junior forward Mitch Lightfoot being the only definitive big men returning at the moment, the frontcourt depth is clearly looking thin.

Lightfoot is a player that every Division-I team in the country would take. He’s a team-first guy, spark plug, rim protector and he’s improved on his post moves. However, he’s not a star.

It is imperative for 6’10” power forward McCormack to take his game to another level.

Even if next year’s team shoots over 40% from 3 collectively, there will be nights where they go ice cold from outside. They will need a player who can create high-percentage shot opportunities in the low post.

McCormack is that player.

It was really fun to watch McCormack’s progression towards the end of this season.

He began as one of those ultra-talented raw big guys who played sped up and out of control. But by the season’s end, McCormack looked confident and controlled.

His energy was always infectious, but as the game began to slow down, McCormack proved why he was one of the top big men coming out of high school.

McCormack’s footwork and touch around the rim are areas of improvement in the offseason. But thankfully, there’s no better coach in the country who develops players over a short time period than Self.

He won’t be putting up Dedric Lawson type of numbers, but McCormack could be in line for a breakout sophomore year.

Replacing Lawson will undoubtedly be extremely difficult. And with redshirt sophomore guard Charlie Moore and redshirt junior forward KJ Lawson transferring as well, Kansas has 3 scholarships left to fill.

This sets up for an interesting and anxiety filled offseason for Self and the entire Jayhawk fanbase.

But as he does seemingly every time, Self will find a way.

Buckle up, folks.