The Kansas Jayhawks under Bill Self have been so consistently good that their dominance of the Big 12 may be getting a bit boring. But if there’s ever been an especially dull Kansas squad, at least at first glance, it’s the one that’s been on the court so far this year. The Jayhawks look incredible, no doubt—they’re 10-0 with four really impressive wins, minimum. But the aesthetic of this great team, unless you’re an old-school purist, is much more of an acquired taste compared to the recent days when guys like Frank Mason, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Devonte’ Graham destroyed teams by bombing threes.
The overpowering presence on this year’s edition of the perennial Big 12 champs is Dedric Lawson (pronounced “Dee-drick,” which I have yet to get the hang of). Lawson is playing his third season in college basketball and his first at Kansas, since he transferred from Memphis alongside his brother K.J., who doesn’t typically see the court all that much. When the seven-foot powerhouse Udoka Azubuike is on the floor, the 6-9, 235-pound Lawson is a four. But as Azubuike’s battled an ankle injury, he’s filled in well at the five, particularly in Kansas’s weekend win over Villanova.
If I can be a little reductive, Lawson is the anti–Zion Williamson—just as effective, but with way fewer highlights. He shares some similarities with Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ too, but Lawson’s a better shooter and a worse ball-handler. More historically, Tim Duncan is the go-to comp for Lawson. The Jayhawk has some explosiveness off the dribble, and boasts a real knack for getting closer to the basket. But compared to most top young players, he works methodically inside the arc, doesn’t really have the muscle to bully defenders, and only rarely seems to possess the ability to jump. Somehow, though, the guy can rack up tons of buckets, leading the team in points and rebounds per game with 19.7 and 11.1, respectively. Here’s a particularly instructive ugly play that I find hilarious:
Lawson’s mastery of fundamentals and lack of grace is either extremely your shit or not-at-all your shit. Over the course of a dominant performance, Lawson’s foul-line and floaters scoring routine can get as repetitive as entering values into a spreadsheet. Still, there’s something marvelous about the singular, counterintuitive way Lawson is able to impose himself on the game. It’s almost like a mystery that begs solving. One of college basketball’s best players should not be relying on this weird mid-range bullshit in 2018, and yet it works!
Despite proving that he can be extremely effective in college basketball, it’s unclear how much farther Lawson can take this bit. Lawson went to the NBA Combine after his freshman year with Memphis and got called “the worst athlete” at the event. He’s undeniably improved as a player since then, but not really as an athlete. Instead, he’s built himself into a powerful weapon that works within his limitations to take over a game. On a Kansas team with only one really great three-point shooter in Lagerald Vick, Lawson is the prize piece playing for maybe the most abnormal contenders of the year. It may not be as fun as seeing Zion defy gravity; but so far, it’s producing equally strong results.