Kendall Stephens

The Case of Kendall Stephens

For the record of which I don’t have yet, this is my first attempt at an entertaining sports piece.  After following plenty of different Boilermaker media, I’ve decided it’s time to contribute to this sort of entertainment I’ve been enjoying for years.  Thanks for reading.

The Boilermaker season has been nothing short of spectacular thus far.  We have looked as we should against weaker opponents, and we have flexed our collective muscles against the stronger ones @Pitt and a neutral court against Florida.  Also, have you been watching the “In the Arena” videos?  The team chemistry has never looked better, especially in the locker room after games.  10-0 will do that to a team, but it also seems Painter has these guys meshing and playing for each other’s well-being, much like the years past of Hummel, Johnson, and Moore.

Of all the good fortune we’ve seen so far, there is still a curious case remaining about one of our significant players, that is, if we really want to take the next jump from a very good team, to a great one.  This player has an incredibly high ceiling, good size and length, and was the highest rated recruit during Painter’s 2012-2014 stretch.  But, he can also quickly turn that fist pump of joy to a face palm of disapproval.  I’m, of course, referring to Kendall Stephens.  Remember all the discussion about which Hammons was going to show up night in and night out?  Kendall is even more volatile.  Remember all the discussion of how we needed shooters?  Kendall should’ve been the answer to that question.

Let’s take a look at his numbers: recently, against healthy competition (Cincinnati last year, and this year against Florida, Pitt, New Mexico), Kendall is shooting 4-29, for a whopping 14%.  Of games against weaker opponents, Kendall has made 20/50, 40%.  Should these numbers always be slanted towards weaker opponents?  Sure, but not this much.  So what’s going on with Kendall?  We can’t knock his work ethic, because he plays so much; and on Coach Painter’s team you don’t play if you don’t work.  We can’t knock his ability, because he’s consistently given the green light, as he shoots more than twice as many three pointers than anyone on the team.  This would get you benched with Painter’s hands-on tendencies, but does not with Kendall.  So, at some point, he’s proven the skill is there, probably mostly in practice.   Alright great, essentially he’s a lights-out practice shooter who just doesn’t quite live up to his true potential in games.   Happens often, I’m sure.

Superb analysis! But, how should we fix this?  To put it simply: give Kendall more opportunities to get into the flow of the game.  All great basketball players get into a “rhythm”, but Kendall’s role on offense doesn’t really allow for that.  I see him run off some screens, catch, look for the shot, and if it’s not there, he’s pretty much Peyton Manning in the pocket: sedentary.  A couple ball fakes, and a lob down low will get you the assists in the stat sheet, especially with talented big men, but this is simply not enough to groove a player into a nice rhythm.  When MJ couldn’t find his shot, what did he do?  Drive the ball, and go to the line.  Even free throw shooters dribble a couple times before they let it go, and that’s ultimately to get a feel or a calibration of the ball…rhythm.  Kendall rarely puts the ball on the floor.  How is he supposed to generate a rhythm with his current role in the offense?  He really can’t.  So, we’ll continue to see this ever-so-streaky nature of who could be one of our top offensive threats.  Coach, I’m simply asking to make a few tweaks.  Give Kendall the space to put the ball on the floor a bit.  Give him some more touches somehow to get his “feel,” and then watch the shooting percentage go up.  We all know Kendall has the ability, but it’s Painter’s job to help unlock that ability.

So, I’m going to ease up a bit on Kendall, and you should, too.  Painter continues to trust him for a reason, and he knows a heck of a lot more than we do.  Plus, I believe a “spot-on” Kendall IS the difference in a Final Four run, or just another Round of 32 or Sweet 16.   If you feel discouraged, go watch Kendall back in his AAU days with clips on YouTube; that is a shooting stroke that can quickly bring your squad 9-12 points.  Also, perspective is a beautiful attitude to.  I often forget this, but he’s just a little over halfway through his college career, so there’s plenty of time to unleash his potential.  Haters are going to hate, much like shooters are going to shoot.  Kendall, we know you have it in you; just keep shooting…after you find your rhythm, of course.

Follow Will on Twitter @WilliamTeat

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