Opinion: Mark Pope’s $3.75 million transfer target is the perfect centerpiece for Kentucky

Opinion: Mark Pope’s $3.75 million transfer target is the perfect centerpiece for Kentucky

For Mark Pope’s first season leading the squad, Kentucky boasts a strong veteran-laden roster, but the team still lacks a reliable scorer. Next season, Chaz Lanier might play that position for the Wildcats.

Mark Pope is yet to secure an NCAA Tournament victory. Pope was defeated by Duquesne, a team that lacked agility, struggled defensively, and depended primarily on three-point shooting, in the first round of the BYU tournament the previous year.

It turns out that Pope’s favored style of play wasn’t precisely represented on his BYU roster. He has placed a strong emphasis on defense because he had access to a different class of elite recruits and high-caliber transfers at Kentucky. He has paired rangy shot-blockers like Brandon Garrison of Oklahoma State and Amari Williams of Drexel with elite perimeter defenders like LaMont Butler of San Diego State, the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.

The head coach of the team that Kenpom ranked as the 14th most effective offense in the nation last season is still without a reliable scorer since defense was given such high priority this offseason.

Andrew Carr, a 6-foot-10 stretch big who transferred from Wake Forest to Kentucky, averaged 13.5 points and hit 37.1% from three. A year earlier, Otega Oweh, a 6-foot-5 slashing guard, averaged 11.4 points per game for Oklahoma. Dayton’s Koby Brea is perhaps the nation’s best outside shooter, and Kerr Kriisa makes a great facilitator.

Although Mark Pope put together excellent offensive components that work well together, Kentucky lacks the primary shot creator needed to contend for a national championship. None one the team’s players possesses the gravitas required for everything to work as a cohesive unit and is dependable enough to win games late in isolation.

Pope’s most recent transfer portal aim is the remedy for that possibly disastrous shortcoming.

Chaz Lanier averaged 19.7 points per game while shooting 44% from three and 51% from the field in his fourth season at North Florida. With one more season of eligibility left, the 6-foot-4 guard is presently the front-runner to sign with Kentucky.

After averaging less than five points per game and making just eight starts for the Ospreys in the 2022–2023 season, he was undoubtedly one of the most improved players in the entire nation. As the top player on the squad, his shot volume went up, but so did his efficiency.

Lanier can create plenty of space for the offense with his outside shooting ability and superb playmaking when he has the ball in his hands, but more than anything, he is the isolation scorer this team has been sorely lacking.

He was in the 93rd percentile of the nation last season with an average of 1.27 points per isolation possession. In terms of points per possession on spot-ups, dribble hand-offs, and pick-and-rolls as the primary ball handler, he was also among the top 10% of scorers. Despite not being an extremely skilled athlete, he can outpace opponents and catch their attention with his lengthy strides and body control. Pope doesn’t have a player that emphasizes defense in that sense, despite the talent he has gathered.

Lanier isn’t a player who dominates the ball despite his flashy stats. He can also make catch-and-shoot threes and is a deadly scorer off movement, so his presence wouldn’t interfere with Pope’s motion offense.

While his brilliance is one thing, Kentucky’s first-year head coach has additional exciting options because of his size. In lines with any two of Butler, Kriisa, Brea, and Oweh, Lanier is large enough to play on the wing. In larger lineups, he can also play as the shooting guard alongside to either of Butler or Kriisa. In addition to providing the offense with a much-needed focal point, this addition would allow Pope to use his lineups with even more versatility.

It’s starting to get crowded in Lexington, that reality is undeniable and almost led to Amari Williams reneging on his commitment to the Cats, but Lanier is too perfect of a fit for Kentucky’s coaching staff to pass up on. Without him, Kentucky can contend for the SEC title and should be a safe bet to get through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. But, if Pope can land the First Team All-ASUN guard, Big Blue Nation can start to daydream about a Final Four appearance because that’s a reasonable expectation for this veteran-laden roster.

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