June 24, 2013
In a span of three months, Kyle Wiltjer changed his mind from returning to Kentucky for his junior season to announcing his (almost definite) intent to transfer from Kentucky.
He wanted to "find a situation that will help me (work on my body) as well as play a more significant role, wherever that may be," as he stated in his open letter.
A more significant role for him personally wasn't to be had at UK next year. But for UK, he would have played an important role, one that's now void and open to questions.
The most obvious (and most important) role Wiltjer would have had next season was outside shooting. He shot 43.2 percent on threes his freshman year and 36.7 percent this season.
He was prone to bouts of inconsistency, but Wiltjer was the only player on next year's roster who you could point to as a proven outside threat. Alex Poythress was an efficient shooter, but that's not the role you want him playing. Aaron Harrison and James Young appear to have solid outside shots, but you can never be totally sure about incoming freshmen.
Even if those players do emerge as bona fide 3-point shooters, you'd always rather have one more to have out there. And if those other players don't? UK might run into some 2010 Tournament scenarios, where threes keep going up but never go down. For a "super team" with no apparent weaknesses on paper prior to this, we now have one that will at least be a question mark heading into the season.
Wiltjer wasn't going to be raining six threes a game on opponents. He was likely to look closer to a facsimile of his freshmen year, playing 15-20 minutes per game and functioning as a de facto specialist. But he could have excelled in that role. He could space the floor, and if left alone hit the open shot; if defenders made a conscious effort to stay on him and shut him down, that just bends the defense and leaves more opportunities for the other four Wildcats on the floor.
On defense, Calipari certainly won't have to worry about him being isolated and attacked mercilessly, as he was (most notably) at Vanderbilt last year. There won't be a defender now that's such an individual weakness. But even there, the impact may not be quite as pronounced as you would think.
While Wiltjer was certainly awful 1-on-1, UK was often able to hide his weaknesses on defense last year and stay moderately effective on that end. With Wiltjer on the floor, UK allowed 1.05 points per possession. With Wiltjer on the bench, UK allowed 0.99 points per possession. It's a difference, to be sure, but in the average 68-possession game, it's only about four points worse. He's a weakness that can be hidden on that end, and that wouldn't change next year with multiple other big front-court players to cover up mistakes.
Without Wiltjer on the roster, some interesting questions arise. Who will be the best shooters on the team, and how might Calipari's approach change to prevent a West Virginia scenario from happening again? How will his minutes be divvied up in the front court? Does Marcus Lee get an expanded role to show off more of what he can do?
I was really looking forward to see how Wiltjer fit into this team and how his offensive game continued to evolve within his role. We won't see that, but there will be plenty of other story lines to follow without him.