If you’ve watched Kentucky lately, you may have observed that the Wildcats appear to be a bit top-heavy. Not only in an overall talent sense — which is indisputably true — but also with respect to their roster composition.
The ‘Cats feature a huge, powerful and slightly lumbering team that’s more effective defensively than on offense due to greater frontcourt prowess than backcourt scoring.
Well, without knowing who still will be in Lexington next season, look for Isaiah Briscoe to bring balance to the lineup. The combo guard enjoyed a scintillating 2014 travel season and is a top-15 national talent who has improved markedly over the past year.
But Briscoe’s opening act occurred long ago. All the way back in the 2011 summer — yes, four and a half years ago — Briscoe captured our attention at the Hoop Group Future All-American Camp. As a rising freshman, he played up versus 15-under competition and impressed with his savvy and production at such a young age.
He proceeded from there to build a local reputation that became national very rapidly. Briscoe never has been one to content himself with age-appropriate competition. He was the rare rising sophomore who played on the 17-under EYBL circuit, in 2012, averaging a strong nine points per contest.
A stalwart for The Playaz, he advanced into the 2013 travel season with many supporters but lost a few of them that summer. Briscoe’s game became slightly distorted in favor of scoring — including forcing numerous bad shots — and thus he acquired a label as reckless, and in some eyes selfish.
Expectations were high yet cautious for him as he embarked on the 2014 travel circuit, once again carrying the torch for The Playaz. Briscoe emphatically dispelled any reasonable criticism during the spring and summer, scoring at a high level while become more efficient and a more effective playmaker.
He even avoided one-on-one scoring showdowns in the name of playing a team game — and winning — and his heroics at the Peach Jam led his squad to the prestigious EYBL championship .
Briscoe enters the 2014-15 season as one of the country’s most celebrated seniors and has earned all the praise he’s receiving.
Briscoe’s most dynamic athletic quality is one that easily can go unnoticed: He possesses exquisitely nimble feet that enable him to remain on balance and able to change directions at any moment.
He’s plenty quick from a standing position, but it’s the ability to make adjustments on the fly — after forcing defenders to commit — that makes Briscoe such a prolific scorer.
|Briscoe’s ballhandling conjures images of historic East Coast wizardry|
He scored 19 points per game this year, actually down from his 21-point average in 2013. But he raised his shooting accuracy from 39 percent to 45 percent. No, that number doesn’t place him among the most efficient guards, but it’s respectable and especially when you consider all the things the Playaz needed him to do.
He raised his free throw percentage from 68 percent to 75, and given that he attempted 217 free throws in 23 games, that’s a significant improvement. Briscoe’s talent for movement draws a lot of contact and bewilders shotblockers, who find that their efforts to time him frequently meet with failure.
And his rebounding. Briscoe is a sensational rebounding guard, averaging seven per game after pulling down only three per contest a year ago. Again, this isn’t the player for anyone to call selfish. He notched five assists per game and over one steal as well.
Briscoe is a capable, albeit very streaky jump shooter who easily creates his own shot. He does possess three-point range and thus can’t be defended as a driver only.
As referenced and evidenced by his assist totals, he has worked hard to enhance his playmaking. Briscoe has cultivated a strong grasp of kick-out passing and also is a talented bounce passer to big men.
While not a lockdown defender, he’s aggressive and strong and capable of making plays that lead to fast breaks the other way. His overall style is tough and confident, and that’s why his teams are so difficult to beat.
Shot selection still remains an issue, and what happened to Briscoe’s threes? He buried a decent (not great) 34 percent on long bombs in 2013, but that number fell to 29 percent a year later. Granted, with sample sizes that small you don’t want to obsess over percentages, but the bottom line is that he needs to improves his three-ball.
Apart from his excellent feet, Briscoe is a good, not great overall athlete. He’s also slightly small for the NBA wing and likely will need to develop more of a scoring lead guard style — which, to his credit, he’s already doing — to maximize his professional aspirations.
Briscoe projects as an immediate weapon for the Wildcats, which are likely to lose the Harrisons following this season. Given that Tyler Ulis is more of a playmaking point than a pure scorer, having some pop alongside him will be critical to the backcourt. And unlike Devin Booker, who’s more stationary, Briscoe is far shiftier and more creative off the dribble.
However long he’s in college, Briscoe should advance to a very successful career in the pros. His odds to make the NBA appear strong, and his style there — scoring off the dribble, expert handling and maneuverability in traffic — should translate very well.
First things first, he’ll attempt to close his prep career in glory and then lead UK to a national title in 2016.