*This is the fifth installment in a series of articles looking at the top preseason storylines for Xavier basketball heading into the 2016-17 season.*
Kaiser Gates flashed some potential while playing a limited role on last year's Xavier team. Heading into the 2016-17 season, his development will be an interesting storyline to follow for multiple reasons.
With a roster low on numbers, Gates is expected to play a legitimate role and contribute on this year's team. The Musketeers don't need him to be a standout performer, but it also wouldn't hurt to add another weapon and he has the potential to be a threat. Mostly, though, he'll be expected to play good defense and rebound, both of which he did well last year.
Where Gates' development becomes even more interesting is when you start looking at the impact he could have on future teams as an upperclassman.
His best performance during his freshman campaign came during the last game of the regular season when he posted 11 points (3-3 3PT, 2-2 FT) and eight rebounds over 15 minutes in a 98-93 win at home over Creighton.
He was clearly most comfortable in a spot-up shooting role on the offensive end. He showed an understanding of how to space properly on the perimeter and took shots with confidence. He also showed pretty good judgment with his shot selection as a freshman. Obviously, the next step for him is to become a more consistent shooter. He shot 33.3 percent from deep last season on 39 attempts. It would seem he's poised to increase his percentage and his attempts this year. When watching him go through skill work, he's consistently looked like one of the team's best shooters.
He also left too many points at the free throw line, going 25-for-44 (56.8%). That seemed to be more of a mental block for a young player than a true indication of his free throw shooting ability, but he certainly needs to improve on that this year.
Gates isn't necessarily being asked to expand his role as a playmaker, particularly on this year's team, but he isn't being limited either. Xavier's offense allows every player, one through four, the opportunity to have the ball in their hands and make plays. Last year, he was more comfortable finding an opening in the defense and spotting up, but if he develops any type of game off the bounce it could tremendously improve his upside.
The more Gates expands his game, the more versatile he becomes. And the more versatile he becomes, the more he fits in with and improves not only this year's team but the teams he'll play on over the next few years.
A lineup consisting of Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, and Naji Marshall boasts plenty of potential, but those three guys will need someone to stretch the floor as none of them are known for their outside shooting. That's where Gates could benefit greatly, as long as he continues to develop into a reliable perimeter scorer. And if his skill-set evolves beyond that, he could have star potential playing alongside those guys. Also, his defensive ability only adds to a group that could be dominant on that end of the court.
Chris Mack and Matt Jennings, the Musketeers' Strength and Conditioning Coach, have both praised Gates for the work he did on his body during the offseason. He was recognized with the Ignition Performance Athletic Group championship belt this summer, an award given to the player on the team that demonstrates the best work ethic, leadership, and commitment to improving their body. (Ignition is a local athletic training facility that works with the Musketeers during their offseason strength and conditioning program.) The hope is that his increased bulk (around 15 pounds since last season) will improve his ability to rebound and finish.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Gates if you're a Xavier fan, but there is one issue.
Gates' development has been complicated once again by a preseason injury. His freshman year was set back by a concussion that caused him to miss a good chunk of the preseason. Just before practice started this year, he dislocated his kneecap and has mostly sat out of everything since. He had a scope procedure to remove particles of cartilage on Thursday, Oct. 20, and was given a timeline of four weeks to return.
Will Gates take the next step in his expanded role this year and at least be a reliable three-and-D wing? Has he added more than that to his game? How much upside does he actually have going forward?
Finding out those answers could be key for this year and the next few seasons of Xavier basketball, but Gates will have to get healthy and get back on the court first.
Read the other articles in this series: