I already know the first question coming across your mind: who is Kaiser Gates and why should I care? Well, if you care about an NBA-level prospect that has gone completely unnoticed or enjoy reading about under the radar players with the potential to make an impact on a top 10 team, then this is for you.
How could such a player fail to draw national attention? Because NBA draft media focuses on two types of players: highly touted high school prospects that are considered draft-ready by the time they step foot on campus, and more experienced players who have dominated at the collegiate level. Kaiser Gates is neither – his freshman season failed to provide ample opportunities. Needless to say, with two frontcourt players departing last season, Gates’ time has come.
Spacing the Floor
Let’s start with the simple facts. Kaiser Gates is 6’8 forward who is most comfortable playing on the perimeter. Gates is not the typical post banger that Chris Mack usually deals with. He is not a tremendously physical rebounder nor does he match up well with opposing centers. Instead, he is a prototypical stretch forward that can provide tremendous value to a team with an already physically dominant interior player. Look past the 33% three-point shooting and see for yourself:
For a 6’8 forward, his shooting mechanics are remarkably fluid. His release is quick and consistent, and his range extends well beyond the college line, making him a viable floor spacing forward both at the collegiate and pro level.
The three-point shooting is a nice bonus, but what makes Gates so valuable is his ability to defend the 1-4 positions. He has the length to defend equal-sized players, but more importantly, moves well laterally and has quick hands, enabling him to cover guards in pick-and-roll situations. Despite a cross-over and quick change of direction from opposing guards, Gates can able to angle his body and stay in front of his man, preventing penetration.
On more than one occassion, Villanova tried to involve Gates in a pick and roll to exploit a mismatch, but Gates prevents penetration while simultaneously denying an entry pass.
As with most freshman big men, his biggest weakness at this stage is a propensity to commit unnecessary fouls, especially when guarding bigger players. At times, Gates will overcommit or over-play with his hands and pick up silly fouls. You can see the poor interior positioning on his part here as a help defender. He played too far up in the 1-3-1 and as a result, was out-muscled and out-positioned by Ochefu in the post.
It’s also worth noting that his 40-minute adjusted foul rate was the highest on the team, which could pose a major problem when Chris Mack begins to rely on his defensive presence.
Fitting Into Xavier’s Roster
As I said earlier, Chris Mack hasn’t dealt with a player like Gates in recent years. He’s different from the Jalen Reynolds – James Farr – Matt Stainbrook mold of previous Xavier bigs because he isn’t an interior player. Based on their skillsets, these guys were all constricted to the prototypical “big man” role: set screens, roll to the paint and provide offense via short-range shooting and offensive rebounding.
While Mack tended to feature two traditional bigs in recent years, he shifted to a smaller, wing-oriented one last season. This team used 6’6 swingman Trevon Bluiett at the 4. Bluiett is a prolific shooter (his 39.8% clip put him fifth in the conference), but he struggled on the defensive end when matched against bigger opponents. Mack’s employment of a 1-3-1 masked this to an extent, but more importantly, the defensive and rebounding presence of Reynolds and Farr offset any deficiencies. While 6’9 transfer RaShid Gaston and 6’10 Sean O’Mara now step into the fold, the more interesting and effective lineup variation will be plugging Gates into the 4 position and sliding Bluiett to a more natural 3. Doing so won’t hamper the team’s shooting or floor spacing and it’ll give Chris Mack another defensive tool at his disposal. Gates can play the top or middle in a 1-3-1, effectively clogging passing lanes and penetration, or use his length in a man-on-man setting to disrupt an opposing team’s best scorer.
Putting It All Together
At the end of the day, while the sample size is small, the potential is there. He figures to make an impact on the defensive end right away, but my biggest concern is whether Mack can effectively put Gates to use in a system that simply hasn’t heavily relied upon outside scoring. There are a number of ways Mack can use him on the offensive end:
- Put him in a pick and pop situation with Edmond Sumner, a guard with excellent penetration abilities, and an instant headache is created for opposing defenses.
- Let him float on the perimeter, drawing his defender away from the basket and opening up the paint as seen here.
- Have him run the baseline as a corner shooter and offensive rebounder – Gates’ long arms can certainly tip balls and he’s best as a rebounder with a running start.
The opportunity for extended minutes will present itself, and Gates should flourish in a 3-and-D role.