LAWRENCE — Christian Braun hasn’t been around Devon Dotson long, around six months to be more specific.
Still, the first-year Kansas basketball guard has in that relatively short time period witnessed enough marked growth out of his sophomore counterpart to note one area where Dotson has shown tremendous improvement: the Jayhawk point guard’s leadership skills.
“Oh, I think since I’ve gotten here he’s gotten a lot better,” Braun said Thursday. “He’s made big strides with his leadership, and that’s just from being more vocal. Whether it’s on the court or off the court, I think he’s doing a really good job of just talking to everybody, getting people in their spots.
“As he gets older, I think he’s going to be really good at that. That’s one of the things that if he wants to play in the NBA, he’s got to be really good at (talking), being a point guard. He’s made strides even since I’ve been here.”
Leadership appears to be a major area of emphasis for Dotson in a sophomore season that almost didn’t happen.
Dotson tested the NBA Draft waters following his freshman campaign but on May 29 announced his decision to return for a second go-round with KU. Across the season's first nine games, Dotson is averaging 19.8 points on 49.5% shooting with 5 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game for the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks (8-1).
Braun isn’t the only person around the program to note Dotson’s noticeable leadership growth.
“I think he’s actually trying to be a better leader,” said KU coach Bill Self, whose Jayhawks play UMKC (5-6) at 4 p.m. Saturday at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. “I think he’s talking more. I think he’s outside his comfort zone. I think he’s confident where he is, so he’s not worried about if he screws up or if I get on him. That stuff doesn’t even register to him anymore like it may have last year. So I think from an intangible standpoint, he’s trying.”
Other keys to being a leader, Self said, are positivity and coachability. Dotson has to this point maintained both of those qualities, even amid the blunt feedback that can come inside Jayhawk practices.
“Not that he was ever not coachable, but you know, you get on Devon and then he pouts up, what does everybody see? So I think (he's) taking certain things better,” Self said. “But the biggest thing is he’s talking more. I mean, he’s talking more in situations that aren’t basketball related that I think is really good. So just practicing talking, I think he can become a very vocal point guard before it’s all done.”
When he’s not talking, Dotson has been leading by example.
The 6-foot-2, 182-pounder out of Charlotte, N.C., tops the Big 12 in scoring, holding more than a two-point lead in points per game over his next closest competitor (Oklahoma's Austin Reaves, 17.6). Self labeled that development “a shocker,” though he said he expects Dotson to continue scoring at a similar clip for the rest of the season.
As for why he’s surprised by Dotson’s spot atop the Big 12 scoring charts, Self explained that, outside of recent examples Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham, Jayhawk point guards under his direction are typically tasked with facilitating first rather than stepping in as go-to scorers.
“I mean, you think about it like this: If Devonte’ and Frank and Devon are scoring at the clip they’re scoring with, I’m sure Sherron (Collins) is thinking, ‘Man, I wish he would’ve turned me loose,’ because he was a better scorer than all of ’em,” Self said. “It’s just historically my guys have been pass-first probably point guards more so than what they are now, and that’s not their fault, that’s just me and our staff opening up to understand we need to give these guys more freedom to go make plays.”
If Dotson continues to evolve as a facilitator, his appeal to NBA decision makers could skyrocket.
Dotson averages 2.8 turnovers this season. While that number has been torpedoed by six-turnover showings against Duke and Dayton, Self nevertheless indicated Dotson could show more growth as a passer and decision maker, two skills that are obviously critical for any point guard.
“I don’t think we quite (throw lobs) like our other teams have, and that’s something that we’ve got to improve on,” Self added. “I do think Dot has done a pretty good job of getting the ball where it needs to go for the most part. But he’s a better finisher than he is passer in tight right now, which is not a bad thing for us at all because we need his scoring.”
If nothing else, at least one Jayhawk teammate appears grateful for the progress Dotson has already made.
“For me, he’s helped me out a lot in practice,” Braun said. “Like when I first got here, he was pretty vocal off the court, but he wasn’t always putting people in their spots on the court. That’s kind of a point guard’s job. But he’s really learned all five positions and he’s doing a really good job of not only talking to Doke (Azubuike) and Ochai (Agbaji), but he’s doing a good job talking to other guys like me and Tristan (Enaruna).”