Kaiser Gates came into this season with high expectations. Xavier’s sophomore swing man had a great freshman season and figured to grow into his role with the team this year. Instead, Gates suffered a knee injury and had surgery before the season even began. While he only missed five games due to that injury, and Xavier shouldn’t have needed him in any of them, Gates didn’t come back as the player he was. After one game, Coach Mack opined that Kaiser was playing as if the surgery had been to amputate the limb, not fix it.
The criticism was not without merit. Last season, Gates mixed his attempts pretty evenly between inside and outside the arc. This year, Kaiser remade himself as a very tall spot up shooter. While outside shooting is certainly one of the things that makes him such a weapon, it’s not likely that Xavier recruited Kaiser as solely a stand and shoot player in the mold of Brad Redford. Kaiser also was a force on the glass last year, through the Shootout this year he had been a shadow of his former self, tentative to close possessions on the defensive end and in no way interested in the mixer offensively.
And there is the first sign of Kaiser’s resurgence. Through the Shootout he had come up with a grand total of 33 defensive rebounds in 15 games. That’s not a whole lot more than you’d expect from someone feeding on scraps and it was coming at a lower rate than Trevon Bluiett and roughly the same rate as point guard Edmond Sumner. When Ed went down though, Kaiser flipped a switch. In those three games where the electric guard hasn’t been in action, Gates has grabbed 20 defensive rebounds. In each of those games he has been either first or second on the team in closing out stops with rebounds. For a team that struggled immensely to do that in games they’ve lost this year, his sudden interest in the defensive glass could hardly have come at a better time.
Offensively, Gates has made some adjustments as well. The one constant has been three point shooting. Kaiser is at 35% on the year and 38% in conference play. What has changed is Kaiser’s willingness to try a shot from somewhere other than behind the arc. Again, through the Shootout he had attempted just 15 two point field goals. Against Creighton alone, he took four. While that’s not exactly living in the paint, it has made Gates enough of a threat that teams can’t just challenge him the moment he catches the ball. That’s also led to an increase in free throw attempts as Kaiser has attempted to get into the lane. Pre-Shootout he had a grand total of 13 tries from the line, since that game he has eight (and has converted all of them). Finally, Kaiser has also been getting on the offensive glass more. 13 offensive rebounds came before the Shootout, six more have come in the three games since.
You may have noticed a theme there. With Edmond Sumner hitting the deck in the SJU game, Kaiser has stepped up noticeably. In raw numbers, he’s averaged 8/8.6/.6 in those games on 6-16 from the floor and a perfect 8-8 from the line in almost 25 minutes per game. When Xavier has desperately needed someone to make a significant increase in production, Kaiser has. There’s a lot of season left to play, but the way that Gates is going now should definitely inject some hope into Xavier fans still hoping to be dancing come late March.