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Making sense of Kaiser Gates’ abrupt departure

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In an unexpected turn, Kaiser Gates has hired an agent and gone pro.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of the season Xavier fans were well aware of who was leaving. Trevon Bluiett was going to try his hand at the NBA, and JP Macura was going that way as well. Kerem Kanter may find a place as a big who can stretch defenses, and Sean O’Mara’s back to the basket game will undoubtedly lead to him getting paid to play somewhere. Four seniors, four departures, four big holes to fill.

This week, that math changed. A cryptic tweet saying Xavier fans would be “surprised” by one of the names that had hired an agent but wasn’t invited to the NBA combine initially scoffed at the notion. Bluiett was snubbed from the combine, but who else could possibly be going? Two days later, the answer to that was revealed: Kaiser Gates had declared, hired an agent, and played his last game for Xavier.

This season, Gates posted 7.2/4.6/.9 on a shooting line of .413/.378/.827. If those numbers don’t jump off the page to you as superficially impressive, that’s because they aren’t. Consider for a moment that Bluiett, who scored 19.3 points per game, rebounded at nearly the same rate, and shot much better didn’t get an invite to the NBA combine and you get some idea of the gap between Gates and the NBA.

What Kaiser does possess is the prototypical next level body right now. At 6-8, 228 and possessed of some ability to shoot from deep, Gates fits right in with today’s floor spacing and shooting emphasis that is so prevalent at the next level. What Kaiser is missing, though, is the ability to do much of anything offensively inside in the arc. For his entire three year career at Xavier, Kaiser took only 109 field goal attempts inside the arc. As a freshman, 68% of his attempts were threes, a number that climbed to 79% in his final year. For comparison, Brad Redford tried 176 field goal attempts to Kaiser’s 179 in his senior and only took 5% more from behind the arc. He also shot 45% from three.

So what do you make of a decent three point shooter with the talent to be much more at the next level? For one, Kaiser isn’t going much of anywhere unless he starts to attack the basket. He’s a belly shooter with a long release, which is why he shot much better in transition than in the half court. Faced with a rapidly closing defender, Kaiser’s shot mechanics don’t allow him to get a good shot away cleanly. Driving would open that space, but Gates didn’t show much inclination to do that. Secondly, Kaiser will have to rebound better. His rates were essentially the same as Trevon’s this year. He has shown, on multiple occasions, that he can dominate the glass if he wants to. He’ll have to if he wants to play.

For Xavier, this is a blow. If Kaiser can be replaced, it has to be by someone with something equivalent to his skill set. Gates did shoot 37.8% from behind the arc, and you can’t find that anywhere. More importantly, he could defend at almost every position and was arguably Xavier’s best on ball defender at all of them. For a team that is hoping to be built on a newfound defensive intensity, this is a huge loss. There’s not likely anyone out there ready to defend all five positions in the Big East. The defensive load on players like Paul Scruggs has just increased.

Offensively, Kaiser figured to see an increase in his 13% usage rate from last year. In a team now built with more of an emphasis on speed, transition threes and easy points, which Gates feasted on thanks to his athleticism, figure to be in easier supply. Once again, it’s Xavier’s loss that a player purpose built to hoover up those opportunities is now gone.

In all, Kaiser Gates’ decision to leave is confusing for him and detrimental to Xavier. He will undoubtedly make money to play basketball this year, but he misses the opportunity to show what he can do in a system arguably more suited to his skillset. Xavier loses a player that plugs right into what they are going to attempt to do this year. With four players as known departures, it’s the unexpected fifth that could really impact what Travis Steele had in mind for this season.