For the past three years Bryce Hamilton has carried UNLV. Two different head coaches made the same decision, build around Hamilton.
He responded by leading the team in scoring all three seasons and capping off his career as the top scorer in the Mountain West.
But with Hamilton expected to move on (he could utilize his COVID year and come back), UNLV will have to replace their number one option of the last three years.
That is 32.3 minutes, 17.8 shots and 21.8 points per game gone from the 2021-22 team.
But the key for Kevin Kruger will not simply be to replace Hamilton, but to find someone better than Hamilton.
Despite Hamilton’s individual heroics, UNLV didn’t go anywhere in the three years he was the team’s best player. UNLV didn’t win 20 games in a season, didn’t reach the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament and did not come close to playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Better does not simply mean scoring more. UNLV likely needs a different type of best player. Hamilton was excellent at creating his own shot. He drew plenty of double teams, traps and help side defense, but he was an average distributor.
He had flashes, but never truly punished defenses for loading up to stop him. Of the 54 players in college basketball with a usage rate of 30 percent or higher, Hamilton ranked 34th in assist rate.
UNLV may be better off with a player that isn’t going to lead the conference scoring, but can set up teammates more consistently throughout the season.
Kevin Kruger has good pieces to work with.
Donovan Williams proved to be a competent scoring wing with a good jump shot (43.6% from three). But an NCAA Tournament team probably has Williams as the third option.
Keshon Gilbert was a defensive pest, constantly forcing turnovers. But his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired.
Victor Iwuakor and David Muoka could form a great defensive post duo next season, but neither one is creating their own offense.
Jordan McCabe posted great assist and turnover numbers as a point guard, but he struggled to shoot (31.7% from three) and never gets layups.
Simply put, UNLV has good role players. They need a star (or two) that can make them a contender in the Mountain West and an NCAA Tournament team.
That should be the goal this offseason for Kruger.