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Better Know a Freshman: M’Wani Wilkinson

Strong defensive player could help bring LSU to the next level

When it comes to offense, the 2019-20 LSU basketball team had no problem putting up points. But opposing teams faced little resistance from last year’s LSU squad and the Tigers ranked a ghastly 179th in defensive efficiency. And you thought Bo Pelini was bad!

Anyway, if LSU wants to make another run at a Sweet 16 it must get better defensively. Will Wade has talked plenty this offseason about LSU’s new approach to defense and a new face like M’Wani Wilkinson ought to help get the Tigers where they need to be.

The Story

M’Wani Wilkinson comes to LSU via Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. Bishop Gorman might be the best high school basketball program in America, having won 22 state championships overall and nine straight.

As a senior, Wilkinson stuffed the stat sheet: 19 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks, two assists and two steals. It’s the blocks and the steals that caught the eyes of scouts. Wilkinson is thought of as maybe the best defender in the 2020 recruiting cycle.

Tasmin Mitchell was the primary recruiter for LSU. Mitchell got Wilkinson to visit Baton Rouge in October of 2019 and four months later Wilkinson picked the Tigers over Texas Tech, USC, Vanderbilt and the hometown UNLV Rebels.

The Numbers

247 Composite Ranking: ****

247 Composite Rating: .9727

National Rank: 77th

Position Rank: 16th

Wilkinson says Paul George is his favorite NBA player and I can see a little bit of George’s game in him. Wilkinson might already be the best defender on LSU’s team, and he has the length and athleticism to guard shooting guards, small forwards or power forwards. His ability to guard three different positions gives LSU a unique, versatile weapon not many other teams have.

Two things I absolutely love from the little bit of film I’ve seen of Wilkinson: he’s fearless going up for a block—and can disrupt the shot without fouling—and he has the instincts to rotate over and give the help defense.

“It’s uncanny how sharp he is defensively,” is how Will Wade described it.

Offensively there’s room to grow here. He’s compared to Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson and that’s...not exactly a good thing. For those of you who don’t watch the NBA, Roberson is constantly left wide open on offense because he can’t shoot. For his career, Roberson shoots 25 percent from three and 47 percent from the free throw line. Roberson’s a terrific defensive player, but is dreadful on the offensive side. Here’s hoping Wilkinson isn’t nearly as bad.

And I suspect he won’t be. He’s got good bounce which will allow him to go up for most lob attempts, but as of now he’s not much of a floor spacer. However from everything I’ve read his midrange jumper has been improving steadily. If that’s the case and Wilkinson does add a reliable shot, he’ll be next to impossible for Wade to keep off the floor. And because LSU has so many natural scorers on the roster, Wilkinson won’t be asked to carry the scoring burden right away and can instead focus on defending the opponent’s best player.

High End: Continues to improve his offensive game, and is a fiend defensively. All-Defensive team member and possible SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Low End: Can’t develop a reliable shot beyond five feet from the hoop but is a multi-year starter because of his defensive prowess

Realistic: A less athletic Marlon Taylor. Taylor will be remembered for his insane dunks, but he was quietly an excellent defensive player. Wilkinson won’t be—nor should he be—the one LSU runs their offense through. But if he defends as well as scouts say, he’ll have to play serious minutes as a freshman and start as a sophomore.