When you look at the returning roster, including transfers and freshmen signees, the question of who will be Utah's most indispensable basketball player for the 2014-2015 season seems obvious. That's why I decided to investigate other options. Immediately, however, I eliminated players like Jakob Poeltl, Kyle Kuzma, Isaiah Wright, Brekkot Chapman, Chris Reyes, Jeremy Olsen, Dakarai Tucker, and Austin Eastman. That group just doesn't have the track record or the stats to enter the conversation. For the new players, any "immediate impact" talk would be pure speculation based upon recruiting hype. However, I was tempted to make a case for sophomore guard Kenneth Ogbe, but while the German showed flashes of brilliance last season, he also showed evidence of being a freshman trying to find his way. Ogbe's sophomore season may prove to be another improving year, but, at best, I doubt he'll rise beyond the level of sixth man for 2014-2015. So… that leaves the usual suspects.
The junior forward definitely took more of a leadership role this season, scoring 21 points and leading the team to a dominating victory over rival BYU. His individual effort snapped an 11 of 12 streak of futility for the Utes against the men from Provo. Certainly, Loveridge is an important player on the returning squad, but is he indispensable? Loveridge averaged 14.7 points per game, but that number dipped a full point to 13.7 once the Utes entered conference play. The 6-7 native Utahn averaged 7.0 rebounds per game, and that number also dipped over a full point to just 5.8 rebounds against Pac-12 competition. In fact, the only stat line for Loveridge that improved in conference play was minutes per game, while shooting percentage, 3-point percentage, blocks and steals all dropped once the preseason ended. Even free throw percentage dropped from .804 to .795. In my view, an indispensable player has to step up on the biggest stage, and Utah's favorite son hasn't yet shown consistency versus elite Pac-12 competition.
An argument can be made for Brandon Taylor, who was, perhaps, Utah's most unselfish player. Toward the end of the season, Taylor was, arguably, Utah's best pure point guard, setting up teammates and getting the entire team involved. Taylor averaged a consistent 10.6 points per game (improved slightly to 10.8 in conference play). The junior guard also averaged 3.5 assists per game (with a negligible dip to 3.4 in conference). He was second on the team in steals and was one of the most reliable free throw shooters at .806 overall. But Taylor's sophomore season was marred by inconsistency of play. He went through an early Pac-12 season shooting slump in games Utah could have won with a dependable perimeter shooter. And with a chance to take the lead in overtime against conference leading Arizona, in a game which, if won, might have propelled Utah into the NCAA Tournament field, Taylor clanked three straight free throws. Indispensable players step up in clutch situations.
At the beginning of the 2013-2014 season, Dallin Bachynski was a huge question mark. Some fans wondered if he'd even see much action after being relegated to a backup role for much of the season. However, Bachynski kept his head up, worked hard, improved his game, and showed the kind of maturity sorely lacking from his debut season with the Utes.
By the end of this past season, Bachynski had pulled into fourth place on Utah's per game scoring list at 6.8 (raising that average to 7.0 in Pac-12 play). Bach was also the third leading rebounder on the team at 4.9 rebounds per game (dipping to 4.6 in conference). He shot .619 from the floor (.608 in conference) and .784 from the free throw line (.833 in conference!), which, in today's game is almost unheard of for a back-to-the-basket post player. But this year's downside for the Canadian 7-footer was court time. The coaches saw something in the early season that didn't warrant starters minutes, and foul trouble also limited him to only 18 minutes per game for the season. An indispensable player has to play 30 minutes per game, at least, and be an impact player game in and game out. Bachynski is certainly the most improved player both on and off the court, and he'll easily be an important senior anchor to the front line of the 2014-2015 squad. But evaluating the entire season, Back doesn't rise to the level of indispensable until he can prove to be a focal point for opposing defenses and a game-changing presence on Utah's defensive end.
After considering the above, I came back to the obvious, Delon Wright. Utah's senior guard will enter next season as a player that will likely land on most national awards watch lists. Wright can score. Wright can handle the ball. Wright can pass. Wright can play defense. Wright can block shots, and for a point guard, Wright is a dangerous rebounder. The Los Angeles native is easily Utah's most versatile player, as well as a matchup nightmare for most teams, even in the Pac-12. Without Delon Wright, Utah might have lost as many as 8-10 games they won this season. Even in close losses like the two-point thriller in Boise, Wright's double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) kept Utah from being blown out. So, yes, Wright is Utah's most indispensable player, but in order for him to be the superstar and lottery draftee fans (and Wright himself) think he can be, Wright will need to develop the one weapon clearly missing from his considerable arsenal, an outside shot. While the 6-5 point guard shot .561 (.519 in conference) from the field, he shot just .222 from behind the 3-point arc (.206 during Pac-12 play). Because of this glaring deficiency, especially toward the end of conference games, opposing coaches had their defenses play Wright to drive, even doubling him to get the ball out of his hands or force a turnover. However, if the LA stat sheet stuffer develops a confident 3-point jumper (or even a consistent 12- to 20-foot mid-range game), he might just end up indispensable in the NBA.