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How good can Kipper Nichols be?

Kipper Nichols had a solid 2017-18 season, but Illinois needs more next year.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

What a season it was for Kipper Nichols, one of the more experienced Illini players on the team — a sad, but true fact considering how many young players Coach Underwood was forced to play in 2017-18.

Versatility is the name of Kipper’s game. He can play positions two through four, and he’s often charged with guarding one of the opponent’s two big men on the defensive end. Keep in mind, Kipper Nichols is listed at 6-foot-6, but he has a football player’s frame at 225 pounds.

This past season, Nichols averaged 10 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in 19 minutes of play. In our series on 2017-18 player reviews, Kyle Huisinga opened his article on Kipper by saying, “Kipper Nichols is the most athletically gifted player on the Illinois roster.” Kyle is dead on and used this example among many available to prove it:

The Illini basketball roster will go through an overhaul next season. Gone are Mark Smith, Te’Jon Lucas, Michael Finke, Leron Black and Mark Alstork. Along with Trent Frazier, Kipper Nichols is one of the few returnees next season. Here’s what we’re looking at.

Worse Case Scenario

As good as Kipper looked at times, there are other times where he plays uninterested and disengaged with what’s going on. His focus comes and goes, and so does his overall impact on the game.

If Kipper continues that inconsistency — all of which is in head because we all know how much talent he actually has — he will continue to drive Underwood mad. Over the course of just one game, Illini fans are often treated to the best and worst of Kipper Nichols. In a worse case scenario, the worst overshadows the best more often than the other way around.

Best Case Scenario

A glaring weakness in Kipper Nichols’ game is his assist numbers, and his overall ability to involve his teammates. Kipper averaged 0.7 assists last season. Kipper can knock down threes, he can throw down some dunks and get big rebounds against players much taller than him.

In a best-case scenario, Kipper diversifies his game and becomes a bit more of a playmaker in the offense. He won’t have the ball in his hands as much as Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu, and no one is asking the Cleveland, Ohio, native to play point guard. Still, if Kipper can see the game better than he does and becomes a threat to dish the ball at any given point, he will become that much more of a threat along the perimeter and down low in the post.

Kipper emerges as one of the best players in the conference next season, much like Leron Black was in 2017-18.

Most Realistic Scenario

Nichols averaged 19 minutes a game last season. Expect that number to get close to and likely surpass 30 minutes per game next year — he's that important to the team, especially considering the losses of Michael Finke (transfer) and Leron Black (going pro).

With increased minutes, Kipper Nichols sees tremendous improvement in his entire stat-line and proves to be a reliable starter capable of going off on any given night.