Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rising Juniors -- Nine to Watch

What We Are Looking For
The Big East Conference made this job a lot more difficult back in 2007 when they increased the size of their season-ending "All-Big East...Team"s from five (the traditional number) to eleven. Toss in the three or so Honorable Mentions, and the number of recognized players goes to 25 or so, up from the 15 - 18 most conferences recognize (three "All" Teams, not including a Freshman/Rookie Team, plus two - three Honorable Mentions). The Big East switched back in 2008-09, giving me another seven to eight players to consider for this list. Using Pomeroy's classification system as a guide, I am scouting the "Role" or "Significant Contributor" player, someone who took about 16%-23% of their team's possessions last season, but could grow into a "Major Contributor" or "Go-to Guy" player over the course of the course of next season -- though most probably won't. Pomeroy discusses growth "probabilities" in "Putting Individual Efficiency into Perspective" over at The Basketball Prospectus back in 2007. One thing about these players is clear -- they tend to push at the upper limit of their growth curve each season.

On Offense...
Kevin JonesWVU81.2124.618.521.51.18
Jeff RobinsonHall50.1118.819.120.91.14
Terrence JenningsLVL31.6116.118.318.61.22
Kris JosephCuse69.6111.119.618.41.14
Jordan TheodoreHall64.5109.519.117.71.04
Darius Johnson-OdomMU73.1107.022.924.21.16
Yancy Gates'Nati62.8106.921.322.71.07
Augustus GilchristUSF38.1104.825.324.61.16
Darryl BryantWVU55.0102.723.921.41.00

The list contains the last member of the Big East's All-Rookie Team from 2009 still in school, Cincinnati's Yancy Gates. Every one else from that team has departed for life in the pros. Gates, whose time with the Bearcats has featured an off-and-on relationship with Head Coach Mick Cronin, found himself, more often than not, the 3rd last season, and that step back allowed him to trade efficiency for usage, a common trade-off. With seniors Deonta Vaughn and Steven Toyloy graduated, and Lance Stephenson gone in the draft last June, the opportunity to step forward and play a major role in the fate of this team this season is there -- if Gates can stay out of foul trouble (he averaged about 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes last season, per Ken Pomeroy) and maintain or enhance his efficiency even as he takes a larger share of the possessions and shots. The offensively challenged Bearcats (a recurring theme in Coach Cronin's tenure), will have to look to a committee of veteran players, centered on Gates no doubt (and freshman pf Justin Jackson?), to make up for the departed offense. With the spotlight on senior Da'Sean Butler and All Big East Devin Ebanks, more than a few observers missed 6-8 250 lb bfc Kevin Jones, yet he played a crucial role in Coach Huggins' Four Forwards Offense. Though guard-like duties fell to Butler and one of Truck Bryant (see below) or Joe Mazzulla if they were available, Jones proved to be extremely efficient in a just-out-of-the-limelight "Role" player status. Jones was the 3rd option on offense, but like Gates, two of the bigger options ahead of him last season, Butler and Ebanks, have moved on. Coach Huggins recognized his value, playing Jones a whopping 81% of the time in 2010. Jones' teammate Darryl Bryant should see his possession and shot rates climb this season as well. Bryant, whose effectiveness may have been compromised by personal and health issues in 2010, has the potential to see his role in the offense expand to "Major Contributor" (Poss% 25%-28%) levels, but will have to improve his shot conversion and limit his turnover rate, if he expects to see his efficiency (and playing time) climb. Seton Hall's Jeff Robinson is one of four JUCO/transfers on this list. Times change -- there was a point in time when transfer "stars" were so rare they often drew special attention from the media and coaching staffs. Though he did not qualify for play until the end of the Fall 2009 Semester, Robinson was so effective during the conference portion of the Hall's schedule that he sent starter Robert Mitchell to the bench. Robinson, along with teammates Herb Pope (also a transfer) & Jeremy Hazell, flirted briefly with the NBA draft, but (all) decided to return to South Orange for another season. Recruited by departed coach Bobby Gonzalez, Robinson is a 'tweener, who has the size of a #2/#3 with the skill set of a slasher. He will see even more floor time this season if his defensive rebounding matched his offensive board work (see below). Robinson's teammate and fellow "Watch List"er Jordan Theodore should see a larger role in the offense now that Eugene Harvey and Keon Lawrence have moved on. Theodore has much the same conversion deficiency as Truck Bryant, but without the turnovers and other baggage Bryant may carry.

Four Factors...
Kevin JonesWVU81.257.612.010.928.5
Jeff RobinsonHall50.
Terrence Jennings'Ville31.661.713.617.434.8
Kris JosephCuse69.650.87.718.259.8
Jordan TheodoreHall64.547.
Darius Johnson-OdomMU73.
Yancy Gates'Nati62.852.
Augustus GilchristUSF38.152.49.320.054.5
Darryl BryantWVU55.042.42.721.656.0

A summer ago Coach Rick Pitino tabbed Terrence Jennings "the key" to Cardinal success in 2010. Though he brought energy to the line-up, Jennings was unable to develop a tandem playing relationship with Samardo Samuels, and found himself behind the more heralded bfc in the rotation. Though Jennings offered efficient scoring and a dominant rebounding presence, especially on the offensive boards, he did not establish much more than a "role" presence on offense. Sam-Sam moved on to the NBA this past June, and ready or not, he has passed the low post baton onto Jennings. Pomeroy's 50% confidence interval suggests Jennings should grow into a "Major Contributor" role this season (in the range of 21%-24% of the possessions/shots), but given the personnel loss, should Jennings blow up, a "Significant Contributor" role, something just north of 25% is possible. As a high-end "Role Player", Jennings has shown he can be very efficient (111.8-116.1); if he can maintain his efficiency level while expanding his role in the offense, he will definitely make an All-Big East Team or two. Then if he is around in the summer of 2011, I will not be able to include him on my Rising Seniors "Watch" List. Kris Joseph is yet another example of how team work was so successful for Syracuse last season. Distribution -- of possessions and shots among the players on the floor -- was atypical for a F1 team, but extremely effective for the Orange. Joseph's Poss% and Shot% put him at the upper edge of "Role Player". Johnson, Rautins and Onuaku have moved on, and given Kris' growth in role and efficiency over the past two seasons, he is on track to become a "Major Contributor" next season. Usage growth has gone hand-in-hand with improvement of efficiency, a good sign for Joseph and Syracuse in 2011.

Kevin JonesWVU7.
Jeff RobinsonHall3.412.92.11.4
Terrence Jennings'Ville5.815.310.22.5
Kris JosephCuse10.
Jordan TheodoreHall22.
Darius Johnson-OdomMU17.
Yancy Gates/td>'Nati7.415.23.71.3
Augustus GilchristUSF4.
Darryl BryantWVU25.

The log-jam in Marquette's back court going into the 2009-10 season was big enough to convince senior Maurice Acker to forego his spot on the roster and concentrate on completing his studies. With two transfers (one a returning native son), a true, and much heralded, local freshman and second returning senior combo guard, it was easy to see why Ackers thought to stand aside. I had to wonder where a second promising transfer, Darius Johnson-Odom, would fit. Preseason injuries to Cadougan (who later returned to play 12 games at the end of the season) and Johnson-Odom were enough to bring Acker back to the squad where he had a very good senior campaign (ranked #1 in conference for assist-to-turnover ratio and #1 for 3FGM%). A quickly recovered Johnson-Odom completed the accidental back court, becoming a fixture alongside a combination of Acker, Cubillan and/or Buycks. He proved to be a good combo guard, sliding over to the off guard where could find his shot (eFG% -- 56.4%) both inside and outside (ranked #7 in conference for 3 pointers made) when Acker manned the #1, and then over to the lead guard spot when Cubillan or Buycks came in. Johnson-Odom had a respectable (per Ken Pomeroy), though not Top 500 assist rate, suggesting he will move back and forth in the Buzz Williams' back court again this season. Normally I cut off candidates at about the 40% Mins line, but (like Louisville's Terrence Jennings...) Augustus Gilchrist made an good argument for setting that guideline aside. Gus completed his first year in Tampa by showing the Bulls' faithful that he could be a dominant (though inefficient) front court presence when he saw the court. Efficiency, under the right circumstances, could be improved, so 2010 held serious promise for the Bulls and Gilchrist. An early December ankle sprain sidelined him until mid-February. He returned to help the Bulls close out their Big East regular season with a four game winning streak. Many assumed the 6-10 235 pound player would man the low post, but he seems to want to play more on the perimeter than the low blocks. Not a dominant defensive rebounder, Gus has shown he can block a shot when needed and dominate on the offensive boards. Over the past two seasons South Florida fans have seen enough to be excited about Gilchrist's potential. He made significant strides in shot and possession-to-point efficiency. If the big guy can manage to log an entire season with the Tampa school, his expected possession and shot rates this season could well land him in "Major Contributor" role in the Bulls' offense. With Jones departed for the NBA, and a number of new guards coming in to replenish Coach Heath's severely depleted back court, Gilchrist should become an "early and often" offensive option.

What About...?
DePaul's Devin Hill and Jeremiah Kelly were too inefficient with their shots last season, logging eFG%s in the low 40s. Greg Monroe's exit leaves a lot of shots and possessions to divvy up among the remaining (and entering) Hoyas. But Henry Sims, who entered as a freshman with Monroe (and was by some, better regarded), who saw his sophomore minutes diminish relative to his freshman season, would seem to be a poor candidate for a significant portion of those possessions/shots. His possession rate, 16%, may have grown modestly over his freshman rate (14.5), but there is a small probability that more than another 4%-5% will come his way (assuming he gets more minutes). Jason Clark, another Hoya who may potentially benefit (possessions and shots) from Greg Monroe's good fortune, made the "Freshmen Watch" list last August, and did increase his efficiency. But his role, as measured by possessions and shots, did not grow at all. Coach Thompson did not, even with a dominant low post presence like Monroe, experiment much with a rotation that put three under 6-5 guards on the floor at the same time. Lacking Monroe, I have to think Coach Thompson would be even less inclined to give that line-up extended run this season.

Hits and Misses...Last Season's "Rising Juniors"
Jimmy Butler and Austin Freeman drew "All-Big East"-level recognition (an Honorable Mention & 2nd Team) and so are disqualified from consideration this off season -- remember we are looking for the guys just off the radar (congratulations to both). DePaul's Mac Koshwal declared for the draft again last April, went undrafted, but played for the Pistons in the NBA Summer League. Pitt's Brad Wanamaker, St. John's DJ Kennedy and Syracuse's Rick Jackson saw their efficiency and roles improve over the course of the 2010 season. For Wanamaker and Jackson, the efficiency improvement was good, but the growth in roles was comparatively small. Given Syracuse's relatively even distribution of touches and shots expect to see Jackon's role grow (modestly probably) again this season. Kennedy's role grew considerably, bordering on "Go-to Guy"-level possessions. Yet the rising senior drew no accolades from the conference. So I put him back on the Watch List (Rising Seniors) again this season. Louisville's Preston Knowles saw his role grow (possessions went from 16.9% to 21.9%), but his efficiency diminished (112.9 to 103.2), a more common phenomena than the both move in the same direction. Corey Stokes, Sean Evans and Marshon Brooks saw their roles remain about the same, while their efficiencies either declined (Evans) or increase (Stokes and Brooks). Brooks, like Kennedy, is pulling down near "Go-to Guy"-level possession and shot rates, so (like Kennedy) I put him back on the watch list. Stokes on the other hand drew middling "Role Player"-level possessions and shots in 2010, much as he had in 2009. There is a ceiling in the low 20s, but if he is going much higher, he will have to buck the trend.

Watch Lists by Class

Rising Seniors

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