Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rising Sophomores -- Nine to Watch

The Big East All-Rookie Team Isn't Here
While the five players (Lance Stephenson, Alex Oriakhi, Vincent Council, Dane Miller, Brandon Triche and Maalik Wayns) named to the All-Rookie Team were impact players, only Rookie of the Year, Lance Stephenson, decided to jump into the NBA draft last June. While Pomeroy's classification system is a great guide, taking into account the pool has a single season of Division 1 experience, I broadened the parameters a bit to scout the the "Limited Role" up and into the "Major Contributor" player, someone who took about 13%-25% of their team's possessions last season. Considering freshmen are more often in the rotation rather than the starting line-up, I also decided to look for players who may have logged as little as 12% of the available playing time on the theory that if they played behind an All-Team starter/senior, they will most likely see a much larger percentage of the playing time this season. The low-end possession guys ("Role" players) most likely will not grow into a "Major Contributor" or "Go-to Guy" player next season, but, if their role (possessions and shots) does grow next season, the chances of playing themselves into a "Major" or "Go-to Guy" role by their Junior season is pretty good. 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...
Mookie JonesCuse12.8118.222.427.91.26
Dante TaylorPitt34.1115.
Dalton PepperWVU14.8112.520.327.80.98
Rakeem Buckles'Ville27.2112.018.616.11.15
Jaquon Parker'Nati24.1111.217.416.41.14
Hollis ThompsonGTown48.8111.
Dominic CheekNova33.5109.918.219.51.07
Mouphtaou YarouNova23.7109.316.312.91.23
Peyton Siva'Ville26.194.623.117.21.12

The minutes for Mookie Jones of Syracuse are light, very, very light...but check out his Offensive Rating and Possessions -- he scores about 1.18 points when he is the player who finishes the possession. His possession rate (%Poss) suggests he is comfortable with the ball, combined with a shot rate (%Shot -- when he is on the court that is roughly the percentage of shots he takes) indicates he can be assertive in the Orange's offensive sets. Why is his %Shot higher than his %Poss (for a #3, one would assume they should be pretty close)? Scarce minutes (12.8%) can create strange impressions and situations for the freshman player. Jones did not see large stretches of time, but rather two-five minutes bursts. A more consistent workout would probably bring down his offensive efficiency and shot rate, but probably not his possession rate, and as will be seen in the "Miscellaneous Table" below, his assist rate was pretty strong (for a freshman wing), which enhanced his offensive efficiency. At 6-7, 220 pounds, he played behind Wesley Johnson and Andy Rautins, in a loose rotation with Kris Joseph and James Southerland. If learning Syracuse's favored 2-3 zone is the price for getting to the floor, then Jones should make that a priority this summer and fall. If he can quadruple his playing time and maintain those efficiency stats, the Orange won't fall very far in 2011. Dante Taylor was one of those late blooming but hotly contested recruits coming into Pittsburgh in the fall of 2009. The freshman front court player struggled to find his place last season, but posted some pretty impressive efficiency numbers for the minutes he played, certainly good enough to draw an Honorable Mention for Breakout Player this season from Josh Reed over at Basketball Prospectus. More a #4 than a #5, the key to Taylor's sophomore season may lie in whether Taylor has developed enough face-the-basket offense (and defense) and whether Coach Dixon can work a legitimate #4 into the Panthers' offense and defense -- the team has tended to go with 'tweeners and #3s playing up a position since Chris Taft left. If Pittsburgh's Ireland Tour early in August is a good indication, the staff will have a hard time keeping Taylor on the bench. While his offense was a bit inconsistent, I took note of his rebounding and offense in Second Irish National Team game and in the Dart Killister Club game played during the Dublin portion of their tour. Injuries and slow recoveries to the Mountaineers' point guards last season forced Coach Huggins to improvise a sort of Four Forwards Offense that put the onus for making plays on the shoulders of those four forwards (primarily Devin Ebanks, Da'Sean Butler, Kevin Jones & Wellington Smith), which in turn left freshman Dalton Pepper searching for a role. Primarily a perimeter player, Pepper had been very effective as a catch-and-shoot wing who drove occasionally when he played at Pennsbury. With an offense that emphasized a more "make your own" and score off the rebound approach, Pepper had no one to get him the ball. Truck Bryant will be back, as will red shirt Joe Mazzulla, both will -- hopefully -- be healthier than last season. Ebanks and Butler have moved on, and Coach Huggins will most likely revert to a more traditional line-up. Pepper is a good size for a wing (6-5, 215 pounds), and should he pick up his rebounding and attack the basket more, should see his minutes increase this season.

The large difference in minutes for the players can make this more tricky than later classes. If a rising senior with very efficient numbers has drawn about 12% of the available minutes through his career, it is safe to say there was (efficiency aside) an issue, that went unresolved for the first three years of his collegiate career, that most likely limited his minutes. An issue that will not be resolved going into his senior season. With freshmen, possibly overwhelmed or intimidated by the transition, playing behind upper classmen (for whatever reason), can obscure a freshman's eventual role on the team and in the coach's system. Probably one reason why many observe a "Sophomore Jump" in (sometimes) the unlikeliest players.

Four Factors...
Mookie JonesCuse12.863.26.316.819.4
Dante TaylorPitt34.158.416.114.868.5
Dalton PepperWVU14.847.24.49.412.2
Rakeem Buckles'Ville27.252.915.520.847.7
Jaquon Parker'Nati24.155.56.819.040.2
Hollis ThompsonGTown48.856.65.317.732.0
Dominic CheekNova33.550.410.014.940.6
Mouphtaou YarouNova23.758.312.725.656.7
Peyton Siva'Ville26.154.01.633.346.6

Rakeem Buckles was effective in limited play in 2010. The freshman has the dimensions of a #3, but the slashing style that works well in transition or when attacking the basket directly. His competition for playing time, mostly wing-type #3s, can hit the outside shot, a skill that Buckles has yet to demonstrate consistently. Should the staff decide rebounding and getting to the line will take precedent next season, Buckles will catch quite a few of the minutes left behind by Jerry Smith and Reggie Delk. If the staff wants an outside threat that Buckles cannot provide, they may turn to rising junior Jared Swopshire. A few might have hoped that having very well regarded Seattle point guard Payton Siva on the roster would provide the staff with a viable alternative should senior point Edgar Sosa have difficulty staying on script. Siva however had his own problems. His solid assist rate (below -- 29.3%) only partly offset his extremely high turnover rate (see above -- 33.3%). Freshmen Elisha Justice and Russ Smith will most likely form a back court/pg rotation with Siva, but clearly the the rising sophomore will be the lead guard for next season's Cardinal team. Jaquon Parker formed a point guard tandem with fellow Cincinnati freshman Cashmire Wright. An off guard out of high school (), Parker made the transition to pair with Wright and leave Vaughn and Stephenson to operate on the wing. The plan was only modestly successful for Cincinnati, but Parker (and Wright) will be back to try again in 2011, this time they will have Yancy Gates, but not Vaughn and Stephenson. Parker very efficiently converted possessions to points last season, and functioning at the high-end "Role Player" level in the Cincinnati offense provides Parker with the possibility of growing into a "Significant Contributor" next season.

Mookie JonesCuse13.
Dante TaylorPitt1.815.44.42.0
Dalton PepperWVU15.
Rakeem Buckles'Lville7.818.71.52.3
Jaquon Parker'Nati14.717.20.31.6
Hollis ThompsonGTown8.
Dominic CheekNova5.810.92.11.6
Mouphtaou YarouNova6.714.77.80.9
Peyton Siva'Lville29.

Hollis Thompson, Georgetown's (eventual?) replacement for Jeff Green and DeJuan Summers, logged the highest percentage of playing time among the nine rising sophomores listed here, but his offensive impact, undeniably efficient, was nevertheless at the low-end of the "Limited Role" level in the Hoya offense. Prospects for dramatic growth (to say, "Major Contributor" level) are limited, probability and players ahead of him in the rotation the primary culprits. But given the loss of Greg Monroe, the prospects for Thompson to step into a high-end "Role Player" are fairly reasonable. Villanova had a tremendous class of freshmen in 2010. Maalik Wayns, a point guard, was voted to the Big East All-Rookie Team, the third Villanova lead guard recognized by the conference. Wing Dominic Cheek was a high-end "Role Player" last season, but with the loss of Regie Redding and Scottie Reynolds last spring, Cheek might be the primary candidate to step into Redding's minutes and spot on the floor, and grow his role in the offense as the staff works to distribute the offensive load carried for four seasons by Reynolds. #5 Mouphtao Yarou saw his development side tracked by illness early in the season. After he was cleared to play, Yarou returned to the rotation, and his minutes steadily grew through the end of the season. Yarou was an outstanding offensive rebounder who could finish consistently -- if he didn't lose the ball. Improving his defensive rebounding and cutting down on turnovers should be high on his To-Do List this summer and fall.

What About...?
Ater Majok and Jerrelle Benimon were very efficient, but virtually "Invisible" in their respective offenses. According to Pomeroy (with a large body of evidence to back it up) neither is likely to jump up to "Significant Contributor" level this season. Looking at possession rate, the same could be said of Austin Johnson. Isaiah Armwood and Ferrakohn Hall are also efficient, but suffer from the lack of a role in their respective team's (Villanova and Seton Hall) offense. Both face the additional hurdle of having players in front of them in the rotation.

Hits and Misses...Last Season's "Rising Sophomores"
Rutgers' Greg Echnique injured his eye early in the season, and after rehabbing for nearly a month, decided to transfer. He selected Creighton and enrolled for their Spring 2010 semester, beginning the mandetory one year waiting period. He should be ready to play for the Blue Jays at the conclusion of the 2010 fall semester, just in time for Creighton's Missouri Valley Conference season. The Pittsburgh point guard Ashton Gibbs started all 34 games, averaging 34.5 minutes per game. Gibbs was named to the All-Big East Second Team in March 2010. Terrence Jennings had modest increases in his playing time, Offensive Rating and shot percentage (%Shot), but did not work his way into the starting line-up, nor see his offensive role grow substantially over the course of the 2010 season. He remained a "Role Player", but I have him back on the "Watch List" as a rising Junior. Also back on the "Watch List" are Kevin Jones of West Virginia, Gus Gilchrist out of South Florida and Kris Joseph of Syracuse. All increased their playing time, efficiency, possessions and shot percentage. Joseph and Jones grew their possessions to the high-end of the "Role Player" level, and should make the move into "Significant Contributor" level roles in their team's offenses. Gilchrist was hobbled early by an ankle injury early in the 2010 season, but after his return to the Bulls' rotation, he managed to "grow" his role to "Major Contributor" level. Basketball Prospectus contributor Josh Reed tabbed Gilchrist the Big East 2011 breakout candidate last June. Cincinnati's Dion Dixon found himself between Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn and lacking a clear role. The off guard's possession and shot rate stayed about the same (high-end "Role Player"), but his efficiency and minutes crashed. If he wants a larger role in the Bearcat offense, he will need to dramatically improve his shot conversion efficiency. Georgetown's Jason Clark saw his minutes and efficiency increase in 2010, but his role within the Hoya offense remained fairly close to where it was his freshman season -- "Role Player". Chris Wright on the other hand, saw his minutes and offensive efficiency improve over the 2009 season. His role also grew modestly, from a low-end "Significant Contributor" to a high-end "Significant Contributor", but not quite the impact that the Hoya faithful anticipated. Like Gus Gilchrist, West Virginia guard Truck Bryant had to overcome an injury (after his return from a three month suspension). Bryant's role grew marginally (to a high-end "Significant Contributor" role), even as his efficiency declined.

2011 To Watch Lists
Rising Seniors to Watch
Rising Juniors to Watch

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