Friday, March 10, 2006

More Recapping

A couple of days ago I broke down the freshman, their performances this year and what to expect from them next year. Today we're going to look at the rest of the team ... or as I like to call them "the sophmores". There will be 4 returning players for next season who played as sophmores this year and one who played as a junior, and they will form the core of the '06-'07 team along with Crittenton, Young and Clinch. The progression of this group was somewhat fitful, and a bit spotty. There were bright spots, especially on the offensive end (this group shoots the ball very well) but there were huge lapses in basketball IQ and defensive play as well as overall effort level.

Ra'Sean Dickey - 27.5mpg, 13.2ppg, 6.5rpg, 59.7% FG%

Dickey is the best returning player on GT's roster, and will be one of the best big men in the ACC next year. My, how strange it feels to type that, because in December he was just playing out the string, exhibiting very little effort on either end of the floor and having 5 point performances against UGa's decidedly below average front line. Sometime around 1/4 of the way through the conference season Hewitt finally got through to him, and he's been a monster since that point - easily the most encouraging sign for next year.

Next year? Well, Dickey is extremely polished on the offensive end of the court. He's got the size, the soft hands and the athleticism to go with a smooth jumper and a plethora of post moves; you will be hard pressed to find another post player in the country with more raw offensive skill than Dickey has. With the added dribble penetration of Critty and Young, and with the outside shooting of Clinch and Morrow to keep people honest, Dickey should have plenty of chances to work one on one in the post and get a number of easy scoring opportunities. I'm not sure there will be enough shots to greatly increase Dickey's scoring average ... but 15ppg on 55% shooting sounds about right, and that's a heck of a player.

There's another end of the court though, and Dickey absolutely has to improve his play on that end. We gave up countless easy buckets in the paint this year, and a lot of them are because Dickey doesn't work hard enough to keep his man from posting him up right under the basket. He's a big strong guy, and his man shouldn't be catching the ball on a regular basis with both feet in the paint. It wouldn't hurt anything if Dickey stepped up his shotblocking a bit from the weakside as well. Luke Schenscher was a very underated defender, and his post defense helped anchor the terrific teams of the two previous years - Dickey needs to step into that role for this group to reach their potential.

Anthony Morrow
- 32.2mpg, 16.0ppg, 4.5rpg, 42.9% 3P%

Quick question - who led the ACC in 3P% this year? Nope, not J.J Redick ... it was Anthony Morrow. Morrow led GT in minutes and points per game, hit 78 3 point baskets and was named Honorable Mention All-ACC. Not a bad sophmore year for a kid who wasn't that highly regarded coming out of high school in North Carolina, mostly because he played for a tiny school against questionable competition. Morrow accepted the challenge of being the focal point of the offense - and conversely, the other teams defense - for most of the season, and while he wore down towards the end of the year it was unquestionably a successful year for him.

It's strange though, I'm not sure where Morrow fits in next year - or even if he'll be a starter by the end of the year. Shooting guard is the one spot where GT has tons of quality depth, and with Lewis Clinch stepping up his game at the end of the year to go along with Thad at small forward, Morrow will probably see his minutes decrease. With his quick release and ridiculously deep range, he's going to be on the court though - you can't keep a shooter of his quality off the court for too long. Morrow also proved in games like Michigan State and Wake Forest that he is totally unafraid to take big shots in the last few minutes of games, heartlessly draining 3 after 3 in eventually futile combacks in both those games. With more dribble penetration and the offensive weapons on the court to spread the floor, Morrow shouldn't face the continual double teams he saw this year, and his shooting percentage might even be a bit higher next year than this - 14-15ppg on 40+% from 3, to go along with underated rebounding and Morrow will be in contention for All-ACC mention again.

Morrow has some holes in his game, specifically ball handling and defense (recurring themes?). He is a bit turnover prone for an ACC guard, and his handles limit his ability to score inside the 3 point arc, which is a shame because once he gets the ball inside he's very effective. It's this weakness that may end up with Clinch starting over Morrow at some point, he simply is going to have to develop like Redick did into a player who can put the ball down on the floor with some regularity to become the big time scorer his shot says he should be. On the defense end he's long and fairly athletic, but seems to get lost behind screens at times and can be beat off the dribble. The skills are there to be a solid defender, but the production just isn't there right now and that's more an effort issue than anything else. I hope to see a teamwide improvement in that area when we tip off the season in Maui.

Jeremis Smith - 28mpg, 11ppg, 8.2rpg, 49% FG%

Jeremis Smith recovered from last year's dislocated kneecap very nicely, only to end the season fighting back spasms this year, and that's a shame because his game is based on his athleticism more than anything else. Jeremis still finished 4th in the league in rebounding despite playing 7-8mpg less than the other guys on the leaders list. Because of his physical playing style and ridiculous strength, Smith finished 11th in the country in free throw rate ( - but unfortunately shot very poorly at the free throw line and didn't quite capitalize on that skill as much as he could. Smith is that "dirty work" guy that every team needs, a relentless rebounder and a solid body you can't keep off the offensive glass. He's going to be the starting power forward for the rest of his career at Tech, and while he's probably never going to be a superstar, his hustle play and thunderous dunks will keep him a crowd favorite.

For next year? Smith is going to start every game at power forward, and play around 25-30mpg just like this year. Actually, I'd be surprised if there was a huge difference in his production, except his rebounding numbers might go up. If Smith were to add even a 10' jumper to his arsenal, he'd average 15+ per game, but I just don't see if happening. The most painful part of the season was probably the end of the Duke game when they kept leaving Smith open at the FT line and forcing him to shoot those jumpers ... it was just brutal to watch. With the depth of offensive talent around, Smith's weaknesses shooting the ball shouldn't be too obvious, he'll be able to focus on the dirty work around the hoop that he does so well, as well as the 5-6 ridiculous dunks per season he's good for. Demarcus Nelson is still looking for the number of the truck that facialed him early this year.

Smith is the best post defender GT had this year, and his hustle and effort made him a leader on the court that I expect him to keep growing into. He needs to improve his decision making with the basketball and hopefully find some semblance of a jump shot, but I really think Smith's game is what we're going to get. Any improvement from this point will be imcremental. Hopefully he cuts down on the number of fouls as he matures a bit, but with his intense nature and style of play I'm not sure that's going to change much.

Mario West - 22.1mpg, 5.2ppg, 2.05spg

West played out of position, in a role he isn't fit for in the least and yet every night brought his lunch pail and played his butt off. The one guy on the team who I never ever questioned the effort out of, or the defensive intensity and the best perimeter defender on the team - West finished 4th in the ACC in steals per game, just another symptom of his excellent defensive play. As the only junior on the team, he will be the lone senior next year and while his role may decrease with the newcomers, his impact on the team will hopefully extend well past the the court floor.

West is one of the premier perimeter defenders and wing athletes in the ACC and has given Hewitt an excellent option off the bench for the past two years when he needs a lock down defensive performance. West really is much more suited to the SF/SG spot that he played last year than the PG spot he was forced into this year, but no matter where he plays his limited offensive game beyond dunks and putbacks limits him. I expect Mario to play a larger number of minutes early in the year, before gradually giving way to the youngsters as their play increases. He will still be on the court for his energy and defense - but if GT has to depend on him for 20mpg and to help run the offense like this year, we'll be in trouble.

As a kid who came in on an academic scholarship, and will be back on one next year while in graduate school - I hope West gets a huge ovation on senior night, he represents everything that is right in college athletics. If he had gone to a smaller league, he could have been a star with his explosive athleticism, but that's a level he'll probably never reach at GT. That doesn't mean he isn't a good player (he is), or that he can't have a huge impact at this level (his defense alone guarentees that). He's the kind of guy you're glad to point to and say "he went to my school".

Zam Fredrick - 28.8ppg, 10.5ppg, 3.9apg

Zam was stuck in a tough position this year, having to play out of his true position and replace one of the best players in school history at the same time. Some nights he handled it well, and some others he did not. Fredrick had an extremely erratic season, and only truly looked comfortable when Hewitt moved him off the ball to SG and had West run the point. There's been a lot of talk about Zam's body language, his somewhat strange transfer attempt in the offseason and his future role on this team - but in between all that he did show flashes of talent that could make a valuable piece if he stays in Atlanta.

Zam's strength is certainly as a "scorer" ... he was the only player on the roster this year consitently able to beat his man off the dribble, and his midrange game is quite tough. While a decent shooter, he's not in the class of either Clinch or Morrow, but he doesn't lean on that to score. Most of Zam's points came from 15' or in, often off a pull-up or floater. Zam also showed that at the end of games, he wanted the ball ... hitting the game winners against both BC and NCSU. That confidence isn't something you can teach, and it was something that the team as a whole was sorely lacking this year.

On the negative side, Zam's body language and attitude fluctuates wildly while he's on the court. When it's going good, he's bright and playing well. When it starts to fall apart, he really begins struggling and it just seems to mushroom. I bet if you mapped Zam's TO's this year, they would happen in streaks, 3 or 4 closely bunched together - his decision making would just dissapear once something went wrong. Between that and his seeming lack of physical conditioning, a lot of people got down on Zam - including myself. He's not an ACC PG, and we desperately needed one this year - he's a backup SG at this level, and much of people's frustration with this season was dumped on Zam simply because he was the unlucky one who had this role shoved on him. I like him, I hope he stays in Atlanta and improves his approach to the game. I truly believe he has a lot to offer, but it needs to be in a role he's comfortable with. Unfortunately, I think the recent scholarship offer to Lance Storrs is the writing on the wall, and would not be surprised in the least to see Zam at USC-East next year. If he leaves, I'm going to miss him - but at the same time he unfortunately doesn't have a skillset that is irreplaceable at this point.

(all pictures by Chris Gooley)


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