At this point in time, I am not looking with dread to our next football game. Instead, I am calmly looking at our gridiron guys as a work in progress, with progress actually being made on third-down execution and defensive adjustments, even if not always in the won-loss column.
That being said, with CBH holding court at Media Day this week, I am doing my early warning system comment NOW.
Sincere and honest disclaimer — if LMRAM had come back for his senior year, along with everyone else we've got on the roster right now, I’d already have $50 down on us in Vegas to bring home Banner 12. Yep, d*** serious.
Even now, I am still willing to Sharpie (no pencils here, people) us in all the way to the Final Four, aka, the Ben Howland Invitiational, barring injury.
Yeah, I said it.
I have believed for several years that to have an effective defense — not necessarily a Detroit Piston “Bad Boys” D, but an EFFECTIVE one — you need some basic elements. In brief, they are:
(A) INTERCEPTOR — a guy with quickness to disrupt the opposing PG and keep them from setting up right away. Preferably your PG or other good handles guy who can steal the ball and score at the other end on his own.
e.g., Collison last year, Byron Scott on the Showtime Lakers, Tyus Edney on the ’95 Champs.
(B) SEEKER — Like Potter on a broom, your go-to chaser guy. If the other team has a freakish shooter off screens, or a crazy slash and finisher, you send THIS GUY to cuff him and stuff him.
e.g., Coop on the Showtime Lakers; Kobe and/or Rick Fox during the Bling Era; AA last year.
(C) INTERCHANGEABLE WINGS — You know the types. 6-4 to 6-8 guys, long-armed, absurdly fast quick-twitch muscles. Guys who can double the post and still get back to the shooters. Guys who, if they switch off on pick and rolls or fighting through screens, can pick up the other guy’s man with no worries. Can include your seeker or even your interceptor.
e.g., Charles O’Bannon and Toby Bailey and Ed; Jordan and Pippen and Harper; Fox and Horry and Kobe.
(D) BACKSTOP — Shotblocking is great, but not entirely essential, depending on the team. However, the backstop has to take up space (by muscle or plain mass), control that space (by length or by strength), and make other guys regret going into the surrounding airspace (block ‘em or rock’ em).
e.g., Hollins in ’06, Mata in ’07.
Looking ahead, we’ve got the top-flight, prototype NCAA Division I interceptor in Collison -- long-arms, mental toughness, and sprinter's speed. Gotta love it.
We’ve got a seeker in the making in Jrue -- pound-for-pound toughness, off-the-ground athleticism. Only a frosh, but the raw tools are looking like they're in place.
We’ve got the makings of a full-time backstop in future Cameroonian President AA2 (who reminds me more and more of former old-style CBA and New York Knick player Anthony Mason) and potential backstops in Morgan and Gordon. Even the bulked up Keefe will give us some needed thickness to bump up and rough up opposing slashers.
Interchangeable wings? Well... that’s my early, early, why-are-you-even-worrying-about-this-now question is: DO WE HAVE THE WINGS?
As much as we have added to our roster in terms of sheer numbers, the absence of wingspan is a little worrisome.
IIRC, here’s our height distribution:
6-0 —> DC
6-1 —> Jerime
6-3 —> Jrue
6-5 —> Shipp, Roll, Lee
6-8 —> Keefe, AA2, Drago, Gordon
6-10 —> Morgan
Again, this is VERY early, but I’m wondering if we have enough guys in the middle of the size-speed ratio. You know the type -- 6-4 to 6-8 guys who maybe have some thicks, but sure-as-there's-a-heaven have the QUICKS.
For those that think I'm overestimating this, remember: In 2006 and 2007, Brewer was a 6-9 SF dropping 3s on us, and he was shooting OVER our guys. In 2008, Memphis rotated a couple of 6-6 and 6-7 swingmen to bang against or shoot over our sorely depleted perimeter rotation.
This year, we have more bodies on the wings, but are they enough? We have:
Josh -- A 6-5 senior trying to regain his target touch, coming off his first healthy summer in three years. He may be the biggest gun in our arsenal, if his targeting system is back online. The question is, will he have the wheels to guard the perimeter, or will he be only a stationary cannon?
Roll -- Another senior, now coming off foot surgery. Shooters shoot -- but can he rotate out to shooters?
Lee -- 6-5, God bless him. But can he pick up our defensive demands in time?
We've got a wealth of talent for a 6-3-and-under league. We've got a solid, if not immediately spectacular, lineup at the power spots.
But in the equally-important 6-4 to 6-7 arena, we're still fairly shorthanded, or short-armed. Guys with added height -- and wingspan -- at the SG and SF spots to go with their overall quickness can cover more ground in the passing lanes. They can make it tougher for bigs to pass out of a double-team in the post. Even if their feet don't make it all the way out to a perimeter shooter, their length gives them a better chance of altering shots out there.
Our beloved '95 team had limited depth, but quality interchangeables in Charles O'Bannon and Toby Bailey -- 6-6 and 6-5, both with strong legs, long arms, and freakish athleticism and endurance. Watching those guys switch, rotate, and trap was a thing of Showtime-level beauty.
Throw in Ed O, and we had THREE guys with length and quickness to plug up any holes in our team D.
Will Josh be able to fill the same needs? Will Roll? Will Lee?
Do we have the wings?
Time will tell whether our wings match our prayers.