With the water-is-wet news that Jrue Holiday is going to test the NBA waters, several in MSM and here have wondered about our backcourt depth and who will be back up JA at point guard.
Well, it is way, way, WAY too early to guess, but I'm thinking that JA at point guard should not necessarily be a foregone conclusion.
Instead, I think that we should consider a lineup where ML is our starting point. After all, ML is NOT new to the position. Per the Scout.com recruiting page on ML: (emphasis added)
[ML] can be a big timer. The ability to maneuver in traffic and get to where he needs to be is excellent. Will go on big runs from the outside. Can improve his body and tighten his handle. On the road to being a very elite point guard and good scorer.
Now, granted, recruiting site bios are a dime a dozen (or $29.95 and up per year), but even ML's high school coach said (emphasis added) that point guard is ML's "natural position":
In the four years since he arrived at North, Lee has impressed Coach Mike Bartee as much with his unselfishness as his uncanny court vision and quick first step to the basket. When North lost several top big men before the season, Lee, who is 6-foot-5, volunteered to switch to center for the Huskies, playing out of position for the rest of the season because that's where the team needed him most.
Lee still put up gaudy statistics as a senior, averaging 23.7 points per game and grabbing 7.4 rebounds among taller, stronger kids. He led the Huskies to the CIF-Southern Section Division 1-A quarterfinals, where their fourth-quarter comeback against Glendora fell two points short.
"You put Malcolm on a team where he can play his natural position and he's 10 times more effective," Bartee said. "He's a natural point guard, and he played totally out of position. I appreciate it big time because he put team before self."
One of my pet theories on hoops is that I am usually opposed to having your #1 AND #2 PGs starting at the same time. Fatigue, bench rotation, confusion on defensive rotations, foul trouble, playing out of position -- all of these are potential pitfalls when starting 2 PGs at once. We probably saw a lot of that with DC and JH this year, already.
Overall, I think ML can be/ is one of our best players going into next season.
Don’t get me wrong, JA has the tools -- quickness, handle, good attitude -- and I do believe he will improve significantly next season… but again, I don’t like having both points on the floor to start the game. In crunch time like Tyus and Cameron in '95, maybe, but not at the outset.
With that in mind, how is THIS for a potential starting lineup next year?
C — Gordon — 6’9", 235
PF — Keefe — 6’8", 235
SF — Drago — 6’9", 215
SG — Roll — 6’5", 215
PG — Lee — 6’5", 205
Caveat: this would hinge ENTIRELY on whether Drago can put in a full summer of workouts and improve his defensive rotations. I know, I know, I KNOW that we have debated Drago’s lack of defensive footspeed around here for WEEKS.
Then again, nobody predicted that Drago would EVER average 5-6 boards a game last year… and he DID. Believe me, I was as surprised as anyone on that front. If Drago can devote his summer to improving his lateral slides and reaction time, the same way he worked on improving his shooting consistency and rebounding, then watch out below.
If we start the above lineup, we get serious advantages:
(1) Backcourt size — Can anyone remember when we started a both-6-5 backcourt? Didn’t think so. Malcolm’s hustle and length and Roll’s experience in CBH’s schemes should do wonders to negate any possible lack of waterbug quickness. Worse comes to worst, we bring in JA to check smaller guards and fight pace with pace, but at least we START with the size advantage, for a change.
(2) Frontcourt size — 6’9", 6’8", and 6’9". That’s 242 inches of frontcourt. For a team built on rebounding and defense, it always struck me as odd that we started a 6’5" SF. Granted, with the PF spot manned in past years by LMRAM, aka the Big Yellow Taxi ("Don't it always seem to go/ that you don't know what you got 'til it's gone?"), that hasn't been an issue. However, I don’t know if we can do that anymore and still keep our rebounding margins high. Some extra height wouldn't hurt.
(3) Offensive balance — OK, what do we have with this lineup…
Two outside shooters? Drago and Roll, CHECK.
Mid-range game? Roll has shown that even in limited minutes, CHECK.
Penetrator? Malcolm, CHECK.
Low-post scorer? Gordon was showing a bit more of a pure post game than PAA, and Drago was also showing some down the stretch, so CHECK.
Clean-up/ putback guy? Keefe, CHECK.
By contrast, what did we have this past season? Let’s look in reverse.
Clean-up/ putback guy? PAA, definite CHECK.
Low-post scorer? Eh… sort of. PAA’s points came more on putbacks or midrange game. NOPE.
Penetrator? Not consistently. We screamed for DC for weeks to do it; JH STOPPED doing it halfway thru Pac-10 season. (ML will be another big X factor here, too.) HALF-CHECK.
Mid-range game? Josh and PAA. CHECK.
Two outside shooters? Drago and Josh and DC, DEFINITE CHECK.
In other words, we had tons of outside and mid-range, but little to no inside or penetration. Even one consistent, year-long penetrator, or a year-long inside player, would be an improvement on last year.
While certainly not an improvement in terms of experience, I think DG and ML at least will not serve as a drop-off in either of these areas. DG tried at least two post moves in every game, even in his limited minutes, and ML cut to the basket in every single game. Assuming he hasn't lost his PG handles and can move WITH the ball, his size and strength may make him a more aggressive (if not immediately better) penetrator than DC was for most of the last P10 season.
Again, this is a way-on-the-horizon view... but wouldn't it be nice to have a couple of size advantages at the PG and SF spots over other teams in the Tournament, as opposed to the other way around?