Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2013 hoops preview: players, part 1

Fin-al-ly.  10 days from now, the basketball season opens in earnest against JMU, and Tony Bennett gets to unveil the most talented team he's ever coached at Virginia.  This is a team that people are noticing.  I thought the media ranking UVA fourth in the conference is pretty high praise - and it is - but that was until I saw ESPN projecting UVA second.  Dan Hanner's projections have us 11th in the country.  (!!!!!!!!)  KenPom has us 19th, as does Andy Katz.  People are looking.  Everyone is looking.  Pacism is evaporating.  (Slowly.)  Expectations are rising.  I think, for the first time in a long time, the media is more bullish on the Hoos than our fans are.  I think that's a good thing.

All this comes at a time when the ACC is returning to the gauntlet of land mines that it was in the past.  For a time there, many of the conference's teams had saddled themselves with junk coaches - Paul Hewitt, Sidney the Big Red Coach, Oliver Purnell, yes, and Dave Leitao too - and the league's fortunes suffered.  Now the league is bigger, with three new and very good additions, and the league is getting better coaching from guys like Brian Gregory at GT and Steve Donahue at BC.  Now you play 18 ACC games instead of 16.  Duke and UNC haven't gone anywhere, wish as we might that they would.  So being near the top of all this is exciting.  Even if it is just blather at this point, before the rubber hits the hardcourt.

The season preview will be split into four parts.  Today and tomorrow, we'll take a look at each of the players and what they bring to the table.  Next week, a look at the teams on the nonconference schedule, and then a compilation of the various preseason ratings for the teams of the ACC.  KenPom is essentially the pioneer, but advanced metrics are beginning to explode for college basketball and there are several to be used - and what the hell, we'll throw in the media poll despite its position on the opposite end of the scientific spectrum.  I'd have liked to switch the order of that, but TeamRankings isn't quite finished yet with their look.  Later on in the year, after we've had a chance to get a handle on things (it's cheating and I don't care because it's great filler for when there's little else to talk about, since, you know, no bowl game and all) there'll be the individual team previews for the ACC teams.

Let's get a move-on with the roster.

(Quick explanation on O-ratings: they are KenPom's and they measure a player's offensive efficiency.  Higher is better.  Roughly, 100 is about average, over 105 is good, over 110 is very good to excellent, over 115 is brilliant, and over 120 is elite - assuming the player in question has played enough minutes.)

#0 - Devon Hall - Fr. PG

Commitment post

That post was a bit more breathlessly optimistic than the current outlook on Devon Hall, given the line, "No doubt, of course, that Hall will be thrown into the fire right away, and could very well start every game he plays at UVA."  That's not likely to happen, with a direct competitor in London Perrantes, and Malcolm Brogdon looking very likely to handle the brunt of the point guard responsibilities.  The development of Teven Jones is a factor too.  Not to mention that most of the recruiting services backed off their early ratings and bumped him from four to three stars.

I did get one thing right: Hall, at the time, was listed at 6'4", 180, and I figured he'd hit 6'5", 200+ by the time he got here.  He's now 6'5", 210.  That separates him somewhat from the pack, except for Brogdon who's also big for the PG role.  Size in your point guard is a plus in Tony's defensive system, assuming the player in question still has the requisite quickness to stay on the ball.  And you know how it goes: if you can defend, you play.

So we'll see if Hall can defend.  He's no sure thing to be in the rotation, though.  If not, he'll either redshirt or fans will spend most of the season wishing he did.  If Hall does win a spot, you're not looking at a 25-minute player, and he won't be a tremendous scorer yet.  ESPN, in their final scouting report, called him "cut from the Kendall Marshall mold" which is to say he's a pass-first, -second, and -third point guard.  If he's good at that (and if he can defend, which you can just assume is attached to everyone these days) he ought to find his way into the lineup and could even increase his minutes as time goes on.  But holding world-beating expectations for Hall right now is a huge overcalculation - and the bottom line is, that's a good thing because speaks to the team's depth rather than Hall's own skills.

#1 - Justin Anderson - So. SF

2013 O-rating: 106.3

Changing his number from 23 now that Jontel Evans (the former occupant) has graduated, Anderson is one of the players who's being looked at to really elevate UVA into the top tier of squads in the country.  Anderson's fun factor is tops on the team - he's a supremely athletic player who's been known to be on either end of an alley-oop (which certainly includes the reverse jam off a Jontel Evans lob during last year's Clemson curbstomp) and he's the most emotional and usually smilingest player on the court at any given time.

He happens to be a very good defender too.  Last year, with the frontcourt depth all but shot to pieces, he was asked to take on Maryland's 7'1" center (and eventual #5 overall pick in the NBA draft) Alex Len, and shut Len down entirely despite giving up seven inches.  He's a good shot-blocker and doesn't foul a ton either.  The emotion and electric plays are what make you notice him, but he's down there doing the grit and grunt work too.  That game against Maryland impressed me more than anything else he did last year.  His defense that day was textbook Tony, and that and the way he blossomed as the year went on (rather than bursting immediately on the scene) give high marks to his coachability.

Are there weaknesses in his game?  Naturally.  He's a mediocre three-point shooter at best, barely nudging over the .300 mark last year.  His own handle is decent but could be improved, though he's a good passer off the dribble and his assist rate showed it.  He loses efficiency fairly quickly as he gets further away from the rim.

Nevertheless, his strengths far outweigh his weaknesses.  And a small uptick in his mid-range shooting percentage could go a long way, because only 25% of his 2-point jumpers were assisted last year; raise the mid-range shooting percentage (still only about 30%, just as with his three-pointers) just a little and defenses will have no choice but to pay too much attention.  Either way, his combination of energy and athleticism ought to be a tremendous challenge for most opponents this year, and it could be scary to see what he can do as he gains experience and the game continues to slow down for him.

#5 - Teven Jones - So. PG

2013 O-rating: 91.2

One of the team's most experienced point guards.  Scary, a little, when you think about that, since Jones is only a sophomore, but this team, for all its accolades, has eight underclassmen, three upperclassmen, and none of the latter are point guards.

Jones, rather frankly, lacks the athleticism of the rest of the competition at PG, or at least, didn't put it on display last year.  He was a rotation mainstay while Evans sat out early with an injury, logging 25 minutes in four nonconference games and scoring a season-high (for him) 13 against North Texas.  As the season wore on into the conference portion, though, Tony leaned heavily on Jontel at point and Jones sat out entire games on occasion; after that 13-point effort against the Mean Green, he would score more than 6 points only once the rest of the year, and that against Norfolk State in the NIT.

When asked to carry the load, Jones was usually ill-suited to the task.  As his responsibilities eased, Jones improved.  Part of that naturally ought to be attributed to facing other second-stringers, and part also simply to a freshman getting more comfortable on the court and learning the game, just as Justin Anderson did.  Jones was much steadier later, generally selecting good shots and making them plenty often enough; in fact, since Evans would not have shot a three-pointer even with a fifty-foot cushion, bringing Jones in introduced a refreshing and exciting new element to the game.

That won't be the case this year, so Jones will have to find a new way to distinguish himself.  Much like Hall, Jones will have to fight for minutes.  He can get them by limiting the negatives; it seems unlikely Jones will ever be a full-time starter, but if he can be relied on for 5-10 minutes of steadiness per game, he won't be a forgotten man, either.

#10 - Mike Tobey - So. C

2013 O-rating: 109.1

Tobey is another reason the wonks are high on UVA.  He turned in a very good, efficient year last year; in fact, KenPom's "most similar" season to Tobey's 2013 was Kosta Koufos's 2007-08; Koufos was a one-and-done center for Ohio State who went in the first round after that season and started 81 games last year for the Nuggets.

Tobey proved to be a matchup problem for opposing centers because of his mid-range proficiency; he's one of the best seven-foot (OK, almost seven-foot) shooters in the entire country.  Tobey even canned three of five three-pointers, and at 44%, was the team's best 2-point jump shooter.  Better even than Joe Harris.  His face-up game evoked Mike Scott in Scott's brilliant senior year, except Tobey has a couple inches on Scott.

That may sound like hyperbole, and it is a little bit because Scott was a crazy 53% shooter from midrange.  Tobey has a little ways to go.  Nevertheless, Tobey does all the good things you want centers to do - rebound some, block some shots, that sort of thing - only he's a better shooter than most any center you can find, and you can't foul him either because he hits those shots too.

Here's the exciting part though: last year, he was listed at 227 pounds.  Now he's at 253.  Zounds.  Your head should now be filled with imaginings of all the great things that will do for the traditional-center parts of his game.  The defending and posting-up and all that stuff.  Tobey's a sophomore and is now toting around an NBA body.  And don't forget the shooting.  And the fact that he did what he did last year, in the later portions of it anyway, while fighting off the ill effects of mono.  Unleashing him on the ACC ought to be fun.

#11 - Evan Nolte - So. SF

2013 O-rating: 114.1

Rather than being a traditional power forward or small forward, Nolte is what I call a mismatch forward; you don't want to guard him with a four because he's too quick and you don't want to guard him with a three because he's too big and will shoot over top.  The mismatch forward is really in vogue these days.  Nolte's style opens up some intriguing possibilities on the offensive end, especially if he develops a bit of a handle, as he was largely a catch-and-shoot guy in 2012-13.

The problem is on defense.  The mismatch works the other way, as Nolte was not strong enough to guard a four last year and not quick enough (not nearly quick enough) to guard threes.  This yin and yang makes Nolte's minutes very much a high-ceiling, low-floor kind of stat.  That was borne out last year in spades; he might play 4 minutes one game and 21 a week later.  And with Justin Anderson metamorphosizing into a complete player and the addition of Anthony Gill to the lineup, Nolte could get squeezed.  Even more squeezy: if one of the freshman point guards emerges so nicely that they can move Malcolm Brogdon off the ball, which in turn would move Joe Harris as well.

However.  From a team-wide perspective, bringing Nolte off the bench for, like, 12-18 minutes a game, that could be money in the bank.  He can't guard many starting three-forwards, no - but I somehow can't see any second-stringers guarding him too effectively, either.  Nolte can shoot like crazy, after all (although this is mostly from three; he was atrocious from two once he got away from the rim) and he takes care of the ball very well.  This latter is partially a function of him just not dribbling around all that much, but still.  Remember, based on what we saw last year, we all liked the idea of being able to bring Taylor Barnette off the bench for a little instant heat.  Barnette has transferred, but Nolte is a much bigger player and rather more talented, with the ability to frustrate opposing coaches deciding how to get their 6'4" backup small forward to close out fast enough.  While Nolte is one player whose minutes are not guaranteed, it'll be really damn hard to relegate him to the outside of the rotation entirely, and I think we should expect both some forgotten-man games as well as some really big ones.


We have 11 scholarship players; that was five.  Gonna make you wait til tomorrow for the guy who makes it all go.


Anonymous said...

I cannot describe how happy I am that basketball is finally (almost) here. Thanks for doing such a great job with this blog! You are consistently one of the best sources of information on UVA sports(not to mention the fantastic previews you do for other teams) in my eyes.

pezhoo said...

I agree, reading something positive is so welcome about now. It's like comparing Napoleon's march back from Russia to the D-Day. I was reading through and skipped Justin Anderson to save him for last, then I wanted to skip Tobey and ended at Nolte, who is going to be really good before he leaves. The worst case is he's a dead-eye zone breaker who gets us about 9ppg. Sounds pretty good to me.

Three other quick points:

1) I forgot about Anderson's passing. He sees the court very well, it surprised me last year and I forgot about it over the summer. Players like this are what makes me jealous of Duke and UNC, they have a guy like this every year to enjoy. Since like 1987.

2) You're right about Anderson's 3 point range, but he started absolutely horribly last year. 2 for 14. He was actually 18-52 after that start which is 34%. And that is during conference games. So I think you're right, he's super coachable, stopped taking the shot for a while and got a little better. If he shoots 34% this year, look out. Not that we want him hoisting 3 balls left and right. Just 2-3 a game I think, open ones on passes from Harris.

3) I didn't realize Tobey had gained that much weight. Probably the last time UVa had a center who weighed 253 was Ted Jeffries in the early 90s, and he was 6'9" so it wasn't quite the same 253 if you know what I mean. I can't believe we'll have a real center. I've never seen it in 25 years of UVa hoops.

This season is going to be special.

Anonymous said...

Nitpicking, but wasn't Chris Alexander around that weight (actually, wasn't he a bit bigger). That said, Tobey has a far more rounded game than Alexander.


It's an exciting year to be a UVA bball fan, and an ACC bball fan. I think we match up well with most of the ACC, including the favorites, like Duke (although if Duke gets 3-point shooting and has Plumlee develop ... they'll be nasty).

I think Anderson's importance goes beyond what Brendan has listed, though. I think he may very well be our defensive stopper against smaller, quicker guards. I still have a tough time seeing Brogdon slow down small quick guards, and Harris certainly isn't doing that. After that, it's two freshmen and Jones. In crunch time, with better interior size allowing Anderson to not have to defend post guys, I could see Brogdon/Harris guarding the 2/3, with Anderson sliding in against a dynamic point guard.

Anderson has next level ability. I think he can improve his shooting enough this year to take a big step, but what I'm really hoping for is to see him improve his handle. If he can, he may very well be our best "creator" on offense. The supposed improvements in Tobey's game addresses one key area of concern for us (improved interior play would allow us to play inside/out), but we still lack dynamic guys that can create for others, something Anderson has the potential of doing.

I think we almost need to redshirt Perrantes or Hall. It'll be a waste to carry both of them, barring an injury, and the remaining player may be the 10th man on the bench, likely out of the rotation.

I think Jones' ability to shoot could be a nice asset. If Tobey is that much better, surrounding him with say, Jones, Harris, Nolte for a few plays would give the floor a lot more spacing.

Should be a fun winter/spring for UVA sports. After bball, we get the loaded baseball squad.

Brendan said...

Anderson's other abilities on defense are a great point. I would say there's no doubt that he's easily the most flexible defender on the team.