Thursday, October 31, 2013

2013 hoops preview: players, part 2

The second half of what got begun last night.

#12 - Joe Harris - Sr. SF

2013 O-rating: 111.1

Besides shoot threes, which he does really really well, there isn't a lot that jumps out about Joe Harris's game that's exceptional.  He's fairly average, athletically speaking; his defense is solid but he's not going to lock anyone down.  He's got a nice handle, better than you'd expect til you see it in action, but it's not like he's got the Allen Iverson crossover.

But he fills the bucket.  A lot.  How?  One of the best shooting touches in the league from anywhere on the court, and a healthy dose of moxie.  Enough to get himself voted to the preseason all-ACC team.  This was Harris's team last year and it showed - particularly in the big games, like oh say Duke, in which Harris scored a crazy (especially for Tony's pace) 36 points.

Now he's in his second year as the team go-to guy.  That's a luxury few teams have, getting an undisputed do-everything leader back for seconds.  Harris may well see his production decline - he scored 16.3 points a game last year and thanks to a wider array of options this year, don't be surprised to see him not reach that level again.  But there's little doubt he'll be deferred to in crunch time again this year, quite possibly even to the extent of once again having him bring the ball up the court while trying to protect a lead.  Highly flexible and unflappable in any situation, Harris is like a glue guy who scores a lot.

#13 - Anthony Gill - So. PF

2012 O-rating: 100.2

If there's an X-factor this year, this is it.  We can pretty reasonably expect a certain level of improvement from guys like Mike Tobey and Justin Anderson.  Joe Harris is a well-known quantity, as is Akil Mitchell to a large extent.  But Gill - we don't have much to go on.  Just a freshman season with a shitty South Carolina team and some very glowing reports from practice last year, during which Gill couldn't play due to NCAA transfer rules.

The numbers from his freshman season are good but largely unremarkable.  Despite often being described as a true power forward, he can shoot an occasional three as well.  Should be rangier than Akil Mitchell in terms of shooting locations.  As for the rest - well, if you believe all you heard last year and into this one, Gill and Mitchell could sub in and out for each other and there would never be any dropoff.

On the other hand, last year we saw some early potential in having a dynamic combination of power forwards with Mitchell and Darion Atkins on the floor.  Before Atkins got hurt it was an at times devastating combo.  With Gill, you could make it any two of three, picking and choosing as you like.  One thing we do know for certain: Gill makes it four bona fide frontcourt players, something Tony has not had in his tenure here.

My best guess is that Gill doesn't make the starting lineup, not early on; the starting frontcourt probably consists of Tobey and Mitchell.  Gill and Mitchell is possible depending on the matchup, but Gill stands a great chance of instead being the first guy off the bench.  Gotta rotate those frontcourt guys and keep them fresh.  The scary part is what happens then if Gill really is a minimal dropoff from Mitchell - going against opposing second-stringers could be awfully unfair.

#15 - Malcolm Brogdon - So. PG

2012 O-rating: 92.9

Another guy counted among the reinforcements this year, Brogdon was shut down early in the season when it became clear his broken foot was healing too slowly.  Brogdon has flat feet, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned that his feet could be a chronic problem because of it.

Plans are to make him the starting point guard; his more natural position might be the two, and indeed I'd be very surprised if he didn't play off the ball some this year.  The more Teven Jones or one of the freshmen develop, the more that can happen.  But to start, Brogdon will be handed the duties.  He's big for a 1, of course, so, his ability to defend the position might occasionally be called into question.  But he's a heady player and few doubt his ability to understand the offense.

Plus, he's a much more versatile threat on offense than Jontel Evans was.  He'll probably drive about as much as Evans did, but the style will be different; Evans was much smaller and had to go around defenders more than Brogdon will have to.  But Brogdon, obviously, will shoot a jump shot more than once a month, and won't freeze up at the stripe.  Evans was a nifty passer and I think the jury's out on how Brogdon will do in that regard.

I think, at times, Brogdon will fall short of Evans as an operator of the offense in ways that won't be evident to the casual observer.  Missed opportunities that come and go in a second, that sort of thing.  Evans, for his flaws as a player, was still a senior and knew his way around the court.  But in more visible ways, Brogdon will be an improvement.  It wouldn't be a stretch, either, to call him the most important player on the team; if for whatever reason he proves unable to handle the point guard job once the games become real, the remaining options are scary for reasons of freshmanness.

#23 - London Perrantes - Fr. PG

Commitment post

If there's such a thing as momentum for players on a depth chart, you'd have to say London Perrantes has it over Devon Hall in the freshman point guard derby.  With the exception of a minor injury thing that's kept him out of action lately, the vibe seems to be that if only one freshman guard plays, right now it'd be Perrantes.

That's unsurprising if you buy the scouting reports from his high school days, which credited him with an elite basketball IQ and a pass-first mentality.  Perrantes probably will not come out lighting up any score sheets, and might yet be 3rd in the rotation behind Brogdon and Teven Jones, and of course, repeat after me, it depends on his defense.  If he plays significant minutes, and early on I would consider 6-8 significant, we're looking for assists, not points.

I'd say we'll know if Perrantes is successful in Tony's eyes if Jones's minutes start dwindling in favor of Perrantes, and we'll really know he's successful if Devon Hall starts working out some off the ball.  The opposite is not true for Hall, because Hall has more flexibility in his game.  With Perrantes it's kind of point guard or bust.  Regardless, as long as Brogdon is even reasonably good at point guard, we'll have the luxury of seeing both freshmen brought along slowly and placed in situations where they can succeed and learn at the same time.  Once Evans got back from injury last year, that's what we were able to do with Jones; we saw how problematic the results could be when we weren't able to take it slow.  That's kind of a rough blueprint for how the freshmen will be handled this year, too.

#25 - Akil Mitchell - Sr. PF

2013 O-rating: 111.0

Mitchell was one of the best stories out of last season.  Joe Harris's emergence on the ACC scene was excellent, and Justin Anderson had some moments.  Lots of moments, actually.  But Mitchell is, so far, the best testament to the staff's development skills.  Mitchell came in as the biggest project of the six players in Tony's vaunted first recruiting class.  Labeled the best athlete of the bunch but also the rawest, he was a little bit of a forgotten man while a lot of the attention went to more court-ready scorers.

Now it's Mitchell doing the scoring.  His first two years, he was all gangly-armed defense and putback offense.  As a junior, suddenly there were actual moves.  Akil has a little hook shot that confounds his defenders, and he's learned to harness his athleticism and put it to use as a rebounding machine, low-post scorer, and shot blocker.  Mitchell takes a lot of pride in that rebounding, and has a green light from Tony to hit the offensive boards as well.

Along with the development of his offense has come the development of his passion.  To be honest, he wasn't the most visible player on the court his first two years, perhaps feeling overshadowed (understandably so) by Mike Scott.  Last year there was more of an edge to his game, a little more authority in his dunks.  There was no mistaking his presence on the court last year, and it went a long, long way in softening the blow of losing Scott to graduation and the NBA.  The team is Harris's, but Mitchell is now essentially the leader and elder statesman of the frontcourt players.  Like Harris, his productivity in terms of raw numbers could go down, just thanks to the depth on the roster, but it's also correct to say that Mitchell has more room than Harris to grow his game, too.

#32 - Darion Atkins - Jr. PF

2013 O-rating: 95.4

With apologies to Evans, probably the most disappointing injury of 2012-13 was Atkins going down with what essentially amounted to severe shin splints.  Atkins had five games of double-digit scoring in the nonconference portion of the schedule, with a breakout performance against Wisconsin.  He and Mitchell combined to give UVA a pair of long, rangy, bouncy forwards who had a nasty habit of being all over the court at once, and opposing teams were at a loss to figure out ways to attack the pack-line when it was being manned by this kind of athlete.

When the shin thing set in, though, the difference in Atkins's game was palpable.  He had nowhere near the lift or range or speed that he had before.  He was just a guy trying gamely to get in people's way.  It sucked watching him play when you knew what he'd been doing before he got hurt.

Should we expect the same thing now that he's healthy?  I'm not sure I see him getting 35 minutes in any game this season (barring injury elsewhere) the way he did against Wisconsin; in fact I'm sure he doesn't.  It's that depth again.  But that relentless streak will be his key to the court.  Especially - all together now - if it returns to his defense.  I'm not worried, mind.  He's already displayed his talent for, as I so eloquently put it after the UNC game, "making dunk go bye-bye."  However, there are so many scoring options on this team that Atkins moves down the ladder in that regard.  He will make his name this year on defense or see his minutes trickle away to Anthony Gill.


If the referees get serious about calling hand-check stuff the way they've been making noise about, there won't be a team in the country that doesn't run into tons of foul trouble.  That'll be good news for a team as deep as ours.  Let them call the fouls; not many teams can run out four frontcourt players as talented as Tobey, Gill, Mitchell, and Atkins.  The constant barrage of fresh forwards and one true center should be a huge weapon with the potential to bludgeon a lot of teams into submission.

In fact, if all pans out, this team will be able to score from anywhere it likes.  Harris and Nolte, and to a lesser extent Anderson and Brogdon will be downtown threats.  Tobey and Jones can do some of that too.  The frontcourt is an obvious strength.  And there's nobody - seriously, nobody - who makes you groan when they step to the stripe.  And none of this breathless optimism has taken into account the defense yet, which is getting close to take-for-granted territory.  Pundits basically do, by now.  You play Virginia, you're not gonna score much.  You just aren't.

Previews almost always tend toward believing the best of every player, though, so it should definitely be cautioned that there's a lot of variance.  Only Harris and Mitchell can truly be called known quantities.  Gill and Brogdon are coming off a year on ice; Atkins was slowed too much by injury last year to get a good sense of his full-season potential; we're counting on a nice steep improvement curve from Anderson and Tobey; Perrantes and Hall are freshmen.  And you know what I say about Nice Things, so someone will probably get hurt this year.  But the reason you can still be excited about the potential is that this is finally a team with the depth to withstand a body blow or two.  Not everything has to go just right for this year to be a lot of fun.  If it does all go just right - hello, world.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This gives me a good feeling in particular because the expansion of the ACC has been a game of musical chairs and the music has now stopped...not for membership but for dominance. Ever since the first Big East influx in 2003 there has been a fluidity among the conference leaders in football and basketball and for awhile it was anybody's game. Florida schools' football was down while Wake Forest won the ACC football championship. Miami kicked basketball butt. Rioting in the revenue streets. All very subjective (and yes, Duke and UNC hoops were continually good), but that's how it felt.
Now that there's so many teams in the conference it feels like there's only so much that can be done to get near the top. Concurrently the pecking orders have righted and ossified. Florida State, Miami, and Clemson are back on top. Duke and UNC are on top. A period of normalcy as it were, so if you didn't get it done int he last 10 years you're not going to in the next 10.
It sucks that we kept floundering at football during the turmoil. Couldn't take advantage of the window. Grateful we got one regular season ACC hoops championship. And (with the caveat that indeed nothing is permanent) yay that we are the top in basketball when the music stopped. We pretty much replaced Wake. Sad that we are at the bottom in football, and we replaced god help me for writing this Duke.