Tuesday, April 8, 2014

basketball season in review, 1

I hope you liked this season.  You won't see another one like it in a very, very long time, maybe not in your lifetime.  Oh, not to say the team won't be good again, or even win ACC championships again, or that it won't be a lot of fun watching them do it.  But the feeling of discovery will be gone.  Not really knowing how good the team is, but finding out a little more every night, one blowout at a time, how good they can be - it's a special thing, and not replicable.

Sorry.  Don't mean to depress you.  Winning is fun and it always will be, just, a different kind from here on out.  And Tony Bennett still has some uncharted waters left.  But let's talk this season.  We'll wrap it up the same way, more or less, that we opened it: a player-by-player review that'll take two posts to finish, and then, once the draft deadline has passed, an early look at the state of the ACC in 2014-2015.

#0 - Devon Hall - Fr. PG

This season: Redshirted.

Next season: Part of the reason Teven Jones is transferring is because of the numbers game created by Devon Hall coming off his redshirt.  Occasionally it's hinted that Hall is a guy we should have high expectations for, but we simply won't know the extent of it til we see it in person.

We can get a fair idea of his likely role, though.  Joe Harris averaged 28.8 minutes, and if you take out blowouts it was more like about 32.  Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes are close to maxed out; they got 31.4 and 29.9, respectively, and you can't tack on much more - about 4 each, let's say, which would get them to about what they averaged down the stretch.  That leaves 20 backcourt minutes to be doled out, of which Justin Anderson probably gets 5 to 8.

Toss in the minutes opened up by Teven Jones - not many, but they're there - and that leaves, oh, maybe 12-18 minutes a game to be split between Hall and B.J. Stith.  More early on, when there's no point in running the starters ragged and when it's therefore unlikely that Brogdon gets any 35-minute games.

Hall will definitely be asked to run the offense at times; sharp-eyed viewers will note that everyone in the backcourt (except Evan Nolte), not just Perrantes and Brogdon, took a spin initiating the offense.  Harris and Anderson as well.  Probably 75% of the time, things were operated by the point guard, but there were times it wasn't always the case.  So we shouldn't expect that just because we have Perrantes and Brogdon, Hall will play exclusively off the ball - and vice versa.

Obviously, expectations should be tempered, because we're Virginia fans and we always overshoot.  Really, all Hall needs to do is chip in four or five points a game and we'll have what we need out of him.

#1 - Justin Anderson - So. SF

This season: Anderson is such a fun player to watch that what I'm about to say will sound heretical, but: on the stat sheet, he didn't really progress this year.  Even fell back slightly in a few areas.  He shot more this year, but didn't improve his shooting; he actually blocked fewer shots than last year, got fewer steals, fouled more, turned the ball over more, and all in fewer minutes.  His mid-range game didn't improve like I hoped it might in the preseason.  And early in the year his three-point game was up over last year, to the point where I thought to myself "he doesn't hit a ton, but he hits just enough."  In ACC and tournament play, though, that disappeared, and he was just 27% from deep.

Here's the thing about basketball teams, though: they're almost never exactly the sum of their parts.  Bill Simmons writes like half his columns on that premise (and mainly when the whole falls short of the sum.)  College teams in particular, every year they have to find a new mix.  Coaching is part mad science and chemistry instructor.  Part of the reason this UVA team was so incredibly much more than the sum of its parts is because Anderson has a knack for extremely well-timed big plays, and does a lot of non-scoresheet stuff by harnessing his apparently superhuman body control.

Some scoresheet stuff, too, come to think of it; his momentum-changing swat against Maryland that turned into a Joe Harris three was a thing of beauty.  A Justin Anderson Superman block comes out of nowhere until you've seen enough of them; then you can spot 'em coming a mile off because you can see him lay the trap.  Anderson has a rare and deadly combination of instinct, timing, and body control that makes him a marvel to watch.

That, and his infectious energy, earned him the inaugural ACC 6th Man award from the media.  He might not start, but he finishes, and in no game was his end-of-game presence more important than the ACC semifinal against Pitt when his incredible leaping talents got his fingers in the way of James Robinson's potential game-tying shot.  His least spectacular block of the year, but his most important.

Next season: Anderson would be considered a frustrating player if he weren't so damn fun to watch and full of spit and hustle.  He could stand to improve his efficiency, and can do so by improving either his handle or his shot.  All he'd need to do, really, is hit like five more threes over the course of the season and he'd be up near 34, 35%, good enough to be considered, if not quite a true threat, at least reasonable. 

I don't think it's a given that he starts.  His energy is awfully useful off the bench; it's like hitting the opponent with a whole second wave of reinforcements.  If Stith or Hall are impressive enough in the preseason, they could take the starting spot vacated by Harris.  I at least envision some more tinkering in the early part of the season, and Tony will eventually make a decision one way or the other, but Anderson seems likely to once again split his time between the first and second unit til then.  Since we already know he can defend, it'll probably (in a very un-Tony-like decision) depend on his scoring.  He'll start if he proves irreplaceable on offense; in which case the ACC would be hard on notice because Anderson with a handle would be an absolute terror.

#5 - Teven Jones - So. PG

This season: Odd man out, unfortunately.  It had to be someone, which was a good position for the team but not for Jones and his minutes.  Early on, he was a back-end rotation player, even in close games.  He got nine minutes in the VCU loss and eleven in the Norfolk State game, which was a closer game than it should've been.

By the time the ACC season was a third over, though, he was coming in just ahead of the walk-ons.  He managed an incredibly rare five-trillion against Florida State (in Tallahassee, playing in large part because of the need to fill Joe Harris's minutes) and if he hadn't been the middleman between Anderson's mega-swat and Harris's transition three, against Maryland, he'd've earned another one.  Come March, his pregame dances were the distinguishing feature of his game.

It should be mentioned, though, that not everyone would've taken such a demotion as well as Jones did.  For which UVA fans are duly appreciative and well-wishing on his transfer.

Next season: Since the point of his transfer is to play, it wouldn't surprise to see Jones drop to a Division II school; since he burned his redshirt by joining the team midyear in 2011-2012, he'd have to waste a year of eligibility transferring within D-I.

#10 - Mike Tobey - So. C

This season: Tobey came in almost 30 pounds heavier than he was last season, which made him a lot harder to deal with down in the paint.  The downside: he had to spend the year learning how to use that newfound size.  Big men develop more slowly because their growth spurts force them to almost literally relearn the whole game every time they have one.

So it's not too surprising that Tobey would have a growth spurt - on the scale instead of the tape measure - and not know what to do with all that extra power.  It led to a great deal of inconsistency, and announcers saying they wanted to see more fire and motor out of him.  I don't think it's that Tobey lacks the energy (although he was sometimes being juxtaposed with Justin Anderson, which was not fair), it's that he simply was not always sure what he could get away with.

And while his offense came and went, his defense and rebounding took the upward path you'd expect from his added bulk.  He became a top-100 shot blocker in the country (according to KenPom's block-percentage state) and a top-50 offensive rebounder.  He was more aggressive on both offense and defense, even if at times it didn't seem like it and he disappeared for entire games.  Part of the reason we say he disappeared is because of the much larger role he was being asked to play in the first place.

If you needed proof that Tobey successfully made the leap into the Circle of Trust, it came at the end of the Memphis game when he decided, for reasons known only to himself, to hork up a three with over 20 seconds left on the shot clock.  This was not just running a red light, it was running the red light outside the Annual Law Enforcement Convention with "Fuck Tha Police" blasting from the speakers and throwing donuts out the window.  The fact that Tony did not industrial-epoxy his ass to the bench was proof of Tobey's accession.  It helped that he made the shot, too.

Next season: It's fair to expect a lot more consistency on offense.  Tobey played less than half the available minutes, and with Akil Mitchell vacating more than 25 a game, Tobey should be up well over 20 next year.  Mitchell was about a 7 ppg scorer, and the frontcourt newcomers - Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt - will likely pick up almost none of that.  It's up to Tobey and Anthony Gill to pick up that slack.  Like Anderson, Tobey has the potential to be a terror if his offense follows the glide path that it should.  You notice that halfway through the year we stopped talking about his propensity to have his shot blocked, so there are legitimate reasons to expect great things after another offseason in the weight room and of learning to throw his weight around.

#11 - Evan Nolte - So. SF

This season: Pretty much all the predictions came true, about Nolte being the one to see his minutes get squeezed.  He lost more than 10 minutes a game from his average and sat out five games entirely.  The 9th player in a 9-man rotation.  For most of the season, he looked like a player carrying out his assignment and, for fear of making the mistake that would cost him the rest of his minutes, never freelancing.  He shot the ball much less than half as often as last year, and really wasn't hitting them as efficiently, either.

There's hope, though, and it comes in the form of his NCAA tourney minutes - and not just because he nailed some very timely threes against Coastal Carolina.  Nor was it just because he exploded for a throwdown against Memphis - but we're getting warmer.  Take a look at the minutes he played against Michigan State - 15, more than twice as many as Tobey.  This against a team with some very dangerous frontcourt athletes.

This was because against Memphis and MSU, he actually looked like a power forward.  It wasn't the shots he hit that impressed me, it was that somehow he flipped a switch and a new, much more aggressive Evan Nolte showed up on the court.  Against MSU he pulled down five boards, by far his season high, and these were not because the ball bounced toward where he was standing.  He went out and fought for them, he bodied up on defense, and I think he surprised MSU in doing so because there's no way that was part of their scouting report.

Next season: Last offseason I was fairly confident in saying Nolte's minutes would decline, and lo and behold, they did.  Now, though.... if he shows the coaches more of that tournament fire, he'll make things very interesting, and as a result I think Nolte has the most unpredictable future of anyone on the team.  Do the coaches continue to have him play mainly a perimeter role?  Or do they give him a look as a true power forward at times?

There are two things I think Nolte can do to maximize his potential.  One is to work on his stepback and/or pullup midrange shot.  He hit one like that against Notre Dame and I thought, you know, with a little practice he could make that part of his arsenal.  The other is to hit the weight room so hard the coaches have to change the locks.  Now we know that when he's good and motivated, he can defend opposing fours.  I don't think he'll ever have the quicks to guard scoring wings like, say, a T.J. Warren or Lamar Patterson, but with added strength he could guard the four for stretches and then step out and pop a three on the other end; that's a terribly frustrating type of player to have to scout and plan for.

It won't all come next season, I don't think.  Nolte isn't quite the athlete Tobey and Anderson are, and so his pace of improvement is naturally going to have to be slower.  But anyone ready to write him off based on the decreased minutes should remember he was still just a sophomore and has two more offseasons to work on things.  I think in Nolte's case, if it all comes together it'll be as a senior - but there's good reason to believe in his progression next year.  I don't know if I'd have said that before the NCAA tournament.


Part 2 flies next week, with six more scholarship players and one bonus.


pezhoo said...

Great review. You're dead-on about Anderson. His increased production was due to minutes, not getting better. And the last half of the ACC season I was screaming for him not to jack up a 3. He stopped shooting them in post-season though, only 9 in 6 games. Hopefully he'll improve there next year. But I don't think anyone had as many big plays, not not just highlight reel stuff, but game changing plays as Justin did. I love the guy. If he becomes more efficient, goodness.

Anonymous said...

Love this:

This was not just running a red light, it was running the red light outside the Annual Law Enforcement Convention with "Fuck Tha Police" blasting from the speakers and throwing donuts out the window.