Wednesday, May 6, 2015

hoops in review, part 2

The much-coveted hoops review continues with the second half of the roster.

#11 - Evan Nolte - Jr. SF

Preview quote: "Nolte's an interesting case. It's very fair to say that other than the freshmen who we haven't seen at all, he has the least predictable role on the team, and even then, it's not like we don't know what Devon Hall or Jack Salt are here for."

In the preview I labeled Nolte a power forward after some deliberation.  Here he's a small forward.  That about sums things up, really.  Nolte was an odd duck of a player this year, with no particular defined role and lots of minutes regardless.  He was the only player to cross over between the frontcourt and backcourt, playing about a quarter of his minutes as one of two bigs rather than one of three guards.

Those minutes were weirdly situated, too.  Nolte's playing time was circling the drain midseason, with a stretch of four games where he played six or fewer minutes.  He was down to three against UNC.  Then Justin Anderson broke his hand, and Nolte immediately jumped to 24 that very game.  He would play almost two-thirds of his season total minutes in the final one-third of the season, starting every game but the last and regularly topping 30 minutes on the court.

This was to the consternation of quite a few fans.  Nolte's most readily apparent role was to shoot threes, which was supposed to be the thing he did best.  Instead he had a completely horrible year in that area.  The whole deal was eerily reminiscent of Sammy Zeglinski, who caught way more heat than he deserved because he wasn't shooting as well as people thought he should.  (I should've anticipated this.  Nolte also took totally unwarranted heat for his sweet choice of shirt during summer run-from-the-cops shenanigans.)

Me, I get irritated at fans who act as if the only thing that matters is shooting.  Nolte was in the game for so many minutes all of a sudden because he was getting it on the defensive end.  I also wrote before the season that Nolte was due for a big jump in play, and though nothing he did on a stat sheet would've indicated such a leap, his defense was, somehow, outstanding.  They don't hand out defensive all-conference honors for stubbornly staying in front of people, but one thing you hardly ever saw was Nolte getting beat on the ball.  It involved the adoption of a really goofy-looking defensive stance where Nolte made himself much shorter than his 6'8" frame and stuck his hands out palms-forward, but that right there was your leap ahead: on-ball defense and the invisible game.

I don't think we'll see 30 minutes a game for Nolte next year, but then I also don't think he'll shoot under .300 from three again.  It didn't look like there was anything wrong with his shot; they just didn't fall.  But what he did do is establish himself in Tony's mind as a player well within the circle of trust; up til the last month of this season, you'd have wondered about that.  Last year the prediction was that Nolte was one player in danger of seeing his minutes dwindle if he didn't develop a dependable skill set.  Like it or not, he did that.  It showed a bit late, but he did that; next year, as a senior, the minutes will be there.

#13 - Anthony Gill - Jr. PF

Preview quote: "[H]e should find himself in the conversation for some all-ACC recognition if all goes well."

All did go well, and this is the simplest, most straightforward assessment we'll do on the whole team.  Gill moved into the starting lineup this season and had little trouble with the transition.  His efficiency probably exposed some vestiges of pacism among the all-ACC voters; he was KenPom's #7 player in the country (a rating admittedly heavily influenced by team quality - but then, so is all-America voting) but only third-team all-ACC.

Gill was actually UVA's most efficient offensive player, nosing out Justin Anderson.  Like a lot of the players on this team, he's terrifically strong, and he used that muscle to be a terror on the offensive boards; draw copious fouls; and make 58% of his shots.  He was at his best going straight at the rim.  He liked to try fallaway shots as well (especially, and very maddeningly, against MSU) and they weren't nearly as effective as a simple bull-rush at the rim.  Gill has enough quickness to start the move, and then use his strength to finish and/or draw the foul.

Not much to overanalyze here, really.  Gill was the offensive centerpiece of the frontcourt, a role he stepped into like a pair of slippers.  Darion Atkins had such a tremendous year that he was the clear focus on defense, but next year that'll probably be Gill too.  He'll be one of the conference's top returning players next year.

#15 - Malcolm Brogdon - Jr. SG

Preview quote: "[T]here's every reason to expect him to become not just UVA's marquee player, but one of the ACC's as well. ... [F]irst team all-ACC is the expectation."

Mission accomplished.  Brogdon was one of four players to be a unanimous or near-consensus pick for the media's first team (the others were Jahlil Okafor, Jerian Grant, and Rakeem Christmas.)  Brogdon was also on the all-defensive team, making him and Christmas the two best all-around players in the conference.  Scoring is what usually gets you a lot of attention, but Brogdon was rightfully recognized as an elite on-ball defender.  He's really big for a guard, so going around him was difficult, and he's quite probably the strongest guard in the conference.  Best example of his skills: Wake Forest tried to use Codi Miller-McIntyre to break him down one-on-one for the game-winning basket, and Miller-McIntyre never made it past the key.

Offensively, Brogdon is actually even better than he thinks he is.  To be specific, his ballhandling and driving.  He doesn't lack at all for confidence in his jump shot, and in fact has the really maddening habit of shooting them with his toes on the three-point line.  He'll come off a curl, or he'll take a step-back jumper, and it'll be from a distance that might as well be a three if you're gonna shoot from out there, but isn't.  Next year I hope he starts his move six inches further from the basket.

But I digress.  Brogdon doesn't have a lot of deception in his driving game, but he's so strong he doesn't need much.  The guy can finish through a ton of contact.  He has it in him to be that clutch scorer who's there when you absolutely, positively need a bucket, and he's flashed that ability.  If he figures that out, UVA might not lose a close game all year.

#21 - Isaiah Wilkins - Fr. PF

Preview quote: "In his commitment profile I called him a Swiss Army knife of a player; he doesn't blow you away with shooting range or power and strength, but he's athletic, long-armed, and energetic, and should do a nice job on defense as long as he's got the system down enough to be out there."

I think that sums up Wilkins's season awfully well, actually.  He started off against JMU with a game that drew a ton of praise for its all-around contributions: 8 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals in 19 minutes.  Almost all those numbers were season highs, as it turned out, but Wilkins had far too much depth in front of him to be in for 20 minutes every night.

His usage was a little erratic - he played 14 minutes in a tight one against Notre Dame after sitting the last three completely out, for example.  And his offensive game wasn't well-developed at all.  But he sported - with small-sample-size warnings applying - an 8.7 block percentage, and had 2.7 blocks per 40 minutes.  The fewer the minutes, the worse the extrapolation, so that's a number to be taken with many grains of salt, but even so, he had 18 blocked shots - which was two more than Anthony Gill in less than 1/3 the playing time.

So I think he had a perfectly acceptable year, which I don't mean as damnation with faint praise.  Playing the one spot where a freshman would've had the hardest time standing out, he managed to at least carve a niche.  Tony and the staff are starting to work on a real nice track record developing big men - just look at Mitchell and Atkins - and Wilkins should be due for a big increase in responsibilities next year.

#32 - London Perrantes - So. PG

Preview quote: "The bottom line is, UVA has as veteran a point guard as you'll find in the league - and he's a sophomore."

The narrative was that after the electric scorer and deadly shooter broke his hand and had to sit, the normally pass-first point guard starting take a more assertive role in the scoring department, helping to shore up the business of getting points for the scoreboard.  It sure seemed that way.  It wasn't quite.

Perrantes did do that, a little bit.  He took about two shots more per game post-Justin-injury than he did before it.  But his three-point shooting percentage took a nosedive from last season - which surprised me, because, again, it didn't seem like it.  He made up for it by being a better shooter from two and upping his assists, but the overall numbers picture doesn't line up with the narrative.

Which is why we rely on numbers, but we're not a slave to them.  Point guardery isn't always about the numbers, not even the assists.  Perrantes did assert himself more than last year.  He made himself more visible, more available.  He was more active without the ball.  There wasn't, on the stat sheet, a huge difference in his play from last year, but he developed all the same.

#33 - Jack Salt - Fr. C

Preview quote: "The likely contribution is as a practice body."

Which was the case; Salt, as expected, redshirted.  Details on how that year went depend on who you ask.  I've seen reports ranging from "not progressing as hoped" to "Tony absolutely loves what he sees."  With Mike Tobey a senior next year, I think Salt's career will continue to be on a slow start.  But we'll at least get a few chances to see what we have in the big Kiwi.


So, a quick look at the rotation for next year.  The Hoos have to replace about 28 minutes in the frontcourt and 24 minutes in the backcourt.  It's tempting to say we already saw what replacing Justin Anderson will look like, but Tony, like most coaches, had settled into a rotation he liked by the late stages of the season, and simply extended a few players a few minutes each and gave Evan Nolte the rest.  Next year is a bit of a clean slate.  Devon Hall will have a chance to reassert himself, and Darius Thompson (who some reports say is easily the quickest ballhandler on the team and a great candidate to add a slashing dimension that wasn't really there last year) will have every opportunity as well.  And Marial Shayok could see a large boost from his 14.6 minutes as well.  It's a crowded situation.

The bigs don't have it any easier.  Gill is the only one with a guaranteed allotment.  Mike Tobey will play, of course, but he might stick around 17 minutes or he might get ten more.  Wilkins should become more of a regular, and Salt and Jarred Reuter, who even knows?  It's a surprising amount of unknowns for a team that returns most of its players.  The fact that there are so many possibilities is a showcase for the remarkable depth.

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