By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
There is no bigger understatement one could make about Clemson basketball than this: Guard play was a concern for the Tigers last season.
The root of the offensive inefficiency for Clemson in 2012-13 was inexperienced and inconsistent play up front and on the wing. The Tigers were reliant on some square pegs to fit round holes, while the pieces that seemed to fit well were asked to play far more minutes than they were equipped to play.
Last season, the Tigers were at or near the bottom of the ACC in most efficiency categories on offense. Without going through all of the different numbers, we can analyze this with some particular statistics that demonstrate a general lack of efficient scoring on the floor at any given time.
Two stats adequately assess a team’s ability to score consistently. One is true shooting percentage, which takes into account every shot that goes up in a game (two-pointers, three-pointers, and free throws). The Tigers were 11th in the ACC last season in this category at 50.1 percent. For the record, they were 11th in all three relevant percentages as well.
A similar number that seems to skew toward guards is effective shooting percentage. This accounts for both two-pointers and three-pointers, weighting three-pointers more heavily in the formula. Clemson was 11th in the conference in this metric as well at 47.2 percent.
These numbers do not speak highly of Clemson’s scoring ability last season, particularly from the perimeter. But the problem goes deeper than simple makes and misses. The Tigers were also tenth in the ACC in assist percentage, only assisting on 47.9 percent of made baskets. In other words, teammates were not setting each other up for success very often.
The issues that plagued the Tigers last season should be largely rectified because the team lost no one from its backcourt after last season. In fact, one player—Devin Coleman—returns to the squad after missing 2012-13 due to injury.
No one hated watching last season’s offensive performance more than Brad Brownell. He prefers a brand of motion offense that is free-flowing and instinctive. The strength of the attack is drawn from a facilitating point guard and versatile wing players, neither of which existed for much of last season.
Brownell has said the guards will have a more integral role in the flow this season after deferring to the two seniors—forwards Devin Booker and Milton Jennings—in 2012. This guard-heavy roster looks more like one that fits Brownell’s style of play.
Coleman’s return should provide a much-needed lift to the perimeter shooting game. His absence was perhaps the most glaring, which seems odd given his overall percentages during his freshman season. But in the latter half of the ACC season back in 2011-12, Coleman became a force in the mid-range game and in creating his own shot. His healthy presence should jolt the offense significantly forward.
In Coleman’s absence, Jordan Roper picked up much of the slack in terms of shooting, although the staff would have preferred to redshirt him. He averaged nearly eight points per game, tops among guards. He got the starting nod at shooting guard in the recent exhibition game against Francis Marion, leading all players with 21 minutes played.
Roper’s ability to elevate into his jumper makes up for his lack of stature (5’11”). The sophomore hit 41.4 percent of his threes last season, making him a legitimate weapon from beyond the arc. Expect his production to increase with a renewed emphasis on freeing shooters.
The staff did not know if they would have Demarcus Harrison available this season. Now cleared to play by the NCAA, the junior featured a shot with nice form and no substance a year ago. After some tweaking, the staff hopes Harrison will be more consistent this season.
The point guard spot will seemingly be manned primarily by Rod Hall, who was the only Tiger to average two assists or more last season (3.5). Hall has always been more capable than he shows shooting the ball, but he prefers to defer to his teammates. With improvement in other areas on the floor, a player with Hall’s unselfish mentality is a major plus for Brownell’s scheme.
Perhaps the biggest enigma in the backcourt is Adonis Filer. The sophomore from Chicago has shown flashes of brilliance—both as a scorer and running the floor game—but also played in a number of games last season where he was a detriment to everything happening on the floor.
Filer finished on the wrong side of the plus/minus statistic 12 times out of 19 conference games last season, posting a net plus/minus of -33 in those contests. Brownell needs Filer to not only begin to make more positive contributions, but his untapped ability makes him a preferable option to Hall as the regular point guard. A player with Hall’s mindset is more effective coming off the bench, but that is only possible if Filer steps into a starting role with fervor.
Looking back on the efficiency numbers, it is clear where Clemson’s guards need to pick up the slack this season. The Tigers ranked tenth in the ACC in overall efficiency last season, which is no surprise to those that watched the team play. It is reasonable to expect some modest improvements at the guard positions, given no major personnel losses and the return of a key perimeter shooter and slasher.
The biggest opportunity for a jump, in my opinion, is in assist percentage. The motion offense cannot excel without crisp, precise passing and ball movement, as well as players coming off screens with a catch-and-shoot chance. An uptick of five percent would put Clemson at around 53 percent, which would be in the middle of the conference.
This seems likely because of an increase in tempo and natural progression for both Hall and Filer into players who can average three or more assists per game. This is the stat to watch for the Clemson backcourt this season, as last year’s inefficient players attempt to become members of an efficient attack.