Winter is coming. That might not mean much in the south—or for most on the Forty Acres—but along with the changing season comes the trials and trivialities of college basketball. For the football fan, you’ve been blessed. The Texas Longhorns basketball narrative continues parallel with the pigskin. If last year’s winter of our discontent was a major rebuilding year, then 2012-13 should prove to be a transitory season before a championship run in 2013-14, made glorious summer by the sun of Randle.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The (semi-) charred wreckage of football season aside, there is much reason to be optimistic about the state of Longhorn hoops. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: we’re young, but we’re talented! Our defense returns some key players and adds promising new pieces! Our offense needs a boost from its fearless quarterback (err…point guard)! Oh, and can our head coach please not get in the frakkin' way?!
Where one team fails, another shall rise. Not, not that R.I.S.E. Actual rising. Powered by awesome, motivational Game of Thrones quotes. Maybe the Longhorns don't have dragon babies, beheadings, incest, or Bill Simmons, but it has just about everything else.
"Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick, a shadow on the wall, and a very small man can cast a very large shadow."
The understaffed, archaic, and incomprehensible NCAA knows all about power. Its power keeps the fate of Myck Kabongo unknown. The sophomore point guard is currently under investigation for alleged improper benefits, with no end in sight. If public information is all there is, Kabongo should be in the clear. But until the NCAA makes its ruling, he sits.
The hope is that the NCAA makes a decision soon and Kabongo misses just a few games, if any at all. Yet any time missed by the Longhorns’ best player is no bueno, particularly for a young team pining for leadership. Many people were all #SMH about Kabongo’s play last year, particularly his propensity for turnovers and disappearance in big games. That belies the many positives Kabongo brought. As a freshman. On a borderline NCAA team.
He’s an elite passer, even if he sometimes tries to force the spectacular. Kabongo’s 5.2 APG ranked 4th in the Big 12 and 4th amongst freshmen nationally, outpacing equally heralded classmates like Marquis Teague (4.8), Trey Burke (4.6), and Tony Wroten (3.7). His 32.5% A-Rate ranked 61st nationally, 6th amongst freshmen (and also ahead of the three names above). Kabongo also happens to be a nifty penetrator with a deft ability to get to the rim. At one point last year, he sported a 99% FTRate (Free Throws Attempted divided by Field Goals Attempted), tops in the nation, before ending the year at 73.2%.
To make "the leap," Kabongo needs to cut down on his turnovers and improve his perimeter and free throw shooting. His TO-Rate of 26.5% is positively Tyshawn Taylor-esque, but it’s reasonable to expect improvement, especially with more talented and more experienced teammates flanking him. Kabongo’s shooting form looks just fine, and also much improved from his high school years. But both the 68.0% from the line and 31.6% from distance need to jump up 10 percentage points if Kabongo truly wants to cast that "large shadow" to power up the Horns.
"Do you pray to the gods?"
"The old and the new."
"There is only one god and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death: ‘Not today’."
In an homage to the cult favorite Sylvio Forel, I bestow the "God of Death" honor on Texas’ best individual defender, Julien Lewis. Lewis still has a long way to go to match the defensive wizardry and nickname wonder of Texas Ex Dogus Balbay, the Turkish Prison. But the potential is certainly there.
Forced into a starting role practically by default, Lewis frequently drew the assignment of defending the opposition's best perimeter player. With little frontcourt depth, Texas frequently went with three-guard sets, never you mind the ridiculous image of seeing J'Covan Brown defend Baylor's 6' 9" Quincy Miller and 6' 10" Anthony Jones. Brown and Kabongo were Texas' two best offensive threats but average defenders at best. Hence the impetus for starting Lewis.
Balbay and fellow ballhawk Justin Mason represent Lewis' ceiling defensively, but Texas fans are right to ask for a little bit more on the other end of the court. Lewis had an abysmal 36.1% FG% last season, and hoisted 105 3-point shots, making just 32.4%. Though Lewis was tasked to play a few minutes of point guard whenever Kabongo suffered bouts of ineffectiveness or foul trouble, Lewis needed more assisted help in making his field goals than any other guard, according to Burnt Orange Nation's Jeff Haley and his site, hoop-math.com.
With Kabongo back to man the point, Lewis should continue starting at the 2 for defensive purposes. Just say a little prayer that he improves his offensive game.
"Tears aren't a woman's only weapon. The best one's between your legs."
No offense intended to the man (obviously, not a woman), but I'll greatly miss J'Covan Brown, his Sam Cassell "juevos grandes" attitude, and all the J'ONIONS! Twitter posts. Best of luck making it to the Association, sir.
"First lesson: stick 'em with the pointy end."
Ah, the Longhorns' blossoming assassin. By all accounts, sixth man Sheldon McClellan had a better year than his more heralded predecessor, Jordan Hamilton. McClellan's averages of 11.3 PPG/3.3 RPG/0.6 APG were comparable to Hamilton's freshman stats of 10.0/3.7/1.1. But from a scoring efficiency standpoint, McClellan wins hands down. McClellan played 303 more minutes than Hamilton, yet took 12 less shot attempts. McClellan's scoring ability was also more versatile: he hit 44.8% of his shots to Hamilton's 41%, with Hamilton also taking and making more 3's than McClellan.
As a distance gunner, McClellan is strictly catch-and-shoot: 97% of his made 3-pointers were assisted. McClellan does add more versatility on the floor than a freshman Hamilton. He was more willing to slash towards the basket, and showed the ability to dribble penetrate and play the midrange game. As the only Longhorn to average double figures in scoring other than Brown, McClellan will be expected to substantially increase his scoring output and should become the first option on offense this year.
As much as Hamilton struggled his freshman year, he turned in an outstanding sophomore campaign, not just as a more proficient scorer, but also as an outstanding rebounder for his position, solid passer, and willing defender. McClellan isn't that multi-dimensional yet, nor is that really expected of him. But in his new role as starting small forward, McClellan needs to approach Hamilton's 18.6 PPG or Brown's 20.1 PPG campaigns for Texas to feel comfortable with its offensive output.
With available scoring options a scarce resource, Texas head coach Rick Barnes has pushed McClellan to be more assertive this entire off-season. Hopefully, the prodding has paid off, and we'll see McClellan sticking it to Longhorn opponents all year.
"I always wanted to be a ranger."
"I always wanted to be a wizard."
I'm not quite sure what Jonathan Holmes is yet. Should he play the 3 or the 4? Is he better as an outside-in perimeter threat, or better camping in the paint? How is he such a good offensive rebounder but perfectly average on the defensive boards? Does he foul so much because he was compensating for small centers, or does he not have the instincts to avoid contact?
Ultimately, Holmes may be neither a ranger nor a wizard, but a Jon Snow steward role isn't necessarily a bad thing for Texas. Expected to start at power forward, Holmes won't be asked to do anything extraordinary. On the floor, Holmes will fill a role similar to last year. His freshman usage rating of 18.1% is fifth-man territory. Offensively, he will spot up occasionally on the perimeter and crash the offensive boards. His O-Reb% of 11.9% is an asset. On defense, the physical presence of incoming freshmen Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh should free Holmes to stay on his man and work the glass.
In his freshman year, Holmes averaged 7.1 PPG and 4.8 RPG, shooting 48.5% from the field. I don't envision numbers substantially different from that, but do foresee gradual improvement from a solid contributor that should end up being a multi-year starter and four-year collegian. That'll work.
"A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair."
Watching Jaylen Bond reminds me of Andre the Giant on the brute squad. At this point in his career, Bond really does one thing, and can do it exceptionally well. Listed at just 6 '7", Bond is the prototypical undersized college power forward that basically hoover-vacs the boards. 4.6 RPG does not sound high, but Bond averaged just 15.1 MPG last year. His 13.3% O-Reb% and 21.4% D-Reb% is more representational of his potential. For comparison, Kansas' Thomas Robinson posted 11.2% and 30.5% marks last year.
Bond took 75% of his shots last year at the rim, presumably many of those after gathering an offensive rebound (he had 60 total last year). Bond will be relied upon again this year to provide that brute strength off the bench. He'll likely tandem with Ibeh, a elite shotblocker that needs muscle mass. Depending on matchups, Ridley, Ibeh, Holmes and Bond provide a foursome that can be mix-and-matched to take advantage of opposing interiors. It's a far cry from last year, when the senior duo of Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene provided little to scare Big 12 frontcourts, and Holmes and Bond were basically learning on the job.
As Haley points out in the post below, Bond also shows sparks of putting it together. Despite the bulky frame and low center of gravity, Bond does have above-average athleticism and could one day become a plus defender and explosive finisher. Originally from Pennsylvania, Bond just looks like a prototypical DeJuan Blair / Nasir Robinson type grinder. I'm glad he's on our side.
"What about the king?"
"He can die just fine on his own."
Lastly, before we wrap up: a final nod to the recruiting classes of 2009 and 2010. 6 players, no current Longhorns. The 2012-13 roster is comprised entirely of freshmen and sophomores, save for the obligatory nod to 2 walk-on seniors: Dean Melchionni and Andrew Dick. Alas, it's hard to say no to guaranteed, first round money, and Avery Bradley, Cory Joseph, Jordan Hamilton, and Tristan Thompson all have healthy bank accounts. What could've been...
Stay tuned for a look at the incoming freshmen in Part 2...