Thanks to the Internet - purveyor of highly classified information from the likes of Edward Snowden and Ray J - I was able to snag the basketball equivalent of the Zapruder film: full video of the Texas Longhorns Orange/White basketball scrimmage. I can't really reveal how I got it lest I bite the hand that feeds, but suffice it to say I directly benefited from nobody understanding the concept of confidential any more. Thanks for over-sharing everything, Millenials, this makes all the Instagrams of your McDonald's meals worth it! (I lied, please stop photographing your french fries.) Much like the football spring game, they kept things fairly vanilla so there's a limit on how much you can take from the game, but it's still interesting to see some live action from the first Texas squad Shaka Smart is fielding. I jotted down some notes from the 30 minutes of scrimmage action & I'll separate it into 2 sections: the team & individual players.
- Neither team played much zone, and when they did it was a pretty traditional 2-3 zone. One thing I noticed is the guards on the far side of the zone sagged further off their man than Barnes' zone. Whether that's by design - it could help defensively as long as the offense can't pass over the top of the defense - or guys over-committing remains to be seen.
- The full-court trap showed up intermittently, and it still needs work. The basic idea is there, but they obviously still need to drill on the finer points of the Double FIST press. I saw an instance where the trap was defeated because the 2nd defender was allowing the ball-handler an angle to escape; if the defender is there a half-step sooner and/or shows up a half-step to the proper side, the trap is set. I also saw the press getting broken because of interceptors(the 2nd line of defense, usually wings) over-committing to a specific guy which left somebody wide open. This will get better over time, but I can see why Shaka is hesitant to trap a lot.
- Speaking of the trap, there were a couple of times when Cameron Ridley was the trapper. It sounds like a bad idea, but in reality it only happened when the big he was guarding(usually Lammert) was the inbounds man and the opportunity presented itself. In other words, he wasn't freelancing, he was making a choice based off specific circumstances. I don't think this is something that should happen much during the season, but it probably won't. This seems more likely to be something Lammert/Ibeh does.
- I'm thinking Texas will be blocking less shots this year than in the past, and not just because Myles Turner has moved on. The defense seems more like a straight-up man defense designed to keep the ball in front of them rather than a system to funnel the guards into the paint for a block party.
- There don't need to be more than 2 of these 3 guys on the floor for any length of time: Cameron Ridley, Prince Ibeh, and Isaiah Taylor. I don't mean that as a knock on any one of them individually because they all have their roles, they just clog up the offensive end of the floor when they're all out there together. I have ideas on how the rotation can work, but I'm holding onto that until I see the team playing games that matter.
- There were a few pick & roll combinations being utilized in the scrimmage, but the one that piqued my interest the most was Kerwin Roach & Connor Lammert. I like the combination of speed, outside shooting, & agility those two can bring to bear on a defense and that could be very fruitful for this offense.
- Cam & Shaquille Cleare must beat the hell out of each other in practice; those are two big dudes who know how to hold their ground on a court.
- As a side note, Kendal Yancy is #5 this year. He handed #0 over to Tevin Mack.
- I'm going to miss the shit out of Demarcus Holland when he's graduated. He's an absolute pleasure to watch on the defensive end of the floor; I feel confident in saying he's the best defender Texas has had since Royal Ivey. He was out there erasing people from the stat sheet all scrimmage long, to the point that I don't know how much I can grade what Isaiah Taylor was doing because Holland was co-signing a lease agreement on an efficiency apartment inside Zay's shirt. People need to appreciate what he brings to this team.
- I was hopeful Zay's 3 ball would look improved, but I'm not seeing a lot from his perimeter shot(albeit in a small sample size). It's not so much that he went 1-6 from 3, it's that he didn't look comfortable shooting those 6 3s. He's not really squaring up when he shoots it; I'm hoping it looks better during the season because it's the only real glaring problem in his game.
- The Good: all 5 of his 3s were good decisions. The fact that he only went 1-5 from 3 doesn't concern me because the decision-making was solid; if he keeps picking his spots like that, they'll fall eventually. Also good: he didn't sag as far off his man as he has in previous years. Simply not planting a foot in the paint on defense will help him be a better defender this year.
- The Bad: Felix is basically maxed out as a player. To be fair to Javan, maxing out as a D1 contributor is higher than most reach; having said that, the limits of his defensive ability come into focus against, oh, I don't know, this guy:
Roach was abusing Felix repeatedly in the scrimmage, and it wasn't one of those 'oh he got lucky with a couple bounces' kind of nights. Kerwin Roach has NBA-level athleticism and Javan can't reliably guard a guy like that. Fortunately, there aren't many guards like Kerwin Felix will face this season. I don't plan to predict how many minutes Javan will get this season, but my hunch is it won't be at or above the 23 & change he averaged last year.
- I know everybody's excited about Kerwin's numbers in the scrimmage, but I'm going to tap the brakes on the excitement for who he was - and wasn't - guarded by in the scrimmage. He's got a world of potential and his offensive game seems more refined than I initially expected, but it was just one scrimmage. His ceiling is arguably the highest on the team, but I need to see more before I start tweeting Youtube clips to the Celtics.
- As an aside, his handle was pretty good. I think he spells Zay at the point more than I originally guessed.
- That was the quietest 7-11 shooting night I've seen in awhile. I think he did fine, he just got lost in the shuffle while I was watching everything else. Note to self: pay more attention to the guy shooting 63% from the floor. I feel like Scott Drew.
- I'm already on record as being high on what Prince can do this season, but there wasn't a ton to see in the scrimmage. He had his moments though, and these are two that illustrate what I think he can do all season if he keeps his eyes open & his feet moving:
- Eric shoots a nice free throw, and it's smooth enough he could be a viable option in the last 2-3 minutes of a tight game.
- I have hope for Eric defensively as well, I think his brain needs to catch up to his body. The effort is there though.
- Jordan's stroke looked solid and overall he seems like he's just about there. He's missing something though, and I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it's as simple as a needing a little more confidence/decisiveness in his movement, I'm still mulling it over. I'm cautiously optimistic he'll figure it out though.
- Shaq has a better handle than I expected. He's not the second coming of Anthony Davis or anything, but he can help advance the ball against a press. It's one of the few things he does appreciably better than Cam.
- Shaq & Prince weight almost the same, but carry their weight so much differently.
Overall I liked a lot of what I saw, and nothing I saw in the film changes my opinion that this team could flirt with the top-25 and finish in the top half of the conference standings.