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Carlton Bragg evaluation; 2017-18 (and beyond) Arizona State basketball analysis

The addition of former McDonald's All-American Carlton Bragg, a transfer from Kansas, completes Arizona State's roster for this season and gives it a lot more size projecting into the future.

2017-18 Arizona State roster overview

Projected starters: G: Shannon Evans (senior); G: Tra Holder (senior); G: Kodi Justice (senior): F: Kimani Lawrence (freshman); F: Romello White (freshman)

Projected reserves: G: Remy Martin (freshman); F: Vitaliy Shibel (freshman); F: Ramon Vila (sophomore); F Mickey Mitchell (sophomore; not eligible for first eight games of season) C: De'Quon Lake (junior)

Sitting out season post-transfer: G: Rob Edwards (averaged 16.5 points and 4.5 rebounds at Cleveland State last year as sophomore); F: Carlton Bragg (averaged 5.2 points, 4.1 rebounds last year as a sophomore); F: Zylan Cheatham (averaged 9.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last year as a third-year sophomore at San Diego State. The Phoenix native will petition NCAA for hardship waiver due to his grandmother illness and if granted will have two season of eligibility after sitting out 2017-18.)

Roster now complete: ASU coach Bobby Hurley has allocated all 13 scholarships for 2017-18 and there is no expectation of additional moves between now and the start of the season. Hurley has nine players who are projected to be eligible for the entire season plus 6-foot-7 forward Mickey MItchell, who will become eligible after the team's first eight games post-transfer from Ohio State. 

The Skinny

A McDonald All-American in 2015, Carlton Bragg was the No. 35 overall recruit and No. 7 power forward in his high school class out of Cleveland, Ohio, where he helped Villa Angela-St. Joseph to consecutive state championships in 2014 and 2015.

Bragg, 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, left Kansas after playing two seasons and will have two additional seasons of eligibility after sitting out 2017-18 at Arizona State. He committed to the program a day after his official visit, after also considering Cincinnati, Illinois, North Carolina State and Xavier.

As a sophomore, Bragg averaged 5.2 points and 4.1 rebounds in 13.8 minutes, playing in 31 games and starting five. He was typically the seventh or eighth man for the Jayhawks. In some games he didn't play much or at all, and in other games, mostly earlier in the season and in more lopsided outcomes, he played more minutes. He didn't play in the team's season ending NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas. 

As a high school recruit Bragg developed a reputation for being a very good rebounder, and he continued to be productive in that regard in his first two seasons of college basketball. He has active, quick feet for his size and great mobility. He's impressive changing ends of the floor, given how long and mobile he is, and has the ability to use his length well on defensive coverages in the half court on a variety of ball screens and other actions. 

Bragg doesn't have particularly great feel or timing as a shot blocker on the ball, but has the ability to be a weak side help presence. He tracks the ball very well off the glass and can get rebounds out of his area at a better clip than anyone we've seen in recent years at ASU when he's fully engaged. This also creates a lot of second chance opportunities on the offensive end, where Bragg has great potential and was arguably Kansas's best player (he had the highest offensive rebounding percentage on the team). He has very good hands, which really shows up on acrobatic reach plays around the basket, such as extended arm rebounds, lob dunks and in transition. 

One of the main reasons Bragg didn't become a more relied upon player at Kansas was his offensive approach and overall capability. He's long had a tendency to float to space and want to be a face up player, but Bragg isn't a productive shooter. His two-point field goal percentage is too low for the type of player he is, which is reflective of a player who still isn't fully aware of how to be most successful on the court. He's going to have to develop more skill on the offensive end as a short driver and even with his back to the basket now that he's added a lot more size and strength in the last couple years, and really take that part of his game to the next level. 

Far more often than not, ASU has been physically outgunned by the better teams in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils haven't had enough athletic size, and enough size in general, in particular. Landing Bragg and Cheatham, in addition to their other new and returning pieces, ensures that ASU will have its biggest, deepest and most athletic overall frontcourt in years by the 2018-19 season. It will be a team that will no longer visually look inferior to its opponents, especially with bigger guards and wings on the roster like Edwards, Kimani Lawrence and Mitchell. 

Any concern about ASU being much improved in 2017-18 but then taking a big step backwards the following year has now been mollified internally with the program's staff. If anything, there's a sense that the Sun Devils could actually build into a better team two seasons from now if certain things go right: primarily the positive assimilation of freshmen Lawrence and Remy Martin and the ability to land an impact guard in 2018 recruiting. 

Hurley is also essentially assured that ASU will have a very stable two-year period with its personnel, without having any real concerns about not having enough competitive depth. That's because with Edwards, Cheatham and Bragg all sitting out this season, and Mitchell missing the first eight games, the Sun Devils will have nine eligible players at the outset of the season, and 10 as they get into conference play. Almost everyone will be in the rotation, save perhaps one or two players. That promotes an environment in which there is a lot less unhappiness, but also will be extremely competitive in practices. 

Then, when seniors Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice depart, Edwards, Cheatham and Bragg are ready to go and already well versed in the system and very experienced playing college basketball. Martin and Lawrence will have had a year to adjust and develop, and the Sun Devils will look to add two or three guards in 2018, one or more of whom could also make an immediate impact. The frontcourt will have the most size and depth of any point in recent memory. 

Edwards was a 16.5 points-per-game scorer last season at Cleveland State and a second-team Horizon League selection. The Sun Devils will be able to get four-star point guard addition Remy Martin backup minutes this season, so he's poised to step into the starting lineup as a sophomore in 2018-19 alongside Edwards, who will have spent a year assimilating and helping the program on the practice court. 

Cheatham, 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, will also be sitting out the upcoming season after averaging 9.1 points and 6.3 rebounds as a sophomore last season at San Diego State. An athletic run and jump face-up combo forward, Cheatham's availability in 2018-19 would seemingly allow Top-100 recruit Kimani Lawrence to slide to his more natural small forward position. 

Bobby Hurley showed great restraint and long-term vision with these decisions. He wasn't going to get better high school or junior college players than any of Edwards, Cheatham or Bragg this late in a recruiting cycle, and we've been saying for some years that the secondary market in the spring is where the Sun Devils could really improve their roster.

Looking even further into the future, ASU will likely have no senior starters in 2018-19 (unless Cheatham's hardship claim is denied -- or De'Quon Lake becomes a starter at center -- or ASU adds an impact post-grad transfer) and a very competitive team. These moves are extremely stabilizing for a program that's had a lot of roster turnover in recent years, and also brings well established players into the fold who are easy to project to how they'll impact the roster.

If there's a concern about how these pieces fit, it's that Cheatham and Bragg are both pretty limited from a skill standpoint on the offensive end, and especially in terms of their shooting ability out onto the floor. It means that they might not be well served to play heavy minutes together, but with Romello White and Vitaliy Shibel being bigger players who can step out to the perimeter, there are a lot of personnel combinations that could work effectively. 

These players will still have to be coached up, and there will actually be more challenges on the staff now that they have more options and possibilities, but being bigger, longer and more talented is a prerequisite to success, and that's been accomplished with these recent additions. 


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