Impact of Mickey's return

LSU's Jordan Mickey announced Wednesday he'll return for his sophomore season in Baton Rouge. TSD publisher Ben Love breaks down the ripple effects of Mickey's decision, including how the team improves and which individual player benefits most from the decision.

On Wednesday, a mere four days before the underclassman deadline to enter the NBA Draft, LSU freshman forward Jordan Mickey toweled off the collective sweaty forehead of Tiger Nation by announcing his intentions to return for his sophomore season in Baton Rouge.

That a second-team All-SEC-caliber player and the conference's leader in blocked shots is coming back qualifies as huge news for Johnny Jones and the 2014-15 Bayou Bengals. Here, from one man's perspective, are the biggest impacts Mickey's return will have on the next edition of LSU basketball.


In short Jones now has a full complement of players to bring into his third season on the LSU bench. Without Mickey, the Tigers almost certainly wouldn't have been a contender in the SEC, lacking the requisite size and manpower. But with the reigning Freshman All-SEC performer, LSU moves forward with a fortified post, a proven double-digit scorer, another guy who's been through the fire in league play and a backline defender who completely changes the way opponents attack the Tigers' defense.

LSU will come up against struggles of depth next season, particularly on the perimeter, but Mickey's return ensures the team will put on the floor one of the top two or three starting units in the SEC. Josh Gray, Anthony Hickey and Keith Hornsby project to form a high-scoring backcourt trio while Jarell Martin, another Freshman All-SEC Team member, will come back to play alongside Mickey in the frontcourt. That's a quintet that can bring the Tigers a long way if healthy, and Mickey is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle. He certainly plays the biggest of that five and, without Johnny O'Bryant in the fold, LSU needs as much physicality as possible to start to fill the 6-9, 256-pounder's shoes in the paint.

I don't know that LSU's chances of crashing the NCAA Tournament will be any greater than they were this past season (with JOB), but I do know that without Mickey it wouldn't even be a conversation.


This actually may be the most important ramification of Mickey's decision to stick around. Can you imagine what all would've been demanded of Elbert Robinson III next season had Mickey bolted? Luckily you don't have to now, but I'm going to give you that visual anyway. Robinson (7-0, 295) would've started and been asked to play around 23-26 minutes a night while spending the bulk of his time on the opposition's best post player (inevitably picking up fouls at a mind-numbing rate). Those would have been unrealistic expectations for any incoming freshman center, much less one who's had well-publicized battles with weight and conditioning in his high school days.

Robinson's role as a freshman just got a lot more manageable
Now, allow me to paint a different picture, this time one more in line with what Robinson, a four-star signee, will be asked to do in lieu of the fact Mickey will be back. He'll come off the bench, spotting Mickey and Martin when foul trouble or fatigue occurs, play closer to 12-15 minutes a night, and in many occasions will play next to Mickey, meaning he has a noted shot-blocker eyeing his backside every time they're in together. Robinson also won't be asked to carry as much of a low-post scoring burden.

The sum total of all these things is that ER3 will get a legitimate chance to develop in his first year at LSU. That will help his case as a future pro down the road and better prepare him to take the next step as a sophomore when Mickey and Martin may well not be around in Tiger Town. I know every freshman wants to come in and be the man, but I don't think Robinson – or LSU – would've enjoyed what they saw had too much been heaped on the big fella from Texas too early.


On an individual level this decision allows Mickey a chance to further develop his game, one which will take on different dimensions now that O'Bryant is NBA-bound. LSU will be more perimeter-oriented in 2014-15, and that team feel will bleed down to Martin and Mickey. Expect Mickey, who knows he has to grow his mid-range game to impress the NBA brass, to feature more from 12-17 feet, improving his jump shot and array of moves away from the basket.

Mickey is already established as a shot-blocker, but he can also take several steps forward elsewhere on the defensive end. Much of that will start with getting in the weight room this offseason to build on his 220-pound frame. A stronger, savvier Mickey can show scouts more than just shot-blocking ability on the defensive end next season (he still has a lot of room to grow in closing out and on-ball post defending), all of which will push his draft stock much higher than it currently sits.

One caveat needs to be mentioned here: It's great for LSU that Martin and Mickey have decided to return, but for the sake of the team dynamic, neither can play with a mindset of "getting his" to move up 2015 draft boards. It may sound silly to mention this, but with a volume shooter coming aboard in Gray, coexisting and playing as one will be more important than ever. A lot of guys will presumably be wanting a lot of shots. How they handle the necessity to share and divide the pie will tell a lot about the 2014-15 squad. What's inevitably true is this: the more efficient Mickey (and for that matter, Martin) plays, the higher he'll be perceived by those drafting next June.


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