Already we’ve taken a stab at projecting the starters.
Now we’re running out a five-part installment that will hone in on the biggest talking points surrounding the Tigers, posing important questions and then providing insight in answering them.
TODAY’S TOPIC: WHO PLAYS THE POINT?
The last two teams to tear down the nets at the Final Four were Duke (2015) and Connecticut (2014). The Most Outstanding Players those years, respectively, were Tyus Jones and Shabazz Napier.
What’s my point?
That point guard matters, probably more so than any other position on the floor these days in college basketball.
And, despite the influx of talent currently in and soon coming to Baton Rouge, only one player on the 12-man roster resonates as a true point guard – rising senior Josh Gray.
A season ago Gray started 20 games for LSU before back-sliding into a reserve role down the home stretch of the season. He bounced back in a few games late, most notably in an upset win at Arkansas, but the reality is Gray was benched because he turned it over too frequently (for the season he averaged 2.61 turnovers/game).
Gray will have a chance to re-take the reins coming into his second and final season at LSU, but the odds are against him earning a starting nod. Simply put it’s highly unlikely the Gray on display in 2014-15 is among the team’s top five players this time around.
While Gray is expected to give the Bayou Bengals point guard minutes off the bench – for reference sake, he averaged 21.8 minutes in SEC games – two others leap to the forefront to play the bulk of the minutes at the one.
They are versatile veteran Tim Quarterman and super-signee Ben Simmons.
The former is 6-foot-6, the latter is nearing 6-foot-10 and neither will probably end up playing the point professionally. But they’ll be needed there at LSU, which is quickly doing away with traditional, pigeon-holed 1-5 position players under Johnny Jones.
Quarterman took over starting, and primary, ball-handling duties from Gray last season, and the much-improved sophomore proved to be a calming influence on the offense, turning it over less and more consistently getting LSU into sets and the ball to Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey in proper places and spacing.
He totaled 133 assists in 33 games, averaging 4.03 dimes. (Gray, for what it’s worth, had 118 assists in 31 games, for an average of 3.81 assists.) And defensively Quarterman has always been capable of guarding the one, two or three.
As for Simmons, he’s no stranger to playing maestro either, despite his size. In his senior season at Montverde Academy (Fla.), the native Aussie averaged 4.0 helpers a game while leading his team to its third straight national championship.
In a recent interview I asked Simmons if he expects to be one of LSU’s primary ball-handlers.
His response: “Definitely. I think my IQ is high enough to be able to rotate playing point and playing forward. I think it will give a lot of opportunities at fast breaks.”
Process of elimination dictates that those are really Jones’ only three options.
Five-star signee Antonio Blakeney is highly skilled, and has a great chance to start, but he belongs off the ball. Ditto for Keith Hornsby, another projected starter as a senior, and another true freshman in Brandon Sampson.
Jalyn Patterson, set to enter his second season, is an interesting case study. He has the body of a point guard at 6-foot, 175 pounds, but the mentality and shooting ability of a two-guard. Patterson did play some point last season, but it wasn’t much. He could be used at the one in a pinch, should injuries strike, but Patterson is a better fit, despite his height, at shooting guard.
No other scholarship player would be remotely confused for a point guard.
So, to summarize, Quarterman is the likely starter at point guard in my estimation while Simmons will come and go as a point-forward depending on matchups and often late in games to ensure the ball gets in his hands. Gray will also come in to spell Quarterman and to attack gaps in zones, his specialty last season.
LSU will have one of the SEC’s most talented rosters, but Jones’ crew will have to buck the recent trend of teams winning big with conventional point guards. They’re banking on the versatility of these talented players making up the difference.