Stanford fans were tantalized by the talents of Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey, only to watch them yanked from the lineup due to extremely untimely (as if there's a good time) injuries, like Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown. Nevertheless, they gave us plenty to talk about and plenty to look forward to moving on to the upcoming season. The third and final review is for Dorian Pickens, who occupies a unique space on the roster that we will discuss henceforth. For now, let's look back at the arrival of Stanford's basketball future.
Stanford's McDonald's All-American distinguished himself from his classmates at the outset. The first time he stepped onto the Maples Pavilion floor against uniformed opposition he played 35 minutes. Clearly a major part of Stanford's plans, in a way he showed every hallmark of his game in that exhibition. He gathered 11 rebounds, and he was 3-8 from the foul line. He moves forward into his first college offseason with clear strengths and areas for improvement. It was a rocky season for the Minnesota native, and is certainly worth a look back.
Like most frosh, there were sporadic displays of his tremendous potential through Stanford's non-conference slate. Against Delaware, he grabbed 11 rebounds (2 Off/9 Def), his second consecutive game with double digits in that category following a 12-rebound performance against Duke. In Chicago, his offense was a bright spot on one of the darker team performances of the year. He made 6-8 FG against DePaul but also had four turnovers in Stanford's loss to the Blue Demon. Such is freshman life, with great and ghastly often times intermingling in the same game. His season high in points came in Provo, where he shot an efficient 7-11 for 15 points. Unfortunately, he also went 0-3 from the line and had four turnovers. Against Texas he showcased his tremendous rebounding potential, grabbing 14 boards (six of them offensive) in 32 turnover-free minutes to help hook the 'Horns and secure what was at the time a marquee road victory.
Tragically, Reid fell victim to Stanford's Curse of the Stress Fracture right as Pac-12 play was to begin. We won't digress too much on the fact that Stanford seems to lead the nation in this injury, but suffice it to say that he was averaging 27 minutes per game for the first 11 games of his career, just a season removed from yet another injury sustained as a prep player. As a consequence, Reid missed nine games, and though Stanford won seven of those nine, it'd be wrong to dismiss the deleterious impact his absence caused. First of all, one of the losses was the double OT heartbreaker to UCLA, a game we now know could have significantly boosted Stanford's NCAA Tournament resume. Secondly, you have to factor in the two weeks that Reid returned. The coaches rightly curtailed his playing time as he wasn't ready to just jump back into the rotation and play serious minutes. Stanford's second crushing loss to UCLA occurred during this span, and the team lost four of the first five games of Reid's return. This stretch also included the devastating "bad loss" to Washington State, a stain on the season that proved unremovable in the eyes of the committee.
During Reid's third week back, he stepped up for an eight-point, six rebound performance in 28 minutes of Stanford's second victory over Cal. Unfortunately, he was unable to maintain the level of play he'd shown prior to his injury. His sole double-digit rebounding performance came against Davis in the NIT, and he vacillated between games where his ORtg was stellar (five games with efficiency of 130 or above) and miserable (five games with efficiencies of 65 or lower). As a Freshman dealing with injury, the inconsistency is very understandable, and it certainly wasn't due to any lack of effort on the court. Regardless of the causes, Reid was nowhere near 100% when the season ended, but he did finish injury-free, which means he can build on what he learned moving forward.
Summer Homework: Reid's NIT performance clearly illustrates the state of his offensive game. He shot 50% from the field over the five games. He also shot 25% from the free throw line (4-16). That number needs very little context. On the season he finished at 46%, below his actual shooting percentage from the floor. That number has to get north of 60 next year. First of all, his physicality and athleticism are going to draw fouls for both himself and his teammates. He has to be somebody comfortable with the ball in his hands, either in the post or via offensive rebounds. Stanford's endgame next season gets significantly more difficult if he can't be on the floor, or if he shies away from the ball.
Secondly, Reid's rebounding can improve. A player with his gifts should be a lock for 10 rebounds a night. Nastic was not a very prolific rebounder, so it's not like he had to compete with a dominant rebounder for the ball. I think it's instructive to remember that Reid was coming off an injury upon his arrival at Stanford, so the in-season setback really impacted what he could do. The coaches are confident that once he gets back to full health, he has another gear athletically, which should be terrifying for Pac-12 forwards. That being said, he can improve his anticipation and positioning prior to the shot, which are fine points that will come with increased court time.
Stanford's coaches believe that the Cardinal could have the best frontcourt tandem in the conference as early as this coming season, and while many fans may have doubted that optimism in December, by March Michael Humphrey's play had most convinced the coaches were on target with their assessment. Perhaps the biggest litmus test for the progress Humphrey made was the reaction to his injury in the Arizona State game. By then he'd established himself as a starter and solid contributor and his loss was viewed with mass consternation. Had that interview happened during the first two months of the year, it's unlikely the fans' panic would have reached the "dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!" stage that it did.
At the start of the season, Humphrey's biggest problem was fouling. In his third game against UNLV, he amassed five fouls in 10 minutes. He had four or more fouls in five of his first nine Pac-12 games. Then, in the midst of a very dark road trip to the Rocky Mountain schools, Michael began to find his game. Against the Utes there was very little to cheer about, but his nine points and four rebounds in 19 minutes was one of them. He showed a confidence in his shot and seemed to have acclimated to the physicality of the college game against a very physical Utah team. In Boulder, he followed up with a modest four points, but had seven rebounds and a block in 26 minutes. That set the stage for his "coming out" party in Maples Pavilion.
Against Cal on February 21st, Humphrey was a revelation. He scored 14 points on 7-8 shooting. That's an ORtg of 150. He also had 11 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. Cal just simply couldn't account for him. He scored on a variety of moves and jumpers, he finished strong at the rim, and really was just all over the court. Stanford's push at the NCAA's looked a lot more plausible with Humphrey emerging as a regular contributor. After another double-double, this time 14 points and 15 boards against Oregon State, foul trouble returned at an inopportune time. Michael was only able to play 22 minutes in Stanford's nail-biting loss to Oregon. Two games later came the devastating ankle injury in Tempe, which was immediately unfortunate because he'd gotten off to a solid start. It was encouraging that he came back in time for cameos in the two games at Madison Square Garden, but the loss in Tempe was essentially the end of his season.
Summer Homework: It's really simple for Michael. He needs to hit the weight room and put on a little more size, and he needs to extend his mid-range comfort level to 17-18 feet. It'd be great if he got comfortable behind the arc, but as long as he can step into shots from the elbow, the baseline, and the top of the key, Reid Travis should have room to operate in the paint. Humphrey's athleticism is going to make Stanford's interior defense much better, and I for one cannot wait to see him as a Sophomore. He's going to have great responsibility, but the talent that the coaches fought Arizona tooth and nail to bring to The Farm looks more than capable of handling it.
Dorian rode the roller coaster of playing time along with many of his teammates. After failing to accumulate double digit minutes in Stanford's first six games, Pickens burst onto the scene with 21 against Loyola Marymount. He showed a nice three point stroke, going 2-4 from behind the arc and also contributing three rebounds, a block, and a steal. After that, he again found spot duty until he got 21 minutes in Stanford's Maples showdown with Arizona. In that game, he did score eight points, but also had three turnovers in the Cardinal's defeat. He didn't seem intimidated or overwhelmed by the moment, and he also seemed plenty capable of dealing with top level athletes. His numbers declined after that, culminating with consecutive DNP's in New York.
That being said, I wished that the coaches had shown more of a commitment to him during the season for a couple reasons. First of all, he was physically the only approximation for Anthony Brown, especially once Anthony moved to small forward. Had Dorian consistently received (or earned) 10-20 minutes a night, Anthony's February fall may have been mitigated or even avoided. Secondly, he showed athleticism, defensive willingness, and a decent shooting stroke. As it stands, his numbers shake out thusly: He had on ORtg of 104, shot 36% from the three point line, and shot just under 70% from the charity stripe. All of these numbers are the product of an extremely limited sample size of course, but they are all promising moving forward. Looking ahead to next season, Stanford again will be lacking experience for his body type. The incoming Frosh duo of Cameron Walker and Marcus Sheffield both fit that swingman prototype, but they are going to be Freshmen. It's imperative that Pickens mold himself into a consistent part of the rotation, for the simple fact that Stanford's lineup gains significant versatility with him on the floor. Here's how:
Summer Homework: The Corner three. If he can be a legit threat from that spot on the floor, there is almost no way that he won't see heavy minutes next year. The nature of Stanford's offense is going to change with the absence of a post anchor. Athletes who can space the floor and create driving lanes are going to be vital if Stanford's going to have consistent offensive success. There are of course many nuances to the game on both ends that he stands to acquire, but if there is one weapon he adds to his arsenal this offseason, that three point shot would be invaluable.
This trio is going to thrown in the deep end of the pool next year. There is no question that the talent is there, it's really just a matter of experience. There's no way of knowing just how much progress and growth happens for them between now and opening night, but I would reiterate that the European trip is coming at just the right time. Nothing is more invaluable than game experience, which is what all three desperately need. Travis, Humphrey, and Pickens represent a huge part of the future of Stanford Basketball, and given the departures of the team's core, that future is now.
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