With an injured Chris Hernandez (who was dressed but never set foot on the floor), Stanford had just 11 warm bodies for this scrimmage. As a result, players racked up major minutes and the first 10 almost never sat down. Freshman walk-on guard Kenny Brown played a few minutes to spell the starting point guards, and he briefly in the fourth quarter played as a shooting guard. The starting lineups were:
Play spanned four quarters - three 10-minute quarters plus a fourth 5-minute quarter. The scrimmage was officiated by a group of Pac-10 referees, and there was no cutting of corners on any rules. Everything was called, all the way down to a lane violation on a missed free throw. The only thing missing were the TV timeouts. Additionally, players could not foul out, given that there was no bench to speak of. I did not keep track of the "White" versus "Cardinal" scoring because players flipped back and forth between jersey colors throughout the scrimmage, as the coaching staff implemented a number of permutations with the roster. For simplicity's sake, the box score is presented below as a group of individuals, with no team labels.
|3pt FGs||FT Shooting||Rebounds
The one important statistic left off this box score is turnovers. They were too numerous to track and characterized the sloppiness of the scrimmage. It's a tough debate for which was more painful to watch - the turnovers or the shooting (41.6% from the floor, 61.3% from the stripe). The nadir of the morning came in a union of the two failings when Jason Haas raced down the floor in transition and elected to pull up for a perimeter jumper. As he elevated, the ball jumped out of his hands backward over his head.
Now, before I go any further, I will say that I am not pessimistic on this team despite the poor play in the scrimmage. It is an impossible challenge to ask a college basketball team just one week into practices to do anything well in a scrimmage format like this. I would go so far as to say it bold and courageous that Trent Johnson invited the public to come watch his team for the first time this year in a full scrimmage situation. Showing off short segments of five-on-five work, with the rest drills on skills and fundamentals, would be an appropriate window into the progress of this team. Instead, he holds observers out of all those practices and then calls them to the gym to watch his players flail in a situation for which they were not possibly ready. A cynic might say that Johnson is actually cleverly manipulating fans' expectations by giving by making this scrimmage public...
But Cardinal fans would have been shaking their heads last fall had they been allowed to watch a preseason scrimmage between Stanford and Santa Clara. It was a closed scrimmage, so that college coaches and scouts could not observe offensive playcalls and defensive schemes that were soon unveiled in the regular season for both teams. But the Cardinal coaching staff was quietly very pleased that fans didn't get a look, either. The performance of the Stanford squad in that November scrimmage was horrific - with poor execution on both ends of the floor and an alarming lack of progress from the first few weeks of practices. It ought to have been a harbinger of a disappointing season... but the Card instead rolled off a school-record 26 straight wins to start the season.
The moral of the story: preseason scrimmages are learning instruments for the team and not predictive events for observers.
That being said, I'd be crazy to not share with you what went down in Saturday's scrimmage. It was the first and only open practice to date this fall, and there were interesting performances at several positions.
Everyone knows this is the one position where Stanford has questions about its starter, with junior Dan Grunfeld coming off a disappointing sophomore slump and redshirt freshman Tim Morris lacking any college game experience from which to build. The silver lining may be that the competition between these two wings is the most intense of any position on the roster, and that already appears to be pushing both athletes higher. There was no question that the two-guard had the most balanced production in this scrimmage. The two also got into it pretty hard with how they defended each other, and you like that.
Grunfeld was the only player on the team to effectively stroke the three-point shot, which absent Hernandez looks to be the greatest weakness for Stanford this year. The mystifying aspect of the junior wing's perimeter shooting has been his inconsistency, rather than his form. Grunfeld has a sweet stroke, but there are times in practices and games when he just crumbles and misses the basket badly. In this scrimmage, those eye-gouging misfires were not to be found. Grunfeld also has improved his effectiveness attacking off the dribble, and he was able to score, dish or draw fouls going to the basket.
Morris has been playing well in pickup games since the summer, but for many Cardinalmaniacs™, seeing him in this format was a revelation. The redshirt frosh was the only player initially on the Cardinal (second) team who looked like a consistent threat to score or create. His greatest strength, by far, is his ability to drive to the basket. Morris' quick first step, his explosiveness, and his strength to continue through contact get him effectively from Point A outside the arc to Point B inside the paint in a flash. Though he has an aggressive scoring mentality, Morris showed some scruples in dishing the ball late in the drive to an open teammate. He also demonstrated how he can get to the free throw line a good amount for a perimeter player, with those drives. In transition, Morris is in his greatest comfort zone, running the floor and leaping to the basket - with or without the ball. Note also his rebounding numbers; Tim Morris gets off the floor faster than any player on this team... and it isn't even close. The negative in this scrimmage was Morris' execution from the half court and his movement without the ball. Biggest surprise was a pair of mid-range pull-up jumpers he drained. His jump shot has been a liability at Stanford, and he needs to respectably hit the pull-up while driving as well as the jumper outside the three-point line.
I don't know if the box score totally reflects the performance, but Rob Little was definitely the most (and possibly only) dominant player on the floor in the scrimmage. There are no meteoric changes in his game from what you saw his junior year, but he is more consistent and more versatile. He showed early in the contest his confidence in his hook shot, which he took from both sides of the basket and hit. Little continues to be a physical force in the low blocks on both ends of the floor, though he wreaked havoc without many fouls through most of the game. His scoring lead in the box score lapsed late in the game, and that would be the one critique to offer. He should have finished in the high 20s in this game the way he was scoring, but he did not finish anywhere near the level he started the game. Nice passing is his one underrated skill.
For everything Little did physically, freshman Peter Prowitt was the punching bag recipient. The young center had a difficult time handling his senior counterpart defensively, and Prowitt struggled to get a clean look at the basket on offense. This lopsided battle looked like what I saw between the two in July in pickup games, but the more I saw Prowitt duel with Little, the more I saw the freshman improve and play evenly. He is making difficult from a pickup environment to a structured environment, so it was not a great surprise to see Prowitt struggle on Saturday. The question is how much he can improve the next several weeks.
One of the two significant disappointments for me in this scrimmage was fifth-year senior Nick Robinson. He is a fan favorite for his versatility and all the little things he does on the court - and rightfully so. But he understands that he has to transition from a role player in a support capacity to an every-game starter in a leading capacity. Robinson has to more consistently score this year, but he struggled mightily to get the ball in the basket on Saturday. The jump shot has not really improved, and his drives to the basket yielded mostly misses and zero trips to the free throw line. There is one very good piece of news, though: the veteran wing was undeterred and kept looking to score throughout the scrimmage. More important than improving his shooting mechanics or his finishing move to the basket, Robinson needed to fully embrace his level of importance as a scoring threat this year. While he failed to convert, it was encouraging to see him put up 18 shots. Now he needs to tweak his shot selection and find his groove. I doubt that you will see his shooting percentages soar this year, but I do bet that Nick Robinson will have some games where the shot falls and his drives blow by defenders for easy finishes. There is a reasonable chance his will be a high-beta box score this season.
It is only fair to give credit to the defender who shared the responsibility for Robinson's scoring woes. Fred Washington is one of the team's best defenders, and it is not a stretch to say that a number of opponents that "Pops" faces this year will not be nearly as tough as his teammate. On the offensive end, I thought Washington was controlled and confident. He looks like a different and improved player from a year ago, though it did not all show up in the box score. He hit just a pair of buckets and still does not demonstrate an effective outside shot, but I think the sophomore wing is on the right path. I'm encouraged. Only one thing bothered me, and that was Washington's poor showing on the glass. His length and tenacity has to grab a few balls in traffic, but he first has to crash the boards.
I have felt ever since the spring that this 2004-2005 team has two superstar players - Chris Hernandez and Matt Haryasz. Rob Little is probably too yeoman-like in his game to garner that title, though he looks like he will be one of the of the better scorers in the Pac-10 should he stay out of foul trouble. We could not see Hernandez on Saturday, but you are in for a major treat when you see how far he has changed and pushed his game. Haryasz similarly has made giant leaps forward and has the ability to break out big this year as a scorer. His jumper is lethal and cannot be defended by almost anyone his size in the college ranks. He showed off that shot from the perimeter (though inside the arc), at mid-range, and also in the low post turn-around jumper. I do think Haryasz started a little slowly and took some time to find his comfort offensively. He definitely did not rebound well until later in the game. Now as a starter, and one who will play major minutes, Haryasz has to play at his newfound high level consistently.
Freshman Taj Finger acquitted himself well in this test. I thought he looked more comfortable and confident out there than you would expect. His lanky frame and his experience should handicap him, but he played loose most of the time and looked to make plays. Unless he makes stratospheric improvements in the next month of practices, I expect him to do almost everything offensively this year facing the basket. It will be interest to see how teams later in the season scout and defend him if he cannot operate with his back to the basket, but that is probably getting ahead of ourselves. Finger showed nice shooting touch, and he favors using the glass when he has the ball closer to the basket on either wing. His rebounding surprised me. He is a skilled player and definitely an underrated athlete. If he continues to improve and can get a little stronger, I think Finger will surprise people in spots this year off the bench. And I can say this - he belongs on the floor and can play at this level this year. Fans should clam up the chatter about redshirting.
I highlighted Robinson earlier as one of my two real disappointments on Saturday; Jason Haas was the other. That is not to say either of them will disappoint this year, but I expected more based on what I saw this off-season. Haas had taken great strides forward in his confidence offensively, and the promise is that he can add a scoring dimension to his floor general duties in this junior season. But despite playing monster minutes in this scrimmage format, Haas went the first two-thirds of the game with just one shot at the basket. His final numbers (7 points on 3-of-5 shooting) appear palatable, but they are misleading. Haas will be coming off the bench again this year, provided Hernandez stays healthy, yet in a game where he started and played almost all 35 minutes, it took him forever to try to score. It is noteworthy that Haas hit the only other triple in the game outside of Grunfeld's hands, and it is a fact that the junior point guard has an excellent stroke. But he better find the confidence in that scoring ability. He again passed up open jumper opportunities, lapsing into last year's form. Haas handled the ball well and ran the offense well, but I think those were minimum competencies I expected from him this year.
As was the case with Robinson, I think I have to point out that the defender on him almost all game gave him fits. Carlton Weatherby showed quick feet and stayed in Haas' face all game, giving him a lot of trouble. While fans are possibly going to roll their eyes at the report that a "walk-on" guard gave a Stanford scholarship junior such fits, I would offer an A.J. Diggs comparison for what Weatherby was accomplishing on the floor. Smaller and quicker, without the great offensive skills, it is his niche to be a hell-raiser for the opposing point guard. I was pleased. The flip side of the coin, though, is that Weatherby remains totally ineffective as a scorer. His jump shot is still pretty brutal and he runs the offense at a fraction of the effectiveness of Hernandez or Haas. He is a great hustle player with a nice burst of quickness that could find a role as a defensive specialist this year, but Weatherby would be well served to round out his offensive game to give the coaches confidence to play him.
Kenny Brown played token minutes compared to the other 10 in this scrimmage, so there is less I can definitively conclude about him. He is understandably lost in trying to run the Stanford offense, but he has a good handle and did not look out of sorts when in the game. I need to see him more, but my gut says that he is further ahead now than Weatherby was as a walk-on freshman at the same point.
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