One of the primary questions Cardinalmaniacs™ are asking about this 2004-05 Stanford Basketball team is how the numerically small roster will be handled to provide a potent rotation at all five positions. Two more players will join the squad shortly, when Evan Moore and Mark Bradford conclude their football season, but we cannot project their roles on the team until they are immersed in practices. Remember, Trent Johnson has never watched either of these two athletes on a basketball court. The 12 bodies currently available to the Cardinal include freshman walk-on Kenny Brown, who did not participate in the Concordia scrimmage. At this time, it looks like Brown has chosen to take a redshirt year, which speaks to the confidence he has in his abilities and chances at earning a scholarship by his senior year at Stanford. For the 11 remaining players who took part in the scrimmage, there were a number of permutations. Here is the progression of lineups through the two halves of play Saturday against Concordia:
|Substitution||PG, SG, SF, PF, C|
|Starting lineup||Hernandez, Grunfeld, Robinson, Haryasz, Little|
|Morris for Grunfeld;
Finger for Haryasz
|Hernandez, Morris, Robinson, Finger, Little|
|Haas for Hernandez;
Washington for Robinson
|Haas, Morris, Washington, Finger, Little|
|Haryasz for Little||Haas, Morris, Washington, Finger, Haryasz|
|Grunfeld for Morris*||Haas, Grunfeld, Washington, Finger, Haryasz|
|Little for Finger||Haas, Grunfeld, Washington, Haryasz, Little|
|Hernandez for Haas||Hernandez, Grunfeld, Washington, Haryasz, Little|
|Robinson for Haryasz||Hernandez, Grunfeld, Washington, Robinson, Little|
|Weatherby for Washington||Weatherby, Hernandez, Grunfeld, Robinson, Little|
|Haryasz for Little||Weatherby, Hernandez, Grunfeld, Robinson, Haryasz|
|Haas for Weatherby;
Prowitt for Haryasz*
|Haas, Hernandez, Grunfeld, Robinson, Prowitt|
|Starting lineup||Hernandez, Grunfeld, Robinson, Haryasz, Little|
|Haas for Hernandez;
Morris for Grunfeld;
Washington for Robinson;
Finger for Little
|Haas, Morris, Washington, Finger, Haryasz|
|Weatherby for Morris*||Weatherby, Haas, Washington, Finger, Haryasz|
|Prowitt for Haryasz;
Robinson for Finger;
Hernandez for Weatherby;
Grunfeld for Haas
|Hernandez, Grunfeld, Washington, Robinson, Prowitt|
|Morris for Washington*||Hernandez, Morris, Grunfeld, Robinson, Prowitt|
|Haas for Morris||Haas, Hernandez, Grunfeld, Robinson, Prowitt|
|Little for Prowitt*||Haas, Hernandez, Grunfeld, Robinson, Little|
|Finger for Robinson;
Washington for Grunfeld;
Morris for Hernandez
|Haas, Morris, Washington, Finger, Little|
The asterisks (*) indicate that substitutions were prompted by foul trouble. Tim Morris picked up two fouls early in the first half after he came into the game and did not return until the second half. He again picked up a pair of quick whistles, this time on consecutive plays - a charge on offense and then running through a screen on the other end on defense. The redshirt freshman shooting guard did return to the game later in the half, but he handcuffed himself with four fouls in just eight minutes of play. Fred Washington also reached four fouls by the middle of the second half and left the game for a stretch as a result. Additionally, Peter Prowitt came into the game at the last substitution of the first half, when Matt Haryasz picked up his second foul. Prowitt was ejected from the game late in the second half, which brought Rob Little back into the game - when it looked like the senior center would be done for the day.
A side-note on the Prowitt ejection. This exhibition was not televised, and attendance was reduced by the competing Stanford Football game that was played at the same time. Most Cardinalmaniacs™ are curious as to how the freshman center got the boot in his first public game in a Stanford uniform. It started when Prowitt was jostling with Concordia center Tanner Luster under the basket on the Stanford offensive end. They were both working hard for rebounding position, and seemingly unprovoked, Luster threw a nasty elbow right into Prowitt's face. The most incredible part of the play is that as soon as the whistle blew, Luster hunched over grabbing his own face in an Oscar-winning effort to convince the official that both parties engaged in the pugilism. The referee didn't bite and handed an intentional foul to Luster.
Prowitt was pretty steamed, and immediately on the other end of the floor, he retaliated, throwing Luster to the ground as they again jockeyed for rebounding position. Nobody blew a whistle at what should easily have been a foul, and arguably could have been an intentional. That throw-down apparently was not enough to quench Prowitt's emotions, as he jogged down the floor and found himself running into Concordia guard Clint Hull. Prowitt had his body turned and did not see that Hull had snuck behind him to try and draw a charge, and the Stanford big man did not take kindly to the surprise in his current mood. He turned around and extended his forearm high into Hull's chest and then up to his chin. Whether it was a total flop or not, Hull went flying backward to the floor, earning a whistle and soon an ejection of the 6'10" Cardinal freshman. Trent Johnson was visibly upset with the officials for tossing Prowitt but letting Luster off less than a minute earlier, and Pac-10 Coordinator of Officiating Lou Campanelli later agreed that the zebras failed in that inconsistency. But that does not excuse Prowitt. As thin as this roster is this year, players have to keep out of foul trouble, and an ejection is pretty high on the "don't you dare" list.
You would also think Prowitt mindful of his minutes after coming off the bench dead last in this scrimmage, in the final substitution of the first half. While he came into this fall with more apparent readiness than his classmate counterpart, Taj Finger, due to size and physical development, Prowitt has been slower to pick up the offense since the start of practices and now finds himself last in the frontcourt rotation. While it is true that Concordia presented an undersized and mobile frontcourt that was likely to be challenging for Prowitt in his first college game, I believe that the rotation we saw in this exhibition was representative of how the coaches currently view their personnel.
The starting frontcourt brings the veteran duo of senior center Rob Little and junior power forward Matt Haryasz to the floor. The first big man off the bench is Taj Finger, and he must play the power forward at his size. Haryasz has the length and now the improved strength to allow him to play center, which gives Stanford the flexibility to use this trio in a three-man rotation. Depending on foul trouble, the pace of the game, and how matchups are playing out, Finger can substitute for either Little or Haryasz because Haryasz can play either spot in the post. This played out deep into the first half before a fourth man went into the post. That man was not Prowitt, but instead Nick Robinson. At 6'7" and an even two bucks, the fifth-year senior is not built like your protypical post player, but he has played extensive minutes there in each of the last two seasons and looks to do so again this year. Robinson played in several lineups against Concordia at the 'four' to round out the frontcourt rotation. There will be some forwards against whom Robinson matches up poorly, but college basketball has become a less physical game in recent years - as post players fancy themselves as wings and the best big bodies in America jump early to the NBA.
This is not to say that Prowitt is an afterthought for the 2004-05 season. He is at a point where most Stanford post players have found themselves in their freshman years on The Farm, making adjustments. But Finger's feel for the game is ahead of the curve and has him on an accelerated schedule currently. We are only in mid-November, and an entire season still lies ahead for the frosh frontcourt pair. Their development over the next several months will be one of the important stories to watch this year.
Returning to Robinson, he had an eventful game. Though he racked up a double-double, which is something no Stanford fan would turn down this year from the utility senior, he had an up-and-down performance. When he played the small forward spot, he was offensively aggressive - attacking the basket and looking to shoot. When he played significant minutes in the post, it appeared that his offensive mentality dissipated. I have been on record for most of the last two years in saying that I am not a fan of spreading Robinson across the two forward positions, which have such different roles in the offense. It has been true through the Montgomery years, and so far looks to continue in the Johnson era, that the two wing positions are interchangeable in the offense; the same is true for the two post positions. But shuffling back and forth between the small and big forward positions requires a different skill set and nearly double the knowledge of the offense. I have contended that Robinson will never be the player he could be if he continues to flip-flop between these two spots. Jack of all trades, master of none. But the reality is that with this roster, he has to play both spots. He is too experienced to not add him to the current post rotation. What he lacks in certain skills and playmaking ability, he often makes up in hustle.
The good news is that he has significantly improved his focus on being a scorer this year. Often last year, Robinson would touch the ball in an open spot on the wing and freeze up, indecisive about what role he should take. Those hesitations looked like a distant memory against Concordia, as Robinson was assertive with and without the ball. He attacked the basket aggressively on both ends of the floor, getting him good looks and great rebounding position. I saw two areas, though, where his skills as a wing were lacking and troubling. My theory again is that his development in those areas is somewhat hindered by his shared time as a post player...
1) Finishing. Robinson had four lay-ups in the game that he blew, and three of them were absolutely uncontested - rejecting himself on the rim. The worst came in the second half, when he had no defender within five feet as he strolled in for a transition lay-up. Clank. I would not suggest that Robinson is intrinsically unable to finish at the basket and will struggle all year - not at all. I wrote a couple weeks ago that I think he could be a high-beta offensive scorer from game to game. The consistency is unlikely to be there, and his athleticism in getting to the basket would be a true waste if he cannot finish at a high percentage.
2) Shooting. The 25-year old known to the team as "Pops" has never shown a consistent stroke at Stanford, and I did not see much in the off-season to convince me that he has suddenly evolved a good outside jumper between his fourth and fifth years in college. Robinson took only two three-point shots in this scrimmage, and both just caught the front side of the rim. Some games this year, he'll find his stroke - e.g. the pair of treys he shot like a dagger through David West's heart in the Xavier game two years ago. But I think his range reasonably extends out to maybe 15-16 feet.
Similarly, we have the case of Tim Morris. It is too early in his career, with the redshirt freshman yet to play a regular season game in a Cardinal uniform, to say that he has maxed out on his shooting. He has made gains over his form of a year ago, but it would surprise me if he shoots better than 34 or 35 percent this year. His greatest weapon is his dribble-drive, and his best hope for a respectable perimeter percentage will come as defenders sag off him in fear of that drive. I think it is no accident that the two field goals Morris made in his foul-limited minutes against Concordia came on midrange pull-up jumpers. Right now, I believe that to be easily his best shot on the floor. He will get a good amount of points this year on the free throw line and at the basket as he attacks in the halfcourt and in transition, but that pull-up stroke is how I think he can best shoot the ball today. And have no concerns about Morris' willingness to try and score - his five attempts in eight minutes is off scale compared to the other players off the bench. Each time he came into the game, he looked to shoot right off the bat.
The other shooting guard on Stanford's roster is Dan Grunfeld, who racked up an eye-catching 22 points. The only thing more surprising than that output was how he earned it. The junior wing has an advanced feel for the game and has throughout his Cardinal career found ways to score slashing through seams in the defense. But his most obvious skilled asset has been his jump shot. The concern coming off last year is his consistency with that stroke when the lights come on for gametime. You would expect to see a line with something in the range of 4-of-6 shooting from outside for Grunfeld to accumulate 22 points, but he in fact took nary a three-pointer in this exhibition game. In fact, I cannot recall a single attempt from the field in his 29 minutes outside 10 feet. That is nothing short of astonishing. While Concordia's athletes fall short of what Grunfeld will face in the Pac-10, it is revealing to see him so aggressive in attacking the basket. Whether he was driving the paint or cutting without the ball, he gave himself high percentage looks that he converted at a nearly 77% clip. Grunfeld spent a good deal of time this summer in individual work with a personal trainer, on top of his Stanford strength and conditioning sessinos. The result is greater quickness off the dribble and greater strength and balance in traffic.
It is also noteworthy that Grunfeld played nearly half his minutes at the small forward. As said earlier, that does not much change his role in the offense, relative to playing at the off guard, but it has a trickle-down effect in the rotation. With Morris in foul trouble and Grunfeld playing the 'three', you have significant open minutes at the 'two'. Most of those were filled by Chris Hernandez, who is nominally considered a point guard for Stanford but is also the team's best shooter. The redshirt junior led the team with 23 points, and it was amazing to see him do that given how off his game he was. This exhibition game was the first extended game or scrimmage situation he has seen this fall, after missing most of the last month of practices with an ankle sprain. Hernandez did not play in either of the first two Saturday intrasquad scrimmages, nor did he play in the closed scrimmage against St. Mary's. In fact, the Preseason Wooden All-American only had four full practices prior to the Concordia exhibition.
All the time Hernandez has been off his feet leaves him lagging in conditioning, and most of his game is rusty. His ballhandling was sub par against Concordia, and his timing on offense was off. He also let himself get beaten on defense by guards who pale in comparison to what he will face most of the year.
"I was tired late in the game," Hernandez explains for the defensive lapses. "I let myself stand up too much instead of staying down."
That is probably an oversimplification. Hernandez broke down defensively earlier in the game as well. He is actually a very good defender, and this merely stands as one of the areas he has to get up to speed after spending a good 40 days out of action. The exciting news for Cardinalmaniacs™ is that despite all these failings, he still scored a game-high 23 points, with 3-of-5 shooting from outside and 10-of-10 work at the free throw line. Despite all his rust, he still dished out seven assists against four turnovers and snared two steals. That is a stat line we'll take any day of the year, and it is a marvel that Hernandez achieved at that level when his game was so off.
The lesson learned, if you have not yet registered this, is that Chris Hernandez is simply that good. We will find out how he responds in less than a week when high level teams craft gameplans solely around stopping him, a challenge he has not previously experienced in college, but he is a superlative playmaker deserving of all the preseason hype. It is just one facet of his game, but you cannot say enough about his shooting. Hernandez had the equivalent of just one week of full practices under his belt coming into the Concordia exhibition, yet he was a killer shooting the ball. Also keep in mind that of his two three-pointers he missed, one was an off-balance heave to beat the buzzer at halftime.
"I was just glad I had one thing going well for me," Hernandez says of his stroke.
"Even when he's not playing well, he's good," praises Associate Head Coach Eric Reveno. "He's a difference-maker for us."
It remains to be seen how much the coaching staff will use Hernandez at the shooting guard position, and that topic will no doubt be a source of heated debate in Stanford circles. Moving the 6'2" superstar to the wing necessarily gives more minutes to a reserve point guard - namely Jason Haas or Carlton Weatherby. Those two players combined for 22 minutes in the scrimmage but put up a total of just two field goal attempts - both from Haas. You have to ask if Hernandez at shooting guard helps your offense if the point guard position is going to essentially evaporate as a scoring threat, but there is more to this move. If you assume that Hernandez will need to play monster minutes this year, given his abilities, you want to be mindful of keeping his productivity high. Handling the ball and defending opposing points are both taxing tasks, and playing Hernandez at the other guard should keep him fresher within a game and throughout the course of the season. Moreover, playing Hernandez plus another Stanford point on the court will force teams to make some tough defensive decisions. Haas is not doing a good job yet of showing it in scrimmages/games, but he has the purest shot on the team and should be able to present some threat. Scouting and game preparation for Hernandez as both a point and shooting guard should also be a headache for opponents.
Looking in at the productivity of Stanford's starting post players, you have to be disappointed. Matt Haryasz and Rob Little combined for two fouls, which will probably never be repeated in the regular season this year, yet they pull down just eight combined rebounds against an undersized frontcourt. The Concordia post players did a good job fronting the Stanford big men and making it hard to enter the ball to them, but that does not explain the rebounding woes. On the other end of the floor, Little and Haryasz let the Concordia players get the ball too easily. It was an underwhelming performance, though it looks more like an outlier than a predictor based on what else I have seen of the Stanford starting duo.
One observation is that the Concordia guards and wings overplayed out on the perimeter and applied a good deal of pressure. That took Stanford out of their offense at times, including the sets to get the ball into the low post. The counterbalance, of course, is that the overplay gave the Cardinal wings chances to make cuts to the basket and get separation.
One more surprise from the starting posts: Little hit a face-up jumper out at 16-17 feet that outstripped anything Haryasz made in the game.
Finally, Fred Washington looked predictably comfortable in the Trent Johnson perturbation of Stanford Basketball - with an attacking and aggressive mentality on both ends of the floor. He made good plays on offense from the halfcourt and in transition. There was no evidence of a significantly improved perimeter jumper, which is consistent with what I had seen in the off-season. The greater concern was his overly aggressive play on defense that led to four fouls. Washington is an inherently opportunistic defensive player - you won't break him of that and don't want to break him of that. But he needs to be smarter about when to be aggressive. Overplay in the lanes can lead to fan-favorite fast breaks, but when failed, they can break down the entire defense. In this exhibition, his uncontrolled aggression netted him foul trouble. Washington and Morris both have to watch this, or they will take themselves out of games far too often this year.
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