For Texas Tech to build upon last season’s NCAA tournament appearance under first-year head coach Chris Beard, it was going to be critical to bring more offensive firepower aboard.
The Red Raiders were a decent offensive team in 2015-16, but with the departure of the squad’s top two scorers in shooting guards Devaugntah Williams and Toddrick Gotcher, Tech’s ammo cabinet was looking a mite empty.
The signature of junior college All-American Niem Stevenson will go a long way toward replenishing the stockpile.
"I feel like I have a great connection with Coach Beard and Red Raider Nation has opened their arms for me ever since I have been on their radar,” said Stevenson about signing with Tech. “I can't wait to start my next journey in Lubbock in front of the greatest fans in the country."
Stevenson, who played his high school ball at Carrollton (Tex.) Ranchview, and did his JUCO stint at Seward County Community College, has a terrific offensive kit which helped him to score 24.7 points per game—No. 4 nationally in the JUCO ranks.
In addition to that scoring average, Stevenson pulled down 6.9 boards, handed out 2.2 assists and nabbed a couple steals per contest, while shooting 51.1 percent from the floor, 36.7 percent from 3-point range, and 68 percent from the line. He totaled 66 assists, 88 turnovers and 51 steals in his sophomore season at Seward, as well.
But the key stat may be the following: Stevenson shot 295 free throws last season, which was No. 5 among all JUCO players. When a guard shoots that many free throws you can be certain that he attacks the hoop. And indeed, that is the most salient feature of Stevenson’s game.
Stevenson is a slasher who relentlessly drives to the rim and has an uncanny knack for not only getting his shot off over multiple defenders, but getting those shots to drop. He has an unfailing gyroscope that tells him where he’s at in proximity to the hoop and other players, and is physical enough to put up accurate shots through defensive contact. The acrobatic quotient on some of Stevenson’s circus shots is off the screen.
As aggressive as Stevenson is on the offensive end, and as often as he gets fouled, it will be important for him to improve that 68-percent free throw shooting average. Getting that number up to circa 80 will elevate his scoring average significantly.
The fact that Stevenson shot nearly 37 percent from beyond the arc suggests that he is a competent if not lethal shooter from that range. He gets his shot off quickly, and has the range to make threes well beyond the 3-point line, but also tends to fade on the shot when it’s not necessary.
On the other hand, Stevenson can most definitely manufacture his own shot. His ability to drive, combined with his ability to hit turn-around and step-back jumpers means that his Red Raider teammates won’t have to screen for him against most teams.
Stevenson can score in other ways, too. He is excellent in transition, scores via putbacks, and finishes with the finger roll in a manner that brings Julius Erving to mind.
Stevenson does have some medical baggage, missing the 2014-15 season with a torn meniscus. However, he showed no signs of that injury last year.
In addition to Texas Tech, Rutgers, NC State, Texas A&M, Oregon, Cincinnati, and Ohio State were among those who offered Stevenson according to
Expect Stevenson to contend for a starting spot immediately with the Red Raiders. With the 6-foot-5 Stevenson, the 6-foot-6 C.J. Williamson, and 6-foot-6 Justin Gray on the roster, Chris Beard will have three rangy wing players who, in addition to contributing offensively, could make life miserable for opponents on defense, using their length to cut down passing lanes and angles. And given that defense is Beard’s calling card, you can be certain that Stevenson’s size was one of the traits that most caught Beard’s eye.
And we do have evidence that Beard has been talking to Stevenson about defense.
“I’m joining a good group of dudes, who went to the tournament last year,” Stevenson said. “I'm hoping to just play defense, work hard and help them get better.”
He sounds like Beard’s kind of guy.
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