#4 - Oregon Ducks

For Oregon, Last season was all about the Ducks' point guard - Aaron Brooks. In between there were lots of great plays by a talented and versatile supporting cast including threes, threes and then for good measure, more threes.

In fact Oregon attempted 204 more three pointers (897 total) than the next closest competitor, Cal (693 total). Unfortunately for their competition, they made 350 of them, good enough for second place in the conference in terms of team three-point percentage at .390. The only team that shot better was USC at .396, but the Trojans only attempted 523 shots.

Bottom line is that the Ducks scorched opponents from the outside with all five starters averaging over 40 percent from three-point range and attempting at least 50 shots, led by Tajuan Porter's blistering 110-252 for a .437 average. If not for reserve guard Chamberlain Oguchi's atrocious 29-112 (.259) from three, the Ducks would have annihilated the rest of the conference in three point percentage, all while shooting 15 percent more threes than #2 Cal. Don't expect much of a change from that trend this season with four of the five starters returning.

Getting back to the topic of Aaron Brooks, make no mistake about it. There is no doubt he is the biggest loss suffered by any team in the conference this off-season. Some might argue that Arron Afflalo is just as big a loss for the UCLA Bruins, but they would be wrong. Brooks was Mr. Everything for the Ducks. He was their best offensive playmaker, their best scorer, their best clutch player, their best defender and a senior point guard. He made the Oregon offense hum.

So who do the 2007-2008 Ducks turn to for their point guard? In all likelihood it will be Tajuan Porter. While some Oregon fans might not be concerned about that transition, they should be. Let's clear up a few misconceptions about Porter before moving on. He is not a great shooter nor is he a great scorer. He is a phenomenal outside shooter, but has a lot of trouble scoring inside the stripe, is a mediocre midrange shooter and has trouble getting to and finishing at the hoop due to his size. The stats bear this out. First of all, about 60 percent of Porter's field goal attempts last season were threes. People look at his .437 from 3 and think "Wow, great shooter," but a deeper examination of the numbers reveals a huge concern. He shot only .412 from the field overall.

One might think, "That's not great, but not THAT bad." That person would be wrong because they failed to realize the true implication of that statistic. If we do a little math and subtract Porter's three-point shooting numbers we find out that he shot .366 from two. PROPOSITION – if you shoot a full seven percentage points lower from 2-point range than you do from three, you are not a great shooter or scorer, you are a prolific three-point specialist.

Another problem with Porter is that while he is pretty quick in absolute terms, he is not exceptionally quick for a 5-foot-7 point guard. If a player is diminutive like he is, he needs to have some serious afterburners to get by the bigger, stronger point guards of the world that will be guarding him. For an example of this, see Jerome Randle of Cal. That guy is about 5-foot-8 and has serious jets. If you compare the two, you'll see there is no comparison at all. Randle is not without his own problems, but in terms of pure quickness he is almost peerless.

The final and perhaps most concerning issue with Porter - at least if you're hoping for him to run your offense - is that he did a very poor job of taking care of the ball last year. He had 71 assists and 88 turnovers for an assist/turnover ratio of .806. By comparison, departed point guard Aaron Brooks turned the ball over 89 times but had 149 assists, and had the ball in his hands significantly more than Porter. Contrast Porter's performance once again with Randle and you see that Randle played half the minutes that Porter did but racked up five more total assists and turned the ball over at a similar rate, posting a much better A/TO ratio of 1.63.

The other option for the Ducks at the point is freshman Kamyron Brown. Brown is athletic and will probably be a good defender from Day One, but he makes poor decisions and needs to work on his jumper. He isn't really a viable option as a starter for a top tier Pac-10 team at this time. He definitely has potential, but he just is not a starter right now.

On the plus side for the Ducks they have three senior starters in Bryce Taylor, Malik Hairston, and Maarty Leunen that are capable ball-handlers at their respective positions. No coach would want Leunen or Hairston playing the 1, but the underlying point is that they have players at every position that gives them options and can provide a pressure valve to lighten Porter's load. The Ducks will continue to play small and run the same motion offense we saw last year.

Taylor will be Porter's backcourt mate. Taylor is athletic, is an excellent shooter and is a good defender. If he can build on last season he has a good chance at ending up in the late first round of next year's NBA draft.

Malik Hairston mans the 3 and sometimes the 4 when the Ducks plays small. While Hairston has not lived up to his considerable hype coming out of high school, and has also probably lost some lateral quickness due to a few injuries, he is still a very good athlete and a good college player. He rebounds well and is a solid scorer from all over the floor, but he is just a so-so defender.

At the 4, Leunen is a face up 4 that can shoot it out to three and shoot it well. He puts the ball on the floor well for a power forward, plays well on the break and is an excellent rebounder (4th in the conference last year at 8.2 per). Expect the Ducks to continue to go with what has been working for them and plug in the undersized, but athletic Joevan Catron to the fill the open starting slot. He will bring energy, solid defense, aggressive rebounding, and an acceptable offensive arsenal around the hoop.

Despite the departure of Brooks, the Oregon offense will likely look to succeed in a similar manner to last season when they were probably the most balanced offensive attack in the conference - with all five starters averaging double figures in scoring. The Ducks don't play great position defense like WSU and UCLA, and they don't intimidate in the paint like Stanford, but they are very opportunistic, playing an aggressive, scrambling style of defense in an attempt to force turnovers to jump start their transition game. They were very successful at it last season, trailing only UCLA in forced turnovers and WSU and UCLA in turnover margin.

Another potentially serious problem for the Ducks is a lack of depth. Drew Viney and Kamyron Brown are both athletic and have potential, but they are freshman and probably cannot be counted on for more than backup minutes. It remains to be what Viney in particular will bring to the table aside from potential attitude problems that plagued his prep career – Viney was kicked off his Villa Park team by Head Coach Kevin Reynolds last season when Reynolds felt that Viney's lackadaisical play and lack of effort were significantly affecting the team.

In the front court, Ray Schaefer and Mitch Platt provide some complementary rebounding and scoring, but if Maarty Leunen goes down with injury, the Ducks are going to be in serious trouble.

The Ducks have more than enough talent to finish in the top three, but their point guard issues and short bench loom large. Without Brooks, they should have more trouble running their motion offense and also take a bit of a step back defensively in their perimeter defense. Also, the Pac-10 has gotten bigger, tougher and more athletic since last season. The Ducks' smaller lineup could also have major problems stopping the big, tough and skilled front courts of UCLA, Stanford, Cal, and to a lesser extent ASU, WSU, and USC. Fourth is a good spot for a team that could finish as high as third, but could also slip to fifth or sixth if Porter can't carry his considerably increased responsibilities, or their lack of depth comes home to roost.


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