Debate, if you will, the advisability of Devin Williams' decision to turn pro, or to lock in his departure from the collegiate ranks more than a month away from the NBA Draft withdrawal deadline. We've been through that discussion, and there are certainly reasons for Williams making the call. Now that it's done, though, the attention for West Virginia fans should move to the upcoming season. What does this mean for Bob Huggins and the lineup he can put on the court next winter?
First, of course, it means that there doesn't have to be a roster adjustment. The Mountaineers now have 13 scholarships accounted for next year at this moment, the number that is right on the NCAA limit. That doesn't mean that there might not be a roster change at the end of the semester or over the summer, but for now the need to make one has been eliminated. As Huggins often says, these things tend to work themselves out.
The departure does signal changes that could be made in the way West Virginia plays, and the types of lineups it puts on the floor. First, WVU could simply plug in either Elijah Macon or Brandon Watkins in Williams' place. While both are big bodies, they are very different players than Dev, so their presence could signal changes in the way the Mountaineers run their offense. Neither are accomplished post scorers (granted, that wasn't Williams' strong suit either), but both have some skills that could, with development, make them better in that regard. Macon attacks the game with fury, which sometimes gets him out of sync and leads to turnovers, but if he can polish those moves he could account for a few buckets in the lane. Watkins has a silky smooth mid-range jumper that would allow him to pick and pop, rather than screen and dive to the rim, which could also make him a factor in the offensive game -- again, in a different manner than Williams.
The biggest deficiency for both at this point is defensive rebounding. The pair is good on the offensive glass, but neither has anywhere close to the presence that Williams did on the defensive boards. For them to play appreciable minutes, they must improve on that facet of their game. Redshirt freshman Logan Routt likely won't be ready to contribute next year either.
WVU also has two incoming bigs, but one isn't suited to the five spot, while the other might not be ready for much more than spot duty during his first year. Maciej Bender is a four who is much more comfortable playing on the perimeter and driving the ball. He has been working on a jump hook, but in no way is he a post scorer against other bigs, or any sort of volume rebounder. Those that mention him as a Williams replacement simply aren't being realistic. Sagaba Konate has the build and athleticism to make his mark in the paint someday, but it's likely not to be as a primary player during his first year of college ball. Could he be a spot player who helps on the boards and defensively during his first year? Maybe, but that's a reasonable ceiling for him in 2016-17.
Other options could also be in play. WVU could run even more open post sets than it did this year, or more motion. That might put more focus on Nathan Adrian who bounced back to have a very solid junior season, on the offensive end. Expecting Adrian to match Williams' rebounding numbers isn't fair, but might he be able to double his scoring average from a year ago and hit in the 9-10 points per game average? That seems doable, but it's not going to be via offensive rebounds or bulling opponents aside in the post. That's a role where Bender might serve as a backup, but again, expecting a lot out of a slender freshman in the rugged Big 12 isn't a recipe for instant success.
Williams departure could also mean WVU turns more to its running game, as it's more likely to have players that can get up and down the court in transition. Both Macon and Watkins run the floor well, and they have the ability to be rebounders in that play phase. Of course, all this is predicated on WVU being far more efficient in handling the ball on fast breaks, which was a huge problem last year (and the year before, and the year before...).
This might also open the path for even more guard and swingman-oriented play. That could help WVU press more, but again, backups have to develop and be ready to go. A lineup of Beetle Bolden, Tarik Phillip, Jevon Carter, Esa Ahmad and Adrian could well take the floor for the Mountaineers.
However the replacements or adjustments pan out, one of the biggest items will be the identification of a go-to guy. Even though Williams struggled to score when fed the ball in the post, he often turned those possessions into free throws, where he canned 374 tries over the course of his career. When West Virginia needs a bucket next February against Baylor, who is going to get the ball? Past the defensive rebounding question, that might be the toughest gap to fill.