*This is the third installment in a series of articles looking at the top preseason storylines for Xavier basketball heading into the 2016-17 season.*
With Remy Abell graduated, Xavier has a starting position and 24.4 minutes of playing time open on the wing heading into the 2016-17 season. The player who stands to benefit the most from that opportunity is JP Macura.
In a different year, it's possible Macura would be touted as the rising star for the Musketeers, the next big thing. On a team with Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner, he's not garnering the preseason hype or expectations that he otherwise might.
He was Xavier's most efficient scorer last season and it wasn't really that close.
After developing a reputation as a wild gunslinger on offense his freshman year, Macura did a good job of reining it in last season and becoming a more reliable teammate while still providing a spark. He averaged 1.05 points per possession, which ranked in the 90th percentile of all of NCAA Division I hoops according to Synergy Sports. James Farr was second on the team at 1.01 ppp. Macura also had the highest field goal percentage (46.3%) out of any of Xavier's perimeter players and the second lowest turnover percentage (11.8%) behind Bluiett (11%). He showed an improved feel and the ability to make his teammates better with his passing as he posted a 16.4 percent assist rate, which ranked third among the regulars behind Sumner and Myles Davis.
Macura is likely to be facing opponents' third best perimeter defender on any given night heading into his role as a starter this year. Finding two long and athletic defenders to matchup with Bluiett and Sumner will be tough enough, but finding a third lockdown guy to stick on him should be a problem for most defenses.
That's not to say that the junior will necessarily have a breakout year and become the team's go-to scorer, because playing alongside talents like Bluiett and Sumner may limit his opportunities to an extent as well, but he'll definitely be less of a focus on opposing scouting reports and he'll often hold a talent advantage over the guy defending him.
Macura is at his best when he's spotting up, which he did on 28 percent of possessions last year. He scored over 32 percent of his points on spot-up jumpers while averaging 1.2 ppp and shooting 45.9 percent from the field. Xavier did an excellent job of spacing the floor and creating ball movement last year. With all the top skill guys back from that team, Macura should continue to get in-rhythm spot up looks.
Also, 25.3 percent of his possessions came in transition where he thrived last season, averaging 1.09 ppp and shooting 54.5 percent from the field. This is where he was most unselfish, often passing up his own decent look to find a teammate for an even better one. His feel when running the court and playing fast was excellent last year.
His rebounding ability is an interesting aspect of his game. He's not a big rebounder percentage-wise on either end of the court, but he's shown a knack for flying in from the perimeter and grabbing big offensive boards from time to time. After spot-ups and transition points, Macura's third most productive play type last year was the put back (34 points). It would seem likely that the staff would ask him to take a step forward in his consistency as a rebounder, especially on the defensive end, as he moves into a starting role.
When looking through his offensive stats and situational breakdowns, it's hard to find many areas that he can significantly improve without changing the fundamentals of who he is as a player. In many ways, his production seemed to be hampered by his role more than anything else last season. Remy Abell was a senior and the team's best defender, which kept Macura out of the starting rotation. However, there is certainly still upside for him as he continues to round out his skill-set.
Macura's decision-making when running off of screens to catch the ball is one area that stuck out to me when watching his film. While he was highly efficient in spot-up situations, he was much less effective coming off of screens last year (0.76 ppp). It would seem that those two situations would be similar, but the difference for Macura lies in his choices. He bumps off of a lot of flare screens within the natural flow of the offense (in addition to getting his number called during sets), and he forces a lot of his bad shots when coming off of screens. Despite defenders flying out at him, he looks like he feels that he has to shoot the three every time. However, a thorough review of his film reveals that he can be an excellent playmaker when he chooses to attack poor closeouts off the bounce in those situations.
He could also improve his ability to play in pick-and-rolls. He only used 13 possessions as the ballhandler in pick-and-rolls last year and averaged 0.92 ppp. Improving his confidence with his handle should make him more aggressive to attack off of ball-screens. Also, adding some strength in the offseason should aid him when taking contact while driving and finishing. It would seem that he could add a significant lift to the Musketeers' offense by becoming a more frequent playmaker off the bounce.
And, of course, he's capable of shooting better than 35 percent from 3-point range.
Macura's big issues have always come on the other side of the court, though.
Opposing offenses attacked him fourth most when XU was on defense last year, despite the fact that he wasn't often defending top scorers. Possession-by-possession defensive stats have plenty of flaws, but they still paint a somewhat interesting view of a player's performance. Last year, Macura allowed an average of 0.84 ppp, which ranked third worst out of Xavier's regular rotation players. However, much like on offense, he finds a way to make plays on defense, even if it isn't always done in the most conventional ways. He finished second on the team with 37 steals last season, two behind Sumner's 39.
He fits perfectly into the Musketeers' 1-3-1 zone, but to be relied upon as a starter will require him to adequately defend in XU's "Pack Line" man-to-man for extended periods of time. He showed last year that he can play at an average level or maybe even slightly above that for stints. It will be interesting to see if he can make another jump in his improvement on the defensive end this season.
Macura's role was already going to be crucial to the Musketeers' success this season. Chris Mack suspending Myles Davis indefinitely only added an increased emphasis on Macura's importance. Perhaps the team relying on him more will be enough to make him take his game to the next level.
The numbers and film suggest he may have the ability to do so.