Positions and Priorities: Needs for the 2018 Recruiting Class
Posted on June 6, 2017, by StLouHoo.
While the summer recruiting season to date has been about following the various AAU circuits and learning which players have genuinely caught the eye of the staff (names which are summarized in our Big Board), now we reach the point in the summer where rising senior recruits start to take the process more seriously. Only a handful of names have come off the board so far, such as Prentiss Hubb (ND), Brandon Slater (Villanova), and Aaron Wiggins (Maryland), but most others will look to narrow down their fields, or close their recruiting entirely, during the summer months.
So whereas we may already have a good understanding of the staff's priorities from a player perspective, let's pivot to evaluate what their priorities may be from a positional perspective. This will help us understand how they may rank recruits internally, or how one player committing may or may close the doors on others.
First, a quick primer on how I view positions in our systems:
A ball handler in our Sides (AKA Blocker-Mover) motion. Capable of operating in the top third of the perimeter to find the Movers coming off screens or making cuts. Effective enough as a shooter or scorer to be able to rotate to the Mover position on either side to exploit mismatches and keep the defense rotating.
Defensively can guard traditional 1-3 positions.
Small Ball Four
A bigger perimeter-oriented player with a scorer's mentality, either as a shooter or as a driver. Most effective playing off-ball as a Mover at the initiation of the offensive sets. Some may have the ball skills to be a secondary ball-handler in limited minutes (such as Joe Harris filling in at the 2 when London or Malcolm would rest in 2013-14). Some may have the physique and skill set to serve as a Blocker during small-ball lineups.
Defensively can guard traditional 2-4 positions.
A Blocker in our Sides motion. Sets screens on one side of the floor for the Mover. Can screen and roll (traditional mover motion) or potentially screen and pop (in the Wide configuration).
Defensively can guard traditional 4-5 positions, though if athletic enough may be asked to guard small ball 4's.
Clearly this is in some ways a simplification, and does not rigidly apply to all players. Malcolm Brogdon, for instance, was good enough to play both as a Guard and a Wing. Devon Hall has similar versatility, though I maintain he is mostly a guard at heart, and is a bit of a square peg playing the Wing at times, even if it does give us a lot of versatility in how we rotate through our Movers on offense. Evan Nolte was a tweener in many ways between Wing and Post.
Tony's base preference is to start two Guards, one Wing, and two Posts, and then adjust from there according to the flow of the game. For the sake of offensive versatility, Tony would ideally like to have two Guards on the floor at any given time, so that Guards can rotate through the Mover positions over time to keep the defense honest. In a pinch, a Wing with solid handles can be the second Guard in a given lineup, such as Joe Harris in the earlier example. Time will tell if Hunter or Anthony can similarly fill this role.
In terms of Tony's preferred depth, and how he likes to use his 13 scholarships, we've seen that this staff doesn't want to take more than 11 players dressed into the game, and will redshirt players to avoid getting to 12 or 13. We've played fine with 10 players as well, though dropping to 9 invites major depth risks should injuries occur. In the past, Tony aimed high, recruiting the summer before anticipating attrition, targeting 12 or even 13 players in the expectation that a transfer would even it back out. But when that attrition doesn't occur, as in the 2016 offseason, you wind up with too deep a roster (yes that's a thing). For right now, I'm predicting Tony targets 11 eligibile players for the start of the 2018 season, which is enough to allow 1 loss next offseason without negatively affecting playable depth for that year. Two losses next offseason would force the staff to grab a late 2018 recruit (not unprecedented for our staff) or again go the grad transfer route. But as such, I think the 2018 recruiting effort is aiming for a roster of 11 players, and anyone beyond that will be a "draft and stash" type, a high upside project that Tony can redshirt. I see a breakdown of three-four guards, two-three wings (so six total on the perimeter), and five posts.
No analysis of needs can begin without an analysis of our current roster. For the sake of this exercise, I list players by their projected graduation year. This accounts for Badocchi's announced redshirt.
Nigel Johnson (Guard)
Devon Hall (Guard)
Isaiah Wilkins (Post)
|2019||Jack Salt (Post)|
Ty Jerome (Guard)
Kyle Guy (Guard)
Mamadi Diakite (Post)
DeAndre Hunter (Wing)
Marco Anthony (Wing)
Jay Huff (Post)
|2022||Francesco Badocchi (Post)|
My approach to addressing recruiting needs: (1) look at the roster needs at that position for the first two years you expect that player to be in the rotation. For most of our primary 2018 recruits, this means looking at the projected roster construction for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. For "draft and stash", project-type players, that may mean the 2019-20 and 2020-21 years. Anything beyond that, to me, is too rife with unpredictability, given (2) the inevitability of attrition, whether it's your standard transfers, NBA early entrants (which I'll address for some of our high-upside 2016 players), or other loss mechanisms such as academics, injury, or discipline.
(Note: while I decline to identify some players as a significant-probability NBA early entrant risk, this does not mean that I don't see an NBA career in their future. Just that I personally project them as four-year players first.)
So, position by position, let's dive into it.
|2018-19:||Jerome (JR), Guy (JR)|
|2019-20:||Jerome (SR), Guy (SR)|
NBA early entrant risks: None
No question about it, we need guards in the 2018 class to step in immediately for the graduated Hall and Johnson. Possibly we take 2 in 2018, with one projected to be an immediate major contributor and the second worked in slowly and available for more significant time in event of injury to a starter. Alternatively, we could take one in 2018 to be an immediate contributor, then target another in 2019 (we've gotten in early on a few), but in this instance I think we have to ensure that one of the Wings is capable of providing solid minutes as a secondary ball handler in the event of injury to one of the three main rotation guards.
Either way, we are almost certainly taking at least one Guard in 2018 and asking him to play major minutes immediately.
|2018-19:||Hunter (RS SO), Anthony (SO)|
|2019-20:||Hunter (RS JR), Anthony (JR)|
NBA early entrant risks: Hunter
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the wing position is not the top priority right now. I absolutely expect us to take one in this class before it's all said and done, and the staff has built relationships with a number of top Wing recruits who would be great at JPJ. However, I believe the staff wants to get into summer workouts first and see how Hunter, and especially newcomer Marco Anthony, look as part of the team. If Marco comes in and looks good, looks versatile, then there's less need for a Wing to come in 2018 that's able to contribute immediately. If Marco, however, struggles early, the staff may feel more urgency in giving him some real competition in 2018, and turn up the heat on their higher-ranked 2018 Wing targets. This is not to project one or the other; I've scouted Marco three times now and I still see both why Tony moved quickly on him and why the recruiting services only ranked him a mid-tier 3-star. The nice thing is his physique needs zero work, so rather than be S&C focused, he can be skill and system focused in his early practices, and Tony can get a quick feel on his readiness.
So if Marco looks good, the staff will look for someone okay with a more limited role as an underclassman, maybe someone with upside but limited early expectations. Either way, I think the staff needs a 6th Guard/Wing if for depth purposes if nothing else, especially if they want to be able to play small at times, putting 4 Guard/Wings on the floor while having some depth behind it. The staff could just as easily go with a Wing here as they could take a 2nd Guard, in my opinion, maybe a best available situation. However, if Marco doesn't inspire early confidence in June/July workouts, the staff will crank the heat back up on our 2018 Wing targets in August.
One last aspect of the Hunter/Anthony evaluation will be their strengths and weakness. Do they have the handle and the vision to slide over to the 2nd guard spot for stretches? If not, the 2018 Wing recruit may need to be someone with a better handle. Can they effectively play the small-ball 4 role? If not, maybe we look for a longer wing prospect who can be that combo-forward and provide the small lineup versatility. Time will tell.
The flip side of this, who the staff decides to prioritize for this spot in August will tell us volumes about the readiness, progress, skill sets, and upside of Hunter and Anthony.
|2018-19:||Salt (RS SR), Diakite (RS JR), Huff (RS SO), Badocchi (RS FR)|
|2019-20:||Diakite (RS SR), Huff (RS JR), Badocchi (RS SO)|
NBA early entrant risks: Diakite, Huff
I think there's a need for big men both in the 2018 and 19 classes for a variety of reasons. First is that I don't expect Badocchi to be a significant contributor before the 2019-20 season at the earliest. International prospects, even those that prepped in the US, usually have a 2-year learning curve before they're ready for the gauntlet of the ACC. Even future NBA'er Omer Yurtseven couldn't stay on the floor on a bad NC State team last year. So when you add Badochhi's knee surgery and redshirt to the consideration, this year possibly becomes a lost year from a development perspective, and it may be 2020-21 before he's a contributor. Second, Huff and Diakite both scream ACC upside, both because of their length, Huff because of his jumper, and Mamadi because of his athleticism. There is a real risk one of them blows up over the next two seasons and winds up in the 2019 draft.
So getting a big man is a major priority for the 2018 class, especially one expected to play immediately. As we saw this year, offensive polish is important, as the balance of the offense is as equally dependent on the scoring threat posed by the posts as it is by the ability of the guards to shoot. Unfortunately 2018 is a weak year for post prospects, so anyone the staff has identified as a priority will no doubt get a full court press from the staff. However, I do not expect the staff to settle on a big, not after the Reuter failure. If they can't get one of their priority targets this summer/fall, they will begrudgingly hold it for the spring in the hopes someone comes available from a coaching change or a late bloomer emerges. They'll also continue working hard on 2019 big men, as there are some good ones already on their radar.
The two positions of priority are Guard and Post. The staff will be pushing hard every day on their high-priority options at these positions every day going forward until they get 1 of each. Wing recruiting will be quiet over the next month or two until Marco and Hunter are properly evaluated, and they will either look for an immediately-ready Wing if needed, or a best-available Guard/Wing if there's less concern at the 3-spot with our existing talent. I don't expect us to take more than 3 players this summer/fall; if there's a fourth member of this class, it will come in the spring after our existing roster shakes out (who's looking like an early NBA jump, who's transferring out, etc.), and the staff can poach the coaching-change market.
3. Guard/Wing - TBD by August based on Hunter/Anthony evaluation
4. TBD - Hold for spring and reevaluate roster for need