As we wait for football to heat up, it’s as good a time as any to analyze the coming basketball season. Over the next few weeks, we will analyze the logical rotation and depth chart, based on position. We analyzed the point guard position and the two guard slot previously. Next is the biggest wildcard for 2008-09 – small forward.
For better or worse, Gavin Grant logged the vast majority of minutes last year at the 3. Sometimes he was good, sometimes not. He was basically Courtney Fells with slightly more passing ability and a weaker shot. And, potentially a significant part of last year’s poor team chemistry. Brandon Costner and Dennis Horner also tried to play the 3 last year, with an emphasis on the word tried. Both proved woefully inadequate (from a quickness standpoint) for wing duty. Which makes the calculus a bit easier going forward.
You also no doubt noticed that I think Courtney Fells should play zero minutes at guard this year. Where should he play? Right here. Fells is long and athletic, and has shown decent rebounding ability. He should be able to defend opposing wing players, as long as his head is on straight. If Gavin Grant can play the 3, there’s no reason why Courtney Fells can’t do the same.
By moving Fells to the 3, you shield against his weaknesses (very poor passer, weak secondary ballhandler, doesn’t move well without the ball), and allow his strengths to shine through (outside shot, athletic defender, solid rebounder). It’s much less disruptive to the offense to have your SF stand around on offense than it is to have your SG do the same. In fact, Fells could be very useful that way, constantly spotting up for his deadly shot – with no pressure to help distribute the ball. Of course, it would still be helpful if he remembered to move on offense, but after watching him for three years, I’m not counting on it.
It is very much a wildcard – Fells could blossom and finally tap into his deep reservoir of talent. Or he could candy ass it, and continue to frustrate Wolfpack fans like few other players ever have. The problem is that there is no real Plan B. NC State has to try this experiment, and it has to work. Otherwise, sucking is inevitable.
Simon Harris can be useful in short spurts, but he’s exposed when in the game for long stretches. His “bull in a china shop” physique and mentality are a nice change of pace from the lithe, laid back Fells. Harris can defend and rebound. However, he can’t be asked to contribute much on the offensive end. Unlike with Fells, opposing defenses can (and will) leave Harris alone, setting up frequent 4-on-5 halfcourt sets.
More theoretical depth is supplied by CJ Williams (low-rated true freshman) and Marques Johnson. I think it’s a bad idea to count on CJ, although he would probably have to take major minutes in the event of a Fells injury. MJ should be able to handle the 3 physically, but is only a marginally better offensive player than Harris – and without his killer instinct. Johnny Thomas would be a very significant part of the rotation, if not for his degenerative knee. Nobody that SFN talks to seems the least bit optimistic about his recovery.
Who should start? Courtney Fells, without question. Will the position switch spark life into the great enigma? If so, this could easily be State’s best position. If not, it could be a hole as black as SG. As noted above, there is no legitimate Plan B. Hold your breath, folks.
What should the rotation be? Fells needs to play 35+ minutes per game. Against the Dukes and UNCs of the world, it could easily be 38-40. Harris should see about 5 mpg, but if more backup minutes are needed, CJ and MJ will have to be pressed into duty. Avert your eyes if that happens.
Position Grade: C+