Offseason Positional Analysis (SF)

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+

About BJD95

1995 NC State graduate, sufferer of Les and MOC during my entire student tenure. An equal-opportunity objective critic and analyst of Wolfpack sports.

08-09 Basketball

30 Responses to Offseason Positional Analysis (SF)

  1. partialqualifier 07/24/2008 at 9:49 AM #

    Good analysis…altho I am still very much in doubt that Lowe will actually play Fells at 3. But for the sake of discussion…let’s assume he will actually make a good coaching move and do that.

    I do have one question tho…how in the world can Sid Lowe be going into his third season and we have NO PG, NO WG, and NO SF?…and not even the faintest hope on the bench?

    Bottom line is…3 years later the only even remotely close to ACC caliber players we have were recruited by the previous coach!!! How is that possible?

  2. packbackr04 07/24/2008 at 10:03 AM #

    well with his first recruiting year, extremely shortened by the terribly handled coaching search… oh who am i kidding we are going to suck again this year

  3. happypackdad 07/24/2008 at 10:12 AM #

    Fells will be very good for us this season. Mayes & Williams will be very good players for us for years to come. Degand/Javi/Johnson/Fergie/Mayes will all combine to get us through this season until Brown arrives.

  4. wufpup76 07/24/2008 at 10:18 AM #

    I agree w/ BJD’s analysis, that is if Fells is moved to the 3 – as a large number of us hopes he is … If not, I suppose Tracy would/could be moved here, or we could continue to see Costner (or others?) at the 3

    I love Tracy, but much prefer a starting line-up of (1)Degand, (2)Fergs, (3)Fells, (4)Costner, and (5)McCauley – with Tracy playing 6th man and getting huge minutes at both the 4 and 5 (if necessary) … I would also hope that we can involve both Horner and Harris in the rotation – Harris for rebounding/defense and Horner when/if he gets his shot going

    Any way Sid sets the rotation this season we have a LONG way to go to being any good at all … Here’s hoping for the best

  5. JimValvano 07/24/2008 at 10:22 AM #

    Word on the street is Costner has lost 15-20 pounds this off season. If that is true…he could log some minutes at the three. The problem with this scenario is that while we have talent at our bigs…we don’t have much depth. However, I suspect we will see some lineups where we go BIG and play Degand, Fells, Costner, McCauley, and Smith at the same time. We also may see a smaller lineup (especially when the bigs get in foul trouble) where we run Gonzalez or Mays with Degand and Fells. I don’t think that our starting lineup or our end of game lineup will have Fells at the three though. At least not at the start of the year. While the general concensus on this board seems to think a different lineup would be better. I think Coach Lowe will end up with a starting and finishing lineup that look like this:


    or Smith in place of Horner and Costner goes to SF.

  6. happypackdad 07/24/2008 at 10:31 AM #

    I think Sid has said Fells will play at the 2 & 3 spots. Smith has lost weight, but it may be due to being sisk lately. Horner is working on his quickness also.

  7. howlie 07/24/2008 at 10:48 AM #

    I didn’t comment on the PG & SG threads to long after everyone else posted [“Late”‘s my middle name]; but I don’t think the “PG-SG-WG-SF-C” designations are appropriate for State.

    I’m sure that’s where Sid & staff are trying to get us, but we don’t have the personnel YET to have the ‘traditional’ positions.

    INSTEAD, I believe we’re stuck in a “transitional state” this year, and we will be FORCED to run this ‘positional scenario:

    If you look ^ at ^ that scenario, we ‘have the horses’ to make something work and to force other teams to have to adjust to cope with our personnel on the floor. It’s [it seems] our only, and best, hope for this year.
    – – – – – – – –
    In that vein, you’re looking for Degand to ‘outquick’ the ball up court in transition and drive it to the hol; or dump it to either of two wings who are driving it to the hole beside him; and two bigs to clean up the garbage. If transition is stopped [and that’s the definition of ‘ACC defense’] then you set up your offense THROUGH THE BIG MEN. We ‘rewind’ to Ben [especially] and Brandon [& Tracey, now] of 2 years back making interior passes to one another; screening for one another; doing pick roll with one another and Degand;…. and our (2)WG’s stay AWAY to the weak side of the floor and look to receive the ‘dump off’ pass so they can then drive it to the hole and, also, provide ‘weakside/quick-to-the-ball’ rebounding.

    ON D, Fells CAN guard the opponent’s shooting guard, and our bevy of[non shooting and non point]guards can come on to PLAY TOUGH DEFENSE [their main, and ONLY real goal opposite Courtney], other than DRIVING the ball to the hole to pick up fouls. Courtney’s our only ‘spot up’ shooter.

    People use ‘SF’ sometimes to mean “Strong Forward” [4] and sometimes to mean “Shooting Forward” [i.e., ‘3’ or WING] and ‘wing’ seems to be what we’re talking about in this article. I’m saying we must have TWO WINGS this year.

    So what I’m advocating are TWO WING positions–one which “W1” which is Courtney’s spot; and “W2” which belongs to ‘the committee’. Here are their responsibilities:

    “W1” is NOT to be handling the ball and dribbling, and not to in any way initiate the offense. His only role on O is eto DRIVE it to the hole and finish. Second, he’s to receive the ball when the ‘strong side’ pick & roll (or high-low) passing game between Degand/Ben/Costner gets clogged up. Courtney can hit the spot up shot AND drive it to the hole.

    “W2” is clearly the secondary offensive option [or, 5th among our 5 O positions]. That position is “manned by committee” of Johnson/Javi/CJ/Walk-on/waterboy whose primary role is to DISRUPT the OTHER team on defense and pad our ‘hustle stats’ with tipped balls, steals, etc.. We need all those persons playing that slot to be THE role player on a nightly basis to help us find the ‘matchup advantage’ each night to help us win.
    Again, the Wing2 player does NOT get the ball up court; does not initiate the offense; is NOT to be a shooter from outside [unless, and only if, his man is ‘sluffing-off’ to double-team other players.

    ‘Envision’ that kind of assignment, and I think we can be a ‘challenge’ for some teams in the ACC; and use the players we have.
    The glass is 2/5’s full!

    Bottom line, everyone on the court has to be hustling their butts off; creating turnovers; swarming defense; and playing as a team. Otherwise, pull their scholly and get guys off the intramural squads.

  8. RTPMedic 07/24/2008 at 10:59 AM #

    We may see a lot more Tracy Smith this year. So much so that we could be playing only one big in the middle with 4 on the wings (Degand, Ferg/Mays, Fells, Smith/Costner and McCauley). Smith showed more determination to get inside and rebound than Brandon did, so I gave him the edge. Key to this would be the EMPHASIS on basic blocking out by the two fowards and Ben being a monster inside, which he shown the ability to be at times.

  9. Dr. BadgerPack 07/24/2008 at 11:01 AM #

    BJD- Good analysis as always… BUT (and you know I love to throw ‘buts’ in)… CJ Williams a low rated player? He was in several top 150 lists (and with 319 or so collges getting, say, 4 players each that’s top 10%- and that’s a conservative estimate). He certainly isn’t the lowest rated player in the ACC– although probably at the lower end?

    There are schools/conferences where he could be one of the best (ever?)– he’d certainly be lauded as such coming in, anyway. His main problem is simply falling in that 75-150 range; the crapshoot range. Those are typically the ‘ACC caliber’ recruits that can go either way– they develop and can hang with the superior talent in the conference, or they can’t. I just don’t like calling him ‘low rated’.

    Of course these “ratings” are caca anyway… but that’s for another thread.

  10. JeremyH 07/24/2008 at 11:15 AM #

    I’m glad you guys are mentioning Horner, I like this kid’s game. He has a solid mid-ranger and three point game that we’re going to need. I think we only have one other guy that can do both of those things, and his name is Courtney. (…Man, remember when we had 5 different guys that could hit the three and no bigs? year after Julius left) Like Ferguson, he will have to improve quickness and defense in order to stay on the floor. Quickness and defense will be a major theme this season, he got completed abused last season on defense. I really hope defense is a major topic for the coaches (strategy) and the players (execution).

  11. JeremyH 07/24/2008 at 11:16 AM #

    replace “he got completed abused last season on defense.” with “we got completed abused last season on defense.”

  12. packpigskinfan23 07/24/2008 at 12:00 PM #

    I need the email address of an author or admin ffom the site… I have found some things I would like to contribute to the site.

  13. Rick 07/24/2008 at 12:08 PM #

    CJ Williams will not have a significan impact on this years team.

    I have never heard SF refer to “strong forward”.

    I like the article.

  14. Sw0rdf1sh 07/24/2008 at 12:09 PM #

    I feel you are undervalueing Horner, and if Fells is moved to the 3, (where by the way I agree he would be a good fit) he will split time with Horner as the rotation shuffles.

    Horner has game and a good range. I don’t like falling back to last year much for my opionions, because there were so few magic performances it is hard to rate anyone. However looking in the past and at times last year, Horner has proven that he has game.

    I feel TS will spend more time at the 4 and would rarely break into the 3 position with our available players……gotta spell the bigs and there isn’t much in the cupboard.

  15. BJD95 07/24/2008 at 12:10 PM #

    I always used it as shorthand for “small forward” – but had heard the term “swing forward” before. Essentially, I see the 2 and 3 both as “wing” positions, with more ballhandling expected of the 2, and more rebounding expected of the 3.

    Fells can rebound. He can’t handle the ball. Thus, he’s a 3/SF in my book.

  16. BJD95 07/24/2008 at 12:17 PM #

    I’m not undervaluing Horner, just noting he can’t play the wing. Hell, last year I was pushing for him to get some time at the 2 – won’t repeat that mistake.

    Horner is a 4 with a much stronger outside shot than is typical for the position. Just like Brandon Costner. Horner and Costner’s roles will be discussed later in the series.

  17. smfrank 07/24/2008 at 1:42 PM #

    These articles have been some ridiculously written articles… Our team next year has more serious positional problems than ever before. I have never heard of a small foward being a guy that “stands around and spots up”. When I think of great small fowards in the world – I think of Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird, Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion or even LeBron. None of these guys are just “spot up shooters”. Your ideal SF should be a slasher & a shooter, someone who can fill in at times as a Guard or Foward. I think of this guy as being even more important as a passer or facilitator, especially with a SG that does not demand much attention.

    Fells can do this, but he has only shown flashes of being the slasher or inside presence this position needs. Gavin fit this role much better than Fells does. Fells is a SG (who’s ideal role is traditionally a “spot-up shooter – ie Steve Kerr, Dan Marjle, Dell Curry, Bruce Bowen or a scoring guard, ie Jordan, Bryant, Drexler).

    I do like Trevor at the 2. However, we may find it advantageous to try to fill this spot with some of our younger blood – Johnny Thomas, CJ Williams, & a Mays/Fells combo. In the end, it may be that chemistry leaves us best to have Trevor & Fells on the wing. That would leave a lot of space for Big Ben & Brandon in the middle. But for this to work – Fells is going to have to show some ability to cut through the lane or drive to the basket and finish at 10 feet in.

  18. McPete 07/24/2008 at 1:51 PM #

    We’re screwed either way.

    Fells can shoot, defend, and rebound. He doesn’t dribble, drive, or pass particularly well. at either position, he will have his liabilities as well as strengths.

    but i’d rather have Horner start at the 3 than fergeson start at the 2. neither should really be starting in the acc anyway. hence, we’re screwed.

  19. b 07/24/2008 at 2:24 PM #

    I think as the year wears on, we should see more of Williams at the 3. He is athletic and plays D, he isn’t a great shooter but he can hit outside shots. I would rather he play than either Ferg or Horner, at least I THINK he can cover a college basketball player.

    We are going to struggle unless BOTH freshman are sleepers, so we might as well build depth for the future and see what happens. Harris is a heart guy, but hopelessly out quicked at the 3, and Horner is a glaring defensive liability at pretty much all positions. If he is hitting his shots he generally cancels out his matchup, if that isn’t happening he should be clapping on the sideline.

  20. Dr. BadgerPack 07/24/2008 at 3:55 PM #

    Some of our “glaring defensive liabilities” wouldn’t be so much if we played pressure defense. You can’t tell me that some of these guys plodding around at the 2/3/4 for Duke for the last decade are any more athletic than Horner. Those same players that are liabilities when you look at halfcourt matchups don’t look so bad then defense pressure causes passes to be forced, panicked, etc.

    Of course, we’d be feally f’ing good at defense if we could hand check people into next week as well…

  21. smfrank 07/24/2008 at 4:20 PM #

    Hand-checking would help.

    As would not allowing yourself to get screened, playing help defense, boxing out, defensive stance, defensive position, knowing where the ball is, knowing where your man is, getting back, communication, and not turning the ball over at half court for break aways – all things we lacked last year.

    Seriously though – help defense! Our players are too slow to live & die by what Grant said, “Sidney’s philosophy is everyone is responsible for their man.” Defense is just as much a team responsibility as offense.

  22. howlie 07/24/2008 at 8:07 PM #

    sorry rick–freudian slip. I meant “small forward” and typed ‘strong’ instead.
    We need them to be ‘strong’…

  23. redfred2 07/24/2008 at 8:14 PM #

    I don’t know how just giving a player a different label, in the same game involving five players, can make all the difference, but whatever you guys say is fine by me. While I agree that maybe Fells can do this, and Fells can do that, he hasn’t, and that tired record has been skipping for three years already.

    Fells, a rebounder, constantly and willingly mixing it up on the interior, WHEN?

    Again, Fells has not shown, and is not the type of player that can be DEPENDED upon for anything. He plays when he wants to or when it gets easy because the game is already out of reach. Not saying that he can’t, just that he’s already been given all kinds of PT and he hasn’t done it yet.

    Maybe I’ll start to believe all of this talk, if at the start of the very first game Fells and Lowe arrive on the court late and simultaneously, because the Coach has his foot planted squarely in Courtney Fells’ ass.

  24. redfred2 07/24/2008 at 8:42 PM #

    smfrank, I’d have to say that if someone taught these kids proper defensive postioning, and told them that it is perfectly acceptable when your opponent scores after making a good, but contested, play, then our ability to be competitive would rise substantually. It seems that most people believe that Fells is better than defender than he really is, just because he looks like he’s working hard at it. And he is working hard, too hard, like a chicken with his head cut off at times. Both He and Gavin Grant played out of control on defense and they both ran by the play more times than not, constantly giving their men open angles to make either an uncontested shot and/or a wide open passing lane.

    Just stay in position, guard the territory that you are responsible for, it’s yours, you have more right to it than the man you are defending so don’t give it away, stay BETWEEN YOUR MAN AND THE BASKET, and think before you just take off running wide open to where your man… ONCE WAS.

  25. wufpup76 07/24/2008 at 10:10 PM #

    ^I’ll reiterate what I said in another post – this season’s upcoming squad could be the worst defensive squad we’ve seen in a long time at NC State …

    Last year was bad, but Hickson did at least block a few shots … this season when we give up dribble penetration we don’t even have a shot blocker to help out

    If this team upgrades their collective defense and rebounding performances/efforts to even just “average” we could be in a few games (maybe even win a couple)

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