We are still more than a month from UofL college football practices even starting, so while the offseason is allllllmost over, the longest month of the year stands between us and next season.
Normally we'd be talking offensive line and secondary depth charts, but a perfect storm of basketball has the 2015-2016 Louisville basketball Cardinals on the front burner alongside the football team. First, we have special AUGUST BASKETBALL. Second, Mike's newfound BFF relationship with Coach Pitino has given us more concrete information summer practices than ever before. Finally, because there's more season-to-season turnover since either 2006 or 2011, there's a lot of unknown about the new guys and the new team as a whole. That means both that there's uncertainty about everyone except, well, pretty much everyone, and that everyone has unlimited potential. Is this the season Mangok becomes Gorgui? Is Mitchell really a T-Will athlete with Siva's makeup? Will Pre-Season All American teams snubbing Matz lead to a 2001 Shaq like season from him?
Quentin Snider (Predicted Starting Point Guard)
Here are Peyton Siva's 2011 stats: 9.9 pts, 3.1 rebounds, 5.2 asts 2.9 TOs, 28 minutes
Here are Peyton Siva's 2012 stats: 9.1 pts, 3.2 rebounds, 5.5 asts, 3.44 TOs, 31.7 minutes
So which was Siva's better season? In our memory, it's obviously the 2012 season because of the BET championship and Final Four, but really, Siva was having a really rough year until March.
Siva and Snider are bad comps in a lot of ways - Siva was more vocal, Snider more quiet. Siva more athletic and more of a scorer, Snider more of a traditional pass-first point guard. It's hard to see Snider's trajectory play out like Siva's: I don't think Snider would play the same role in a national championship run that 2013 Peyton Siva did, and I don't think Snider will ever receive the ire of the fanbase like Siva did. Snider's Per 40 freshman numbers (per Sports Reference dot com):
Compare that to Siva's 4-year Per 40:
Siva's 3 point shooting got worse all four years until ticking up to a Gentleman's 28.8% his senior year, which means Snider's 28.4% from 3 point range means he's basically Siva already. Siva's 2PT % was also higher. So, placing Snider's best case/worst case on the Siva scale probably looks like this:
Best Case: Peyton Siva's 2011/2012 regular season with some 2012 post-season mixed in
Worst Case: Peyton Siva's 2011-2012 regular season with less assists and more TOs
My Prediction: Snider improves his 3 point shooting, assists:turnover ratio but does not score as much as Siva ever did in any of his Sophomore-Senior seasons, and defers to one of Lewis/Lee in big games towards the end of the season.
Trey Lewis (Predicted Starting Two Guard)
As our first ever, ahem, succeed and proceed graduate transfer, there's really no historical comparison for Trey Lewis. First year players generally struggle under Pitino, especially to pick up the defensive scheme, and first year starters are very rare. The most successful transfer we've ever had, Luke Hancock, started slowly and ended his first season as the Final Four MOP, when the Louisville Cardinals Men's Basketball Team Won The 2013 NCAA Basketball National Championship did you know that happened well guess what it did. We've also had transfers like Reggie Delk come in, play fine, but not set the world on fire. Continuing the 2010-2011 analogy, he could easily be a Preston Knowles: a high volume scorer and vocal leader, hungry for a tournament run:
Lewis's 19.4 pts/per40 on 38% 3 point shooting (damn Preston's 37% 2 PT shooting is brutal) would be a spectacular season, and has to represent the best case of Year Only of the Trey Lewis Era.
Best Case: Preston Knowles 2011 Season, But Ending Like Luke Hancock's 2013 Season
Worst Case: Chris Smith's 2012 season, but where a shooting slump and pressing too hard leads to frustration and little patience from fanbase tired of bad shooting from good shooters
My Prediction: Lewis struggles early but he leads the team in scoring in conference play and is the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of close games late in the year.
Damion Lee (Predicted Starting 3 Guard)
Again, like with Lewis, there's no direct comparison for Damion Lee. He plays the same position as Luke Hancock and is sold as a knock down shooter/scorer. So, I mean, obviously the best comparison is Nouha Diakite.
Seriously though, Lee will be some reasonable approximation of Luke Hancock at various times during his career.
Best Case: Some Reasonable Approximation of Luke Hancock at Various Times During His Career
Worst Case: Some Reasonable Approximation of Mike Marra at Various Times During His Career
My Prediction: Closer to Marra than Hancock just because it's really unfair to expect to catch lightning in a bottle like we did with Luke, especially in one all or nothing season. Having a Marra-level season would not be bad at all, and I would think that's the floor.
Jaylen Johnson (Predicted Starting Four)
I said this a couple games into last season and I think this season will prove me right: Jaylen Johnson is the player Rick Pitino always wanted Earl Clark to be. Maybe no spot in Pitino's line-up has seen more of a range of characters than the 4: that spot has been passed from Luke Whitehead to JDP to Earl Clark to Jared Swopshire to Rakeem Buckles to Kyle Kuric to Chane Behanan to Montrezl Harrell. Except for Kuric (who was really a 3 forced to play 4 because of injuries), none of them could shoot the 3 pointer worth a damn, yet all of them tried very hard to do so. Put another way, they all wanted to shoot the 3 pointer in the worst way, and did.
All except for the best comparison to Jaylen Johnson: one Luke Whitehead. In the 2003-2004 season, Luke attempted 19 three pointers. In 2012, Chane took 36 (to be fair in 2013, he only took 12....and hey we won a national championship how about that). In 2014, Trez only took 3 (and made 2!) but then took 37 last season. In 2009 Earl took 95 3s and shot 32.6%. 95!! And only made 1 out of 3 of them! Not great, Bob!
While I'm no expert, having the 2nd tallest guy on the floor shooting 3s at a low success rate seems less than optimal? Like maybe just float on the baseline and catch passes from a point guard who has gotten into the lane and then dunk it or make the contested layup? Or like, score on put backs? Stay near the basket and get offensive rebounds and pass to an open 3 point shooter who can hit 40% from 3? Pretty sure Jaylen is the ideal Pitino 4, and the last guy who played the 4 like this was Luke Whitehead.
Best Case: Luke Whitehead's 2004 line: 11.1 pts/game, 7.7 rebounds, 45% from the floor (and basically no 3s).
Worst Case: JDP/Jared Swopshire's worst seasons, plus Earl Clark's irrational 3 point confidence.
Chinanu Mathiang (Still Unclear Who Will Really Start)
Best Case: The 2015-2016 season hinges on a Mangok layup and maybe he'll make it this season
Worst Case: For the third season in a row, a Mangok missed layup is the difference between the final 4 or more and the season ending
Okay that's unfair, but I mean come on, two seasons in a row, what are the odds? Neither losses were on him, of course. But still. Mangok! Layups! Ugh!
Mangok's Best Case: I really don't see him ever being much better than Freshman Gorgui - if he had the greenlight to take midrange jumpers off pick/roll, that would be good. He doesn't have a post game to speak of, and he and Jaylen should more or less play the same role in the offense. So, I guess, best case is he makes his layups? I mean, obviously the BEST CASE is he develops one actual post move, literally just A post move.
Mangok's Worst Case: I mean, he shot 38.8% from the field and barely shot from outside 3 feet and averaged 2.6 points last season, so.....something worse than that?
Nanu is an interesting case, because I can't really think of a comp. He's kinda like a Samardo Samuels with less impressive uncontested dunks, but he'll actually pass the ball? Without even one post move, his role in the offense is minimal, so hopefully he has that next season. He can dunk when open and theoretically should be able to affect shots in the middle of the defense.
I'm really not feeling good about the 5 position.
Nanu's Best Case: Samardo's 2009 season (11.8 points, 4.9 rebounds) but in reverse (10 rebounds 5 points) on 58% shooting from the floor and 67% from the FT line.
Nanu's Worst Case: Basically his exact 2014 season.
Quick Thoughts On Everyone Else:
Anas - Best case is that he's 2012 Gorgui with flashes of 2013 Gorgui, but I don't see that this year. If he's even 80% 2012 Gorgui I imagine he's starting by conference play.
Matz - Breakout player....of 2017! My dream of a big lineup with him and Anas together will likely be realized late in the second half of a December home game.
Ray Spalding - Best case is he's freshman Earl Clark without the pressure of expectations. Pitino loves his potential but there are a lot of other big men who have been around longer and I'm not getting hopes up for a freshman to play major minutes. Let's hold off on trying to become a 3 point shooter, young man.
Deng Adell - Best case is he's a Wayne/Kyle Kuric type at the 3. Worried about his shooting ability but Pitino excited about his defense means he and Lee will split time. If those 2 guys can play all 40 minutes at the 3, that makes our season ceiling that much higher.
Donovan Mitchell - If he can develop a consistent outside shot, he could easily be the best player on the team and fan favorite. Again, not getting my hopes up about freshman, and I can see Pitino using him/Lee and Lewis/Adell as pairs a lot to keep at least 1 good three point shooter on the floor at all times. In terms of comps, I would say T-Will and Rozier's freshman years would be best case - not starting, solid bench play, fan favorites/flashes of potential, superstar Sophomore years. Seems reasonable right?
Where Does That Leave Us?
I think if one of the centers develops any sort of offensive post move - like, literally, ONE post move where feeding him in the block is something the other team has to at least consider - then having Snider-Lewis-Lee-Jaylen-Center on the floor means a half court offense we can actually be excited about. Having 2 above average shooters, a point guard with the ability to find open guys, Jaylen lurking on the baseline for dunks/layups/put backs, and a center who can pretend to be Samardo once per game.....I mean, that's the dream right?
We can also run and press with legitimate options for backups at each spot (Mitchell, Deng, Anas, the other Center, maaaybe Spalding when conference play comes around but again not getting hopes up too high) and with a 30 second shot clock, our defensive style could be a nightmare for teams......I dunno, I'm just saying, at the peak of the offseason, with August basketball within range and Pitino talking about our team chemistry and attitude being so good through just a couple practices......maybe we'll get the 2011 "I love this team" vibe but with a deep tournament run.
That's the beauty of the offseason. You can keep on dreaming, even if it breaks your heart.