College basketball: Seven players who are one skill away from stardom
The 2015-16 college basketball season ended in early April, and ever since, players around the country have had a chance to lock in and hone their skills.
Offseason development is crucial to any program’s success. Buddy Hield enrolled at Oklahoma as a suspect shooter with limited off-the-dribble capabilities. In his senior year, he won the Naismith. Hard work pays dividends.
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Duncan Robinson, Michigan
Skill needed: Slashing
A former Division III player, Robinson impressed in his first season in Ann Arbor. The 6-foot-8 wing averaged 11.2 points per game and canned 45 percent of his threes last year — and he went through a significant shooting slump late in the calendar. Early in 2015-16, Robinson was making almost 60 percent of his triples.
Now, it’s time for him to take another step. John Beilein’s system is predicated on spacing; shooters are immensely valuable. But shooters who can put the ball on the deck add a whole new dynamic. If Robinson can start attacking closeouts, he’ll keep defenses honest and get easier shots for himself all over the court. We’ll see if Robinson progresses in 2016-17.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Skill needed: A post game
Delgado is a double-double waiting to happen, and in many ways, he’s the modern college basketball big man. He rebounds, blocks shots and is incredibly effective in the screen-and-roll game.
But it takes two to tango, as they say, and former pick-and-roll partner Isaiah Whitehead is off to the NBA. Seton Hall is going to have to explore all scoring avenues in 2016-17; one of those will be unearthing Delgado’s post game. He has nice touch around the basket and shot 56.7 percent from the floor last season. If the energetic big can add some back-to-the-basket flair to his game, he could average 15 and 10 this season.
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky
Skill needed: Shooting
Briscoe is a tenacious defender, a fantastic athlete and a solid playmaker, but as a freshman, he wasn’t an offensive threat on the perimeter.
The incoming sophomore went 5-of-37 from behind the arc last season, and he’s likely doing everything he can to improve his stroke this summer. Despite his perimeter woes, Briscoe still managed to average 9.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per contest last season. He’s a valuable player regardless of his shooting deficiencies.
But if his perimeter game develops, he could lead to Kentucky to glory this season.
Tyler Davis, Texas A&M
Skill needed: Perimeter mobility
A 6-foot-10, 265-pound low-post brute, Davis is a very efficient offensive player. He averaged 11.3 points per game on 65.5 percent shooting last season, and he’d be an asset in any offensive system.
Davis is also a solid rim protector, but he struggles to contain ball screens. Newsflash: most freshmen big men do. The greats pair lateral quickness with strength, and if the Aggie can add the former, SEC opponents better look out.
Chris Boucher, Oregon
Skill needed: Strength
Yes, strength is more of a characteristic than a skill, but bear with me. 6-foot-10 shot-blockers with legitimate 3-point range don’t grow on trees. Boucher has all of those attributes.
The Oregon center averaged 2.9 blocks per game and shot 34 percent from deep in 2015-16. The latter isn’t spectacular, but it’s enough to keep defenses honest, and Boucher is a major reason for the Ducks’ impeccable spacing. Nobody is clogging up the lane for the Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey drives, and that’s extraordinarily valuable.
But Boucher is listed at just 200 pounds, and that might be generous. Opponents seek him out in the post, and though he hangs though, he’ll often encounter unavoidable mismatches. If Boucher can add some bulk this offseason, he’ll blossom into an all-around force.
Antonio Blakeney, LSU
Skill needed: Consistency
Blakeney is a volume scorer, and he was often overshadowed by Ben Simmons and Tim Quarterman last season. But in 2016-17, he’ll be one of the most talented players in the SEC.
Last year, Blakeney scored 31 points in a win against Mississippi State and dropped 32 in a triumph over Florida. Then, there’s the flip side: against Auburn and Alabama, Blakeney scored eight total points in two Tiger losses.
With more responsibility, perhaps Blakeney will develop consistency on both sides of the floor. The incoming sophomore is a springy athlete with sound shooting form and ample ball-handling skills. Don’t be surprised to see him post a breakout campaign this season.
Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt
Skill needed: Rim protection
This is admittedly misleading, because watching Kornet’s growth (literally and figuratively) has been so fun to watch. He’s already a really good shot-blocker, and like Boucher, he’s one of the few college basketball players who can shoot threes and protect the rim.
But what if he ramped it up a notch? Kornet swatted three shots per game last season, and as of January 2016, he had grown three inches since arriving at Vanderbilt. Who’s to say he’s not 7-foot-4 by now? Kidding. But I want to live in a world where Kornet is blocking four shots per game after he was a defensive liability as a freshman.
The incoming senior struggled shooting the ball last season, but as a sophomore, he made 40 percent of his trifectas. This stat line is entirely possible: 12 ppg, 10 rpg, 4 bpg, 40 3PT%.
Wade Baldwin and Damian Jones are off to the pros, so the opportunity is there for the taking. I want to see that Luke Kornet.