Texas Loses Its Starting Point Guard: Good Thing?Posted by rtmsf on February 22nd, 2010
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: We’re not suggesting in our title that it’s a good thing for a player who regularly busts his hump and sacrifices blood, sweat and tears for his coach, teammates and fans to get injured. But like Wally Pipp to Lou Gehrig or Rodrick Rhodes to Ron Mercer, sometimes good things at the program level can arise as a byproduct of unfortunate situations.
Texas losing starting point guard Dogus Balbay to an ACL injury over the weekend versus Texas Tech may just be one of those situations. The junior point guard from Turkey has started all but five games this year, contributing 4 PPG, 3 RPG and 4 APG in just over twenty minutes per contest. He’s known as a defensive player, a perception that becomes even more clear once you see his shooting percentages of 50% from the foul line and 10% from three. Yeah, you read that right. The Longhorn guard who plays over half the minutes at his position needn’t be defended outside of the paint. Still, Barnes loves his toughness and intensity, especially on the non-scoring end of the court, and he has continued to play Balbay heavy minutes. In the five Big 12 games prior to Balbay’s injury, he had scored a total of four points in 93 minutes (with nine assists, six turnovers and 15 fouls).
The two issues that Texas has struggled with this year are: 1) finding offensive consistency and flow; and related, 2) a clear definition of player roles. It’s a tired cliche that coaches can occasionally have too much talent at their disposal, but this Texas team seems to fit the bill, and it’s most noticeable in a crowded backcourt. Avery Bradley, Justin Mason, J’Covan Brown, Jai Lucas, and Balbay are all getting minutes there, with Mason, Brown and Lucas all spending time running the show. From our viewings of UT games with Balbay as the point, the offense regularly bogs down in the halfcourt as defenses sag off of him to cover the other scoring threats on the floor. When Brown or even Lucas is acting as the lead guard, there are clearly more boneheaded decisions running the offense, but there is also a greater opportunity for scoring. And that’s where Texas struggles: putting the ball in the basket. The Horns are elite defensively, holding teams to 39% from the field and 30% from three, but they’re only an average offensive team this year.
It seems that Balbay’s injury, by virtue of the open position and 20+ minutes per game, will force Barnes to make a decision himself as to the tradeoff he’s willing to give up. Brown is a gifted perimeter scorer prone to forced shots and sometimes-selfish play; his coach recently went on record saying that the freshman guard won’t play until he learns about preparation, consistency and accountability. Lucas, on the other hand, is less gifted and plays more under control, but it’s clear that the junior transfer from Florida hasn’t had a chance to get comfortable in his new environs yet. Mason is a senior whom Barnes trusts, but he’s another non-scoring threat just like Balbay.
Whomever Barnes decides to hand the reins of his team to, that player will at least have the luxury of knowing that his minutes will likely increase and he’s not going to be yanked for one poor decision. Perhaps that simple change in expectations will allow the backcourt to finally settle into their roles, even at this late point in the season. Because if Texas can use this disappointment to finally figure out how to get consistent heady play and scoring from the perimeter, they suddenly become that team we all thought they could be. And isn’t that what Barnes and Texas fans all ultimately want?