Pac-12’s Good Players on Bad TeamsPosted by AMurawa on January 28th, 2014
While the Pac-12 may not be all it was cracked up to be early in the season, eight of the conference teams have generally been regarded for most of the past month or so as at least good. That leaves four teams at the bottom of the conference – USC, Oregon State, Washington, and Washington State – that haven’t been taken seriously and that have been described, at one point or another, as straight out bad. A couple of those teams are beginning to come around some, but really until they prove themselves over long stretches, we’re still going to group them at the bottom of the Pac. But, aside from being bad teams, another thing that each of these teams has in common is (at least) one very good player. We’re not spending a ton of time here talking about the Trojans, Beavers, Huskies, and Cougars, but today we’ll give those very good players their due.
Byron Wesley, USC – Maybe you haven’t seen Andy Enfield’s first crack at turning the Galen Center into a basketball Mecca, and if so, no one would blame you. The roster is a mishmash of parts, many of whom are ill-suited to Enfield’s style, let along major conference basketball. But Wesley? This dude would carve out a spot anywhere in the nation. In the past, he’s been known as a solid fundamental wing who is best at the defensive end of the court, and he’s still very much that, but offensively he’s blossomed in his junior year. Despite playing approximately the same number of minutes as he’s played his first two years with the Trojans, his number of possessions used has skyrocketed and in turn his per game averages in points, rebounds, and assists have all ballooned, all while playing at a more efficient level than ever before. While the range on his jumper is still a work in progress (he is just 10-for-34 from deep this year), he’s turned into a solid mid-range shooter. But most impressively, his game off the bounce is far better than it has been in the past, and he’s been getting past defenders, getting into the lane, getting better than 45% of his shots at the rim and converting a healthy percentage of those. And defensively? Goodness, one would shudder to think how bad this USC team would be without the ball if Wesley were not around. Case in point, Wednesday night in their best win of the season over a streaking Cal team. Wesley checked Golden Bear sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace the bulk of the night, and held him to his first single-digit scoring output since early December, on just 2/10 shooting. Wesley may not be as flashy as some of the guys we’re going to talk about later, but if he was playing on a better team, he’d be getting all sorts of accolades.
Roberto Nelson, Oregon State – The Beavers actually have an abundance of talent, with Devon Collier, Eric Moreland, Angus Brandt, and Hallice Cooke all quality players who could be contributors all over the place (all of which their relative lack of success under under Craig Robinson more damnable). But Nelson is special. Early in the year, as some of his teammates were either suspended or building into their roles, defenses focused almost solely on Oregon State’s go-to guy, and yet he still found ways to score. Where once he was just a shooter, content to sit at the three-point line and launch, he’s developed a complete offensive game, stroking it from three with better accuracy than ever before (39.8%), getting past his defender and scoring in and around the lane (55.4% on shots at the rim), and earning a ton of trips to the line (7.6 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, good for 18th in the nation) where he makes a sparking 86.2%. Oh, and he leads his team in assists as well, handing out assists on better than a quarter of all his teammates hoops while he’s on the floor. Better yet, he’s doing all this while being a majorly high-usage guy; only nine guys in the nation use up more of his teams possessions than Nelson. And Nelson uses those possessions more efficiently than any one of those guys ahead of him. In other words, Nelson probably needs to be penciled in as a first-team All-Pac-12 guy. And if you want to start tracing over that pencil with a sharpie, you’ll probably be just fine.
C.J. Wilcox, Washington – You may have seen it late Thursday night; big jumpers late in the second half from the mysterious #23 in a Husky uniform to help his team defend its home court against Oregonian invaders. Washington has been off the national radar for (at least) a couple years, but if you haven’t been paying attention, Wilcox is in the midst of wrapping up a terrific career in great style. While Wilcox may not be the outright focal point of the Washington offense in the way that Nelson is at Oregon State, he’s a ridiculously good shooter with a certain NBA future ahead of him. The numbers don’t lie: 42.4% from deep, 51 % from two, and 86.1% from the free throw line. He’s not the kind of guy who is going to kill opposing defenders off the bounce, he doesn’t set up his teammates with well-dropped dimes, and he falls asleep defensively too often. But run this kid off a screen or two and get the 6’5” athlete a crack of space to check out the rim from anywhere within 25 feet or so and there’s a good chance the opposition is taking the ball out of the bottom of the net.
DaVonte Lacy, Washington State – One of the reasons that the Cougars are so darn bad this conference season is the simple fact that Lacy, by far their best player (and really, emphasize “by far”, because even those words do not convey just how far Lacy is ahead of his teammates), has missed all but 11 largely-ineffective minutes of conference play. When he did play in the non-conference, he was the one offensive wizard on an otherwise inept offensive team, averaging better than 18 a game, hitting 40% from deep, scoring on the drive, helping out with the ballhandling on a point-guard-absent team and even helping his undersized squad out on the glass. The Cougars were not very good even with Lacy out there, but since he’s been gone the difference has been hard to ignore – witness the 25-point outing against Arizona. Luckily for Cougar fans, in a season without much promise to begin with, in his absence head coach Ken Bone has been forced to accelerate the role that freshman Que Johnson has had to play. So, whenever Lacy is ready to come back, he should at least have a more confident running mate to help keep opposing defenses at bay.