An Under the Radar Pac-12 Newcomer Team

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 18th, 2014

More than a month into the season, we’ve had a chance to see each of the Pac-12 teams multiple times, with every school getting a crack or two (or more) at good competition. As for the returnees, we’ve already got a good idea of what to think of their games; but it’s been the newcomers who have made their impressions on us through five weeks. In the spirit of getting to know them, we’re going to put together a team – an honest-to-goodness team with a point guard and bigs and defenders and shooters – made from among our favorite newcomers in the league. Easy enough, you might say. Start with Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, Utah’s Jakob Poeltl and UCLA’s Kevon Looney and go from there, right? Nah, child’s play. Future NBA lottery picks are ineligible for this team. We’re going to dig a little deeper.

Arizona State Freshman Kodi Justice Running The Point: Bold Choice

Arizona State Freshman Kodi Justice Running The Point: Bold Choice

  • PG: Kodi Justice, Arizona State – He’s not your typical point guard. He’s not the small, quick athlete; he’s more of a long, lanky glider. But he’s got savvy and awareness; he’s capable of dropping a dime on his teammates’ hands given only the slimmest of openings. Back off of him and he’ll drill a three in your face. Get up on him and, even though he doesn’t exactly have the quickest first step, he’s got a good enough handle to slide by you and open things up on the move. This Arizona State team will have to make up for Justice’s average athleticism and defensive shortcomings for his position, but we’ll make up for it with great athletes everywhere else in this lineup.

  • SG: Gary Payton II, Oregon State – What’s not to love about The Mitten? We’re not going to do everybody a disservice and compare him to his Hall-of-Famer dad, but he’s got a little bit of a poor-man’s Delon Wright in him. Sure, the quality of his competition hasn’t been great yet, but he does a little bit of everything: scoring efficiently (40% from three; 61.4% from two; 85% from one), defending like, well, pops (4.3% block rate; 3.8% steal rate). And on a team with two 6’10” guys and a seven-footer earning minutes, he’s by far the team’s best rebounder. Plus, on our little group here, he’s not only capable of helping our point guard out with ball-handling duties, but he’s capable of taking on the opponent’s best perimeter threat every night out.
Gary Payton II At The Two Provides Plenty Of Versatility (Oregon State Athletics)

Gary Payton II At The Two Provides Plenty Of Versatility (Oregon State Athletics)

  • SF: Dillon Brooks, Oregon – On a team chock-full of newcomers, Brooks stands out. Oregon’s second-leading scorer at 15.4 points per night, he can do it in all sorts of ways. He’s attempted the second-most threes on the team (about 3.5 attempts per night) and is knocking them in at a 44.8 percent clip. He can take bigger defenders off the bounce and post up smaller guys if you try to switch on him. And he’s a terrific shot-maker in and around the paint, taking about half of his shots at the rim and converting almost 60 percent of those attempts. He’s a solid defender, a contributor on the glass and a terrific playmaker with the ball in his hands.
  • PF: Dwayne Benjamin, Oregon – Honestly, having Benjamin and Brooks on the same team may seem like overkill. They’re both insanely versatile players, capable of scoring from inside and out, able and willing defenders and passers, and just all-around smart ballplayers. But I couldn’t let this team get away without putting my favorite newcomer in the league on this team. This is a guy who is spending plenty of time at the four spot checking big guys and is also the Ducks’ best rebounder (21.8 DR%, 12.7 OR%, both among the top 135 in the nation). But in a pinch, you can also run the offense through him. So far, he’s only turning the ball over on two percent of his possessions (good for second in the nation), but he is also third on the squad in assist percentage, setting up 15 percent of his teammates’ hoops while he’s on the floor. He runs the floor; he can step out and hit the three; he can even help bring the ball up against pressure. Every team in the nation could use a Dwayne Benjamin.
  • C: Robert Upshaw, Washington – We’ve got athletes at the 2 through 4 spots, but as we admitted when we named Justice our point guard, we’re probably going to give up some dribble penetration here and there. With Upshaw manning the paint, though, we’ve got no worries. We can put Justice on an island, and we can have Payton, Brooks and Benjamin body up on their guys and try to force turnovers. If mistakes are made on the perimeter, the Washington seven-footer will clean them up with gusto in the middle. Eight games into the season, Upshaw is leading the nation in shot-blocking percentage, sending back 21.1 percent of opponents two-point field goal attempts when he’s in the game. Not coincidentally, a Huskies’ team that was downright bad defensively last season (allowing opponents to shoot 53.3 percent from inside the arc last year, good for 327th in the nation) is now pretty darn good (39th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to shoot just 37.7 percent from inside the arc, good for seventh in the nation). Let me clarify: This is basically the exact same Washington team exhibiting the same defensive problems on the perimeter, and all of a sudden, with the addition of Upshaw, the Huskies are suddenly a quality defensive team. Throw in terrific offensive rebounding, solid defensive rebounding, the ability to get to the line on a regular basis (nevermind that whole 38 percent free-throw shooting thing), and some improving offensive skills, and Upshaw may have the most upside of anybody in the conference.
Upshaw Protecting The Rim? Good Luck Offense (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

Upshaw Protecting The Rim? Good Luck Offense (Dean Rutz, Seattle Times)

  • Bench: Chris Reyes, Combo Forward, Utah; and Donaven Dorsey, Wing, Washington

My squad? We’re not going to go deep. We’re going to play seven guys and go hard for 40 minutes. When Justice needs a break, Payton will slide over and run the point with ball-handling help from Brooks and Benjamin. When Upshaw gets into foul trouble, as he most assuredly will, we’ll go really small and run a front line of Reyes and Benjamin at the four and the five. If Brooks needs a rest at the three, we’ll use a floor spacer on the wing, and that’s where Dorsey and his 43 percent three-point shooting comes into play. And if we run into any injuries, that’s what walk-ons and intramural recruiting are for. Those are my seven. Get your own team.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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