Future of St. John’s Basketball Resides In Its Freshman Backcourt

Posted by Mike Knapp on January 18th, 2017

For a lot of schools, a record of 9-11 that includes two losing streaks of four or more games might sound disastrous. And while St. John’s certainly isn’t happy with its record to this point of the season, the Red Storm have already matched their win total from a year ago and must be pleased with the glimpses of potential the fourth-youngest roster in college basketball has shown. Fortunately for head coach Chris Mullin, two of his talented underclassmen in particular are showing signs of leading a future Big East juggernaut. St. John’s freshman backcourt of Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds have made the Red Storm one of the more promising, and entertaining, nine-win teams in college basketball.

Marcus LoVett has St. John’s future looking up. (St. John’s Athletics)

LoVett’s strengths lie in his brilliance with the ball in his hands, while Ponds is an elite scorer and athlete. But what makes the freshmen pair so difficult to defend is how interchangeable they are. LoVett may technically be the starting point guard — he logs 81 percent of the total minutes at the position — but Ponds regularly slides over to that role, even with LoVett on the floor, to give the opposing defense a different look. And while Ponds may play off the ball more often — he takes 66 percent of the shooting guard minutes — LoVett regularly assumes this role as well. Even better, they do so with excellent efficiency — both have effective field goal percentages over 55 percent and assist rates over 20 percent. With apologies to De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk at Kentucky, no other freshman backcourt in America boasts such impressive numbers, making the Red Storm a tricky match-up for perimeter defenses.

LoVett and Ponds’ individual success has not, however, easily translated to team success. Despite each player contributing an efficient 17 points and three assists per contest, the Red Storm’s offense sometimes struggles with the pair on the floor. Per Hoop Lens, St. John’s scores slightly more points per possession and its shooting improves while their freshman stars are on the bench. This juxtaposition can be explained with the recognition that even talented freshmen need coaching. The Red Storm backcourt is certainly dangerous in how they can both play each other’s positions, but the tradeoff is that they both, at this point in their careers, need the ball in their hands to be effective. Going forward, the biggest question Mullin needs to answer is how he can construct an offense that allows Ponds and LoVett to best complement each other’s talents. Too many possessions currently end with contested pull-up jumpers from one or the other, but it should be clear to anyone paying attention that St. John’s is, with its young but growing backcourt, building a foundation for a very bright future.

Mike Knapp (8 Posts)

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