Point Guard Play Still Hindering Virginia’s Offensive AttackPosted by Lathan Wells on November 13th, 2013
Lathan Wells is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from last night’s Virginia vs. VCU game in Charlottesville.
There were many proven commodities for Virginia coming into this season, with veterans Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell leading many first and second-team All-ACC preseason teams. The Cavs play great defense, and their ability to dictate tempo means that they’re almost always playing at a pace they’re comfortable with. The question mark coming into the season was how Virginia was going to replace its departing starting point guard, Jontel Evans? Or perhaps put more hopefully, how the Cavs were going to upgrade from him. After a 59-56 home loss to VCU on Tuesday night, the reviews on his prospective replacements are thus far less than inspiring.
Evans was largely known as a defensive specialist with limited offensive abilities. He was even more of a liability at the free throw line. Last season he averaged just four points and shot a paltry 37.5 percent from the charity stripe. This year, sophomore Malcolm Brogdon and freshman London Perrantes hoped to take over the reins of the offense and provide more scoring punch while also understanding their roles as facilitators to the team’s primary scorers, Harris, Mitchell, and Justin Anderson. Through two games now, Brogdon and Perrantes have done little to qualm Cavalier fans’ fears that the position has not improved.On Tuesday night, Virginia was once again done in by its inability of the point guard position to create offense late in the game or capitalize from the foul line. Through two games (also including an opening win over James Madison), Brogdon has logged six turnovers to two assists and missed a crucial free throw that would have given the Cavaliers the lead instead of allowing VCU to operate a final possession with overtime as Plan B. Brogdon was often invisible on offense, and many times the team had to bail him out of VCU’s backcourt traps. A team with a reliable point guard needs someone who can bring the ball across midcourt on the majority of possessions, no matter how stifling the pressure.
Perrantes, the surprise freshman from California, has four points through two games (all from the foul line), and has shown to be befuddled by strong on-ball pressure. He had four turnovers to one assist last night against the Rams. While freshmen point guards will take time to blossom, Perrantes is playing major minutes for a team whose NCAA Tournament hopes were undone by a slow start to the season last year. A non-conference home loss like this one, even to a very good VCU team, will resonate into March if Virginia again ends the year on the bubble.
VCU has the ability to fluster any opponent, but it couldn’t have been comforting for Virginia head coach Tony Bennett to watch the majority of his offense in the late stages of the game coming from the wings. Even with Perrantes and Brogdon playing in tandem, the team often looked much more comfortable allowing Harris, Anderson, and the other wing players make the passes inside to Mitchell, Mike Tobey, and the rest. While their size is an asset in making those passes, it also takes away from their ability to slash to the basket or create offense off of the dribble. In other words, they’re doing the point guard’s job, and it detracts from their natural offensive abilities.
This season is one with high hopes for the Cavaliers, and even with some transfers they brought much of their core talent back and possess more than adequate depth. The concern that could derail this team (other than horrific free throw shooting: 19-of-33 last night) is if the point guard position again forces them to play four-on-five on the offensive end of the court. This team has already had a defensive-minded point guard, and it earned the Cavaliers an NIT bid. If either Perrantes or Brodgdon can’t wrest the starting role full-time and become at least a moderate offensive threat, much of the onus will again fall on the shoulders of the wings to jump-start the offensive sets. That can lead to tired ballplayers and underachieving teams — the kind that drops winnable games against intrastate rivals at home.