Brad Brownell had by far the most success of any of the new ACC coaches last season. He certainly landed in a nice place, with two very talented senior leaders in Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant. But in case you couldn’t tell, the man can flat out coach. After losing first round pick Trevor Booker, Brownell led the Tigers to their first NCAA Tournament win since Rick Barnes last did so back in 1997. This year he has a lot less to work with, but don’t think the Tigers won’t be fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid.
The first key for Clemson will be Andre Young. Young did a very good job last year sharing the backcourt responsibilities with Stitt. This year he needs to transition from off-the-ball sharpshooter who also spends time running the offense to floor general and, in announcer-speak, the straw that stirs the drink. Just behind Stitt in assists rate and offensive rating, it’s possible to argue he was the second most important player on the floor last season. Although it’s important to keep in mind that Young’s primary jobs were to allow Stitt to play off the ball some and keep opponents’ perimeter defenses honest, this year he’s going to need to really step into a bigger role, and it’s tough to tell how ready he’ll be.
After Young the Tigers desperately need a second option to step up. Milton Jennings, Tanner Smith and Devin Booker all have the talent and experience. The problem is none of them have lived up to their potential yet. Based on Smith’s play during the conference season last year (where he shot 39% from downtown), I’m inclined to choose him as the best second option but I think Smith thrives more as a rock-solid role player. You can count on him to efficiently put up ten or 12 points a game, but I’m not convinced he’ll exceed that with regularity. Booker showed flashes last year too, but mainly against less talented teams. It’s high time Clemson fans stopped comparing him to his older brother: even during his sophomore season, Trevor Booker was a much more efficient scorer. He didn’t settle for jumpers and shot well over fifty percent from inside the arc all four years. Unless Devin has put on some pounds and grit this summer, he won’t become a second or third option on offense.