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2014-15 Clemson Basketball Season Preview: Roster Evaluation

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We dig into Clemson basketball's roster and discuss each player and how they will contribute this season.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Departures

  • K.J. McDaniels
  • Ibrahim Djambo (Transferred to Hofstra)
  • Adonis Filer (Transferred to FAU)

Additions

  • Patrick Rooks (Returning from injury)
  • Gabe DeVoe
  • Donte Grantham
  • Avry Holmes (Will redshirt)

In addition to losing Devin Coleman to transfer (Temple) during the season, two other Tigers elected to transfer after the season. Adonis Filer, Clemson's backup for Rod Hall at point guard, who also played at shooting guard, saw too much competition at the guard positions and decided to be a big fish in a small pond at Florida Atlantic University. Filer's defense and ability to create his own shot will be missed, however he was a poor three-point shooter (.297) and was responsible for a large portion of Clemson's turnovers. With Gabe DeVoe now on roster, there will still be acceptable depth at point guard.

Ibrahim Djambo also elected to transfer which is troublesome from a depth standpoint because Clemson is so thin in the front court, but Djambo didn't provide the traditional big man stats (blocks, rebounds, FG%) so that doesn't worry me too much. What worries me is losing K.J. McDaniels. I didn't believe he would leave because it was such a poor career decision. I was worried he wouldn't be a first round pick, wouldn't get a big contract, and would pass up an opportunity to be the greatest Tiger in the program's history. Of course, I was wrong about him not leaving, but I was right about him going in the second round, taking a one-year deal, and (without what likely would have been a monster senior year) I can't imagine fans will view him as fondly as Horace Grant, Elden Campbell, Tree Rollins, or even Trevor Booker a decade from now.

So how does Clemson bounce back from losing a player like that? It'll be a major challenge. Nnoko is now a junior and will continue to build on the outstanding progress the made throughout last year. Damarcus Harrison and Rod Hall enter their senior seasons and will have to play a major role filling the void. In the following sections, we discuss the newcomers and returning players and how they'll contribute to the team in 2014-15.

On the Perimeter

PG - Rod Hall: If you could give any coach one wish regarding his personnel entering a given season, most would choose to have an experienced senior point guard on the roster. A relative afterthought in Clemson's five-man 2011 recruiting class, Rod Hall now enters his third season as Clemson's starting point guard. Not your traditional point guard in any sense, Hall is built more like a strong safety or running back. He has formed a brand of basketball centered around his body type and strength though, and is able to out-muscle essentially any lead guard he comes across on both ends of the court. For someone who is a sub-par ball-handler, Hall is very difficult to take the ball from because he uses his frame well to keep defenders out of his space, and for someone who is listed at 6-foot-1, he seemingly never has his shot blocked when he drives to the basket.

Hall's biggest shortcoming has always been his jump shot, but he has gradually worked to improve that and is now a competent threat to step out to even beyond the arc, where he made 32.8% of his attempts a season ago. His biggest improvement was at the free-throw line (from 59.7% to 75.7%), and he was very good at getting there with a team-leading FTRate of 55.1 (meaning more than half as many free throws as field goals). Having a point guard that can make free throws is a critical component of a successful team, and it's no surprise that Clemson's win total skyrocketed when they could put the ball in Hall's hands late in games and know he would produce when put on the stripe.

Last season, he improved upon his sophomore campaign in every offensive efficiency category while increasing the time he was on the court (ranked 266th in the nation in %Min at 81.2). Expect him to log even more minutes this season with no other true point guard on the roster.

Although he's not one to necessarily take the ball away from you (0.9 Stl%), he is solid on the defensive end for the aforementioned reason — his physicality. Players with elite quickness can certainly get past him, but on the whole he is a tough on-ball defender. He also ranked sixth in the nation last season in FC/40 (fouls committed per 40 minutes) at a mere 1.2, which is extremely impressive for someone who plays his style of basketball. It's comforting to know you won't have many stretches of play where your lead guard is in foul trouble.

Fans are quick to forget that, for all of K.J. McDaniels' positive attributes, when the shot clock was winding down, Hall was the player that Clemson got the ball to when it needed to make a play. Don't expect that to change this season. One criticism of Hall could be that he hasn't been aggressive enough in attacking defenses with penetration, where he is often quite successful. Expect Brownell to hammer home the need for Hall to get into the paint and finish or set up his teammates this season.

SG/SF - Austin Ajukwa: The Tigers return four of their five starters from last season, with McDaniels being the glaring omission, and Austin Ajukwa is a candidate to fill the void. After playing sparingly for the majority of his freshman season, Ajukwa began to earn more playing time later in the year, logging double-digit minutes in five of Clemson's last 10 games, including a season-high 23 minutes in the Tigers' 50-49 NIT win over Illinois. It sounds like he added a noticeable amount muscle to his frame in the off-season, which is certainly encouraging to hear coming into a year where he could push for significant playing time.

Although Ajukwa was far from a high-volume scorer, he posted an eFG% rating of 50.0 thanks to his ability from three-point range (42.9%). That ability to hit from long range could be key for Clemson this year as they search for shooters to help space the floor for Rod Hall and keep defenses from helping down on Landry Nnoko. Ball handling was a concern with Ajukwa last season, and that will need to be shored up if he is to be relied on in this backcourt.

Ajukwa has some work to do defensively, but he has the length and athletic ability to hold his own on that end of the court in due time. His FC/40 of 5.3 is indicative of the struggles he had on the defensive end last season, and the highest Stl% on the team (3.2) couples with that to emphasize his somewhat feast-or-famine approach on defense —something Brownell is likely not too keen on. It's important for coaches to stress playing defense with your feet and not your hands, and Clemson's staff will have to work with Ajukwa in that department.

Defensive rebounding will also be imperative for whoever is at the three-spot as the Tigers will spend much of the game going small with Blossomgame at the four, so if Ajukwa can contribute in that department (that added muscle should help here) he can potentially boost his minutes.

SG/SF - Damarcus Harrison: After doing so just four times in the Tigers' first 24 games last season, Damarcus Harrison scored in double figures in nine of the final 12 games and was the most noticeable difference during Clemson's strong finish. He made an adjustment to his jump shot prior to the season and shot markedly better from three-point range (35%) than he did his first year with the Tigers (22.4%). While not an elite ball-handler or passer, Harrison sported the best TORate on the team last season, so he is careful with the basketball if nothing else. Creating good shots for himself is not a particular strength, and thus he is prone to disappearing on offense for long stretches of games. He will need to be more consistent this season though, as Clemson will likely depend more on him for point production.

Defensively, Harrison is a bigger body who can match up pretty well with some of the ACC's larger guards. He is a bit limited athletically compared to other perimeter players on the roster, but he is pretty crafty on defense and is usually in good position. This is another player who is rarely in foul trouble. It would be nice to see him rebound more consistently, because there are times when he does that well.

Harrison is definitely one of those X-factor players that Clemson's success this season will likely hinge on. No single person is going to replace McDaniels' efforts, but several players will have to pitch in to make up for what was lost with his departure. Harrison is undoubtedly one of those players, and I would expect him to play with a sense of urgency in his senior season.

G - Jordan Roper: Roper is an elite athlete who is highly skilled, and if he were 6-foot-3 he could play anywhere in the country. But he's 5-foot-10, and thus has to rely heavily on that athleticism and skill to make himself a viable player in the ACC. He has primarily served as the Tigers' sixth man his first two years with the program, and he often provides an offensive boost when he enters the game because this man will shoot the ball. He will also likely serve as the team's backup point guard this season with the departure of Filer.

His shooting numbers through two seasons are puzzling, because his field goal efficiency ratings were nearly identical (47.7 and 48.2 eFG%), but his three-point percentage dropped dramatically — 41.4% to 32% — while he substantially improved his percentage on two-point shots — 35.8% to 48.3%. My eyes tell me that he is a quality jump shooter, and I think both of those percentages should be somewhere between those extremes this season. He is a pretty good creator and is Clemson's one true threat — aside from Harrison, perhaps — to knock down a pull-up jumper. He can drive and finish in the paint, even at his height, because he elevates well and has soft touch when using the glass.

Roper tends to be a liability on defense because of his frame and, at times, a bit of disinterest. So he does give up baskets, but he also takes the ball away at a pretty high rate (ranked 188th nationally in Stl% as a freshman at 3.3) and has a knack for picking off lazy swing passes.

As someone who is heavily relied on to provide scoring punch, Roper will be a key player for Clemson who can hopefully help the Tigers avoid the scoring droughts we have become accustomed to.

G - Patrick Rooks: It was certainly a blow to a Clemson team in need of three-point shooting to lose Rooks, billed as a sharpshooter, to a hip injury prior to last season. He returns this season to a crowded backcourt where he will have to prove he is back in basketball shape and can contribute on both ends to earn minutes.

Rooks plays like a shooter in that he appears to understand floor spacing and puts himself in position to get shots. He has a high release, so he only needs little more than a quality jab step to get enough room to fire a shot. He is good enough off the dribble to beat you if you over-commit and has a feathery touch in the paint. Long-range shooting is where Rooks has the potential to make a name for himself at Clemson though, and if he returns at full strength from the injury he could provide an excellent three-point threat off the bench for the Tigers.

G - Gabe DeVoe: DeVoe flew under the radar of many major programs on the recruiting trail, but Brownell and his staff were validated by his inclusion in Rivals' final top 150, where he ranked as the No. 121 player in the nation. An intriguing combo guard prospect, DeVoe has the tools to play the point or on the wing. He is probably better suited for the two-guard spot, but it's possible fans may see him get some playing time at the point here and there because he is a solid ball-handler and excellent passer.

Not an overwhelming athlete, DeVoe relies more on craftiness on the offensive end, and his seemingly unlimited range can provide the opportunity to get in the paint, where he uses his thicker frame well to convert baskets. It's fair to think DeVoe might struggle on the defensive end, at least early in his career, and minutes may be hard to come by as a result. However, this is a player that knows how to score the basketball, and that is something a coaching staff can never ignore.

In the Post

C - Landry Nnoko: Landry Nnoko is the Tigers' starting center and Associate Head Coach Mike Winiecki's shining example of player development. Nnoko became the starter in 2013-14 after the graduation of Devin Booker. Early in the season his offensive skill set was extremely limited and he was a liability with the ball. Even more problematic though was his propensity to get into quick foul trouble. Through his first 18 games, he averaged 2.8 fouls per game in just 24.6 MPG. That's 4.5 fouls/40 min! Over the his final 17 games he cut his fouls per game to 2.7 while increasing him MPG to 31.9 MPG. That's only 3.4 fouls/40 mins. By cutting his fouls down, Landry Nnoko became a great defensive player. He blocked 7.6% of opponents 2-point shots (2.0 BPG) while on the court, second only to McDaniel's 8.9%. With McDaniels gone, Nnoko will be the linchpin to the Tiger defense.

Offensively, there will be a lot of offense to make up for in 2014-15. K.J. McDaniels took 29.4% of Clemson's shots while he was on the court and had the second highest eFG% at 50.5. Nnoko was the only Tiger with a higher eFG% at 54.8, but he only took 13.4% of the team's shots while on the court. If he can increase his role in the offense while holding his eFG% above 50, the Tigers offensive will greatly benefit. I have never seen a player increase his skill set and production gradually throughout the season as I saw with Nnoko last season. As a result, I am confident that he can be the key on the defense while expanding his role in the offense.

F - Jaron Blossomgame: Last season Jaron showed a lot of potential, earning Rookie of the Week honors for his 14 and 14 performance in Clemson's 72-59 win over Duke, but he also showed some of the correctable flaws you might expect from a redshirt freshman. He struggled with pick and roll defense, often losing the pick man and giving up easy baskets. He also shot a disappointing 10-50 from three for a 3P% of just 20.0. At that percentage he is not a credible threat from distance, which hurts floor spacing.

With his first healthy offseason now under his belt, it's reasonable to expect some major positive strides from the underclassman from Alpharetta. Coach Brownell has stated that one of his goals is to improve the team's competency from beyond the arc, and Blossomgame has worked hard in that area during the offseason. In Summer workouts, he led the team in 3P%. Becoming more dangerous from the outside will force the oftentimes bigger defenders to come out of the paint and defend him. This could open the opportunity for him to do more with the ball in his hands as well as create better floor spacing just by being a threat.

Last season, he was very solid on the defensive glass. He finished with a DR% of 16.5 and an OR% of 8.4. Without McDaniels, he'll be called upon to pick up the slack by both defending the glass and clearing it. He only had 13 blocks all of last season, but I expect that number to increase in his second season as the starter.

This year, we're hoping to see more consistent defense and better free throw shooting from Blossomgame. Additionally, if he can become a credible threat from three and flash the ability to knock down the elbow jumper, it will keep defenses honest and open up his ability to blow by defenders for post shots.

I expect Blossomgame to be the starter at power forward and if he shows the progress outlined above, he could be a crucial cog in helping the Tigers accomplish more than they ever did with the great K.J. McDaniels 2014-15. "B-Game" may be the biggest X-factor for the Clemson Tigers due to his high potential from the four-spot and the lack of depth behind him.

C- Sidy Djitte: Raw as can be, Djitte found ways to contribute despite having almost no ball skills and a shot that would make Shaquille O'Neal look like Reggie Miller. Sidy Djitte was just 2-12 from the free throw line and posted a sub-par FG% of 41.9 which was identical to his eFG% because he didn't shoot any threes (thank goodness).

Fortunately, he was a superb rebounder collecting 16.4% of offensive rebounding opportunities and 19.5% of defensive rebounding opportunities. He will need to be more careful defensively where offenses were able to quickly get him into foul trouble, as he committed 7 fouls per 40 minutes. If he can get that number down, he'll be able to get more playing time, and continue to contribute as a rebounder. He only took 11.1% of the reams shots while he was on the court last year, and that number doesn't necessarily need to go up, but he needs to be more efficient with those shots and start making the shots from point blank range. With the great coaching Mike Winiecki provides, I expect to see enough development to make him a more than serviceable backup for Landry Nnoko.

F/C - Josh Smith: Josh Smith was on the court for about 20% of the teams total minutes last  season (10 MPG in the contests that he participated in). With the departure of Djambo who was also on the court for about 20% of the team's minutes and McDaniels (who played a little PF when the team went with a small lineup), I expect Smith's minutes to hold steady or even grow if Donte Grantham is unable to play at the power forward position.

At 35.2, he had the worst eFG% on the team last year. He also shot just .500 from the free throw line. Smith is entering his junior season, so it's possible Coach Wineicki's magic is about to click, but it's more likely Josh Smith will continue to be limited athletically and fail to pose a scoring threat. His Ortg (offensive rating) of 74.5 was very low, but especially so for someone with a smaller usage rate. He doesn't need to score a lot for this offense, but he should be more efficient with his limited touches. I hope to see that Ortg number improve in his junior year.

Fortunately, he is a good rebounder and pulled in the second most defensive rebounds per opportunity on the team in 2013-14. He isnt' the quickest, but he showed improvement throughout the season defensively. If he can just provide Clemson with defense and rebounding, he'll be doing what is needed.

There is a lack of depth at PF. Blossomgame has a high upside that I'm very excited about, but after that it's really just Grantham, who is more of a small forward, and Josh Smith. Front court health will be a major factor in this team's success. Josh Smith is by no means an afterthought. We need Josh Smith to play his role.

F - Donte Grantham: Grantham was the 75th ranked player (Rivals) in the nation and was seriously pursued by Michigan coming out of Hargrave Military Academy. Fortunately for Clemson, Brownell was in on the recruiting process very early on and earned Donte's loyalty. As a result, Gratham became the first four-star recruit to join the program under Brownell.

Grantham is 6'8" and averaged 9.7 rebounds per game, but is more of a true small forward. He weights 205lbs and it may be hard for him to bang in the paint with the elite bigs in the ACC (e.g., Syracuse lists four players as forwards that are heavier than him). If you take a look at his tape, you'll see him effectively taking the ball coast to coast, hitting jumpers from the short corner, and even knocking down threes. (He shot 43% from three last year at Hargrave. Meanwhile, Clemson's top two three point shooter with at least 50 attempts was Harrison at 35%.)

I asked a current player if he looked more like a post player or a guy on the perimeter and was told "He's versatile but more perimeter. He can shoot the ball pretty well and he's skilled dribbling," which I thought was an apt description. That said, due to his height and the lack of depth behind Blossomgame, we've listed him "In the Post."

Brownell will have an interesting dilemma working him into the lineup. With Hall, Harrison, Blossomgame, and Nnoko likely the big minute-getters, Grantham could pull playing time from the small guards (Roper, DeVoe, Rooks) and shift Harrison down to the two guard. He could also pull time from Ajukwa at the three and serve as Harrison's primary back-up. Ideally, he is able to log minutes behind Blossomgame at PF, in which case a bigger chunk of his minutes would come from Josh Smith. He's said "I can play both [positions] and getting him time at both positions would be the best case scenario so hopefully that's how it plays out.

He averaged 24.7 PPG at Hargrave and has a skill set to come in and make an immediate impact for an offense that will be searching for a scorer and a second facilitator after Rod Hall. As we've seen with Devin Coleman, great offense with average defense doesn't buy playing time on Brownell's squad, so we'll see how far along he is on that side of the ball and how quickly he gets playing time.

Perimeter players by Jay Ingles. Post players by Ryan Kantor.