Next year will be the final year in Littlejohn Coliseum as we know it, and our expectations will be much higher than they were entering this season. That's a result of better than projected play this season, as well as maturation and growth that we were expecting. As we look at what the future holds for Clemson basketball, each of our basketball writers has tackled some key questions below.
Does K.J. stay?
Ryan: The answer to this question may go further than any other in determining what we can accomplish next year. It's impossible to guess given all the personal circumstances we are not privy to, but we'll try. My take is he stays and I say that for couple reasons. He is not an especially good shooter and is shooting a career low .280 from 3 on the season. Additionally, he has a relatively slow shot release. He is not an especially good dribbler, though not bad, and he is not a good passer (1.5-2.3 AST-TO Ratio). What he does have going for him is unbelievable athletic ability, but much like speedy QBs when they jump to the NFL, that advantage is largely negated at the next level.
He has improved drastically since his first year. This year's NBA draft is loaded, and Brownell has shown the ability to develop players over their time at Clemson. Should K.J. elect to stay, he will have an opportunity to improve in key areas and go higher in the draft. If he improves his shooting and passing, I believe he can be an above-average NBA player.
SuperTigerC: Games like the one in Winston-Salem demonstrate that there are still some holes in K.J.'s game, especially as a perimeter scorer. His development rate has been nothing short of remarkable as you can say he's taken a huge leap in each of his three seasons in Clemson. Unlike the NFL where a guy with his kind of athletic skill would seriously consider a jump knowing somebody would take a shot on potential (see Martavis Bryant), the NBA draft is only 2 rounds and only first rounders get guaranteed contracts. K.J. would have to project as a mid-first round guy to seriously consider going. You don't want anything lower than that because of all the X-factors with international prospects being a real unknown for the most part (and several steal first round draft positions even if they elect to stay overseas every year). Going early and not getting drafted first round equates to a major mistake in 90% of the cases in basketball.
Brownell will have a lot to sell K.J. in terms of staying. With McDaniels, this could easily be the best team Brownell has had at Clemson (surpassing his first team, which was pretty darn good). K.J. would have another offseason to continue to develop as a playmaker and perimeter shooter. He is a bit of a tweener in terms of NBA projection. It is akin to having a Ricky Sapp type DE in football who is bigger than your OLB but smaller than your typical DE on the next level. As for K.J., his size equates to a 2 man in the NBA but his skills fit the 3 position better. He isn't a jump shooter really, as his 3-point shot is much more of a set shot at this point. As Ryan mentioned, his ball handling is just OK and he has struggled at times driving it into traffic. He does have a good first step and as we all know incredible explosion off the floor. Right now, K.J.'s value on the next level is much more as a defender than an offensive player. Greg Buckner carved out a very nice career in the NBA as a good defender who could score a little here and there. That is what McDaniels would be expected to do at this point. K.J.' s upside as a potential scorer is greater than Buckner's was, however, and Brad will sell it hard to him to take that next step and solidify himself as a first round selection.
Do Patrick Rooks and Gabe DeVoe solidify the #2 position?
Ryan: Demarcus Harrison has come on strong late in the season and given us hope for what could be a strong senior year. Additionally, Patrick Rooks a 6'3" sharpshooter out of Charlotte will join the team. He was a member of last season's recruiting class, but a hip injury forced a medical redshirt. Given his only other scholarship offer was from UNC-Charlotte, I'm tempering expectations, but from what I can tell, he may give us a legitimate threat from 3-point territory. Finally, Gabe DeVoe joins the program and has an opportunity to make an impact. He is only a 2-star recruit, so you can see why I was none too pleased when I saw he signed, however further research has completely changed my mind. From what I can tell, he is a good shooter (39% from 3 and 61% from 2 this year) and creates his own shot by attacking the basket.
SuperTigerC: It is certainly good to have seen Harrison play more to the level folks thought he could coming out of Christ School. As a prospect he was more highly rated than Rooks and DeVoe. Some of this was due to Christ School being able to play some big time schools thanks to Harrison sharing the floor with the Plumlee brothers. I wouldn't worry that much about Rooks' relatively low profile coming out. He played at Charlotte Christian High, the same school that produced the Curry brothers. He would have most likely been the top perimeter shooter on the team right away had he been able to play. He wasn't as physically developed as Harrison was or as DeVoe is now coming in, but that was the knock on Steph Curry and Seth Curry much to the delight of Davidson and Liberty (until Seth transferred to Duke). Not to say he's that good but folks I talked to at the NCISAA level say he's in that discussion as a shooter. He'll need to prove his handles are good enough to deal with the ball pressure at this level.
As for DeVoe, he has put up ridiculous numbers this season. He finished the year at 33.7 ppg; 10.3 rebounds; 3.7 assists; 2.5 steals; and 1.7 blocks. He's certainly better than a 2-star player, but he didn't face much elite competition at Shelby during the year. It is only a 2A level school and he was the biggest and baddest dude on the floor most nights. However, dropping 40 and 50 in games, which he did, isn't anything to blink at no matter what level you are on. It should be safe to say DeVoe should be able to provide double figure scoring ability from the moment he gets to campus. He has gotten good marks from folks coaching against him for his efforts on defense which bodes well for his playing right away. He's got the body to work around the paint much more than Rooks. He has had some huge games shooting 3's as well, though it should be noted a lot of folks had no answer in defending him in high school due to his getting matched up with opposing posts a good bit or just seeing a lot of zone. If nothing else, there is going to be a war for minutes at the 2 next season with Ajukwa and Harrison returning and Rooks and DeVoe coming on. This isn't even counting Jordan Roper playing at the 2 at all, which he has done a good bit his first two years, or K.J. playing some 2.
Can Donte Grantham be an impact freshman?
Mark: I'm torn as to how I would like to see Brad Brownell handle the talented incoming freshman. Grantham is tough, but he isn't a power forward. That being said, I'm afraid that we are going to ask him to do what we asked Jaron Blossomgame to do and play out of position. Grantham is tough and can drive to the basket, but he is a shooter that I don't want to see get lost in the paint just because we need a body to play at the 4. Personally, I would like to see him play about 10-15 minutes a game. He isn't going to start because he is blocked by McDaniels, but I could see him making a big impact off of the bench, especially when McDaniels needs a breather, or gets in foul trouble.
SuperTigerC: Fingers crossed, but you would have to say absolutely. The fingers are crossed because of Clemson getting snake bit with injuries to guys like Coleman, Blossomgame, and Rooks the last two seasons. I seriously doubt Coleman would be gone from the program had he been able to play last year and pick up from where he left off as a freshman. Blossomgame is still working to get caught up in his lower body strength from having to spend more than a year in rehab.
Should Grantham come in and be 100% heading into the season, it would be hard to think he won't be starting or at least the sixth man right off the bat. He is the highest rated recruit since Milton Jennings, and before you snicker about Jennings, Grantham had offers from some programs that don't waste time with mental softness, which was a knock on Jennings coming out of Pinewood Prep. Guys like Bob Huggins don't come after guys that aren't tough. The interesting thing to watch is what position Grantham plays. Will be be at the four or the three? What will this mean for Blossomgame's primary position next year? I like the fact that guys like K.J., Jaron, and Grantham offer versatility. Clemson could actually put a pretty big lineup on the floor next year if it plays K.J. together with Blossomgame and Grantham.
Will there be any depth behind Landry Nnoko?
Mark: Sadly, I have to say no. While I agree, the Tiger big men have exceeded expectations on the defensive end of the court, I can't say that they are just a year away from having an offensive game. While the Tigers are adding 3 talented players to the roster next year, Clemson will have the same problem that they have this year. Nnoko is close to having a respectable offensive game, but he is a foul machine (4.3 fouls per 40), though better of late, and when he sits, we lose all threats of inside scoring. Djitte is still 2 or 3 years away and I don't believe Smith will ever turn into an offensive threat. Clemson needs to add an offensive minded center in the next recruiting class or they could be in trouble in the coming years.
Ryan: Based on what I heard while sitting behind the Clemson bench for a game, Brad Brownell is well aware of Sidy Djitte's limitations on offense. I expect an off-season of training will yield a player who can at least somewhat finish around the rim. While I don't expect him to develop great post-moves in one year, I do expect him to make lay-ups and tip-ins.
Ibrahim Djambo will be in his last year with the program. A year of weight training should do him wonders, as I've said multiple times, he does not do the things we need out of our bigs and shoots significantly more 3-pointers than 2-pointers. I expect these two to do a better job backing up a further improved Landry Nnoko.
SuperTigerC: Djitte is having to do more right now that he should due to the lack of depth in the post. This is the area where the end of the OP era into the Brownell era put a major hole in the roster. Clemson has held up better inside than I thought they would going into the season. A lot of credit should go to Coach Winiecki for getting Nnoko up a level. Djitte is in a very similar development stage now as Landry was last year but has had to play a lot more because we don't have veteran posts on the team like last year. If he can get to where Nnoko is now next year, we should see a nice jump in production from the 5 on offense. Nnoko is already a good defender and rebounder and Djitte has a nose for the ball as well. Doing about a trillion Mikan Drills between now and next year should do wonders for Sidy. It is hard to know what will happen with Djambo. We know we have a numbers situation with two guys coming in and only one available scholly that Coleman freed up by transferring. Needless to say he has a lot of work to do to get consistent minutes. It would be nice if that jump shot he was supposed to give us would being to make an appearance.
What will become of Jaron Blossomgame?
Mark: Jaron Blossomgame is in an extremely uncomfortable situation. With the addition of Grantham, Clemson has an absolute logjam at small forward with McDaniels, Grantham, and Blossomgame. Jaron has sucked it up and played the 4 for a bulk of this season because he is an excellent rebounder. It shows a lot about his character that he is willing to come in and play a position that he just isn't built for. That being said, his experiment at the 4 hasn't gone well this year. He doesn't have the size to play inside offensively and has been loose with the ball while driving to the basket. I would say about 75% of the time he drives to the basket against opposing big men, the ball gets stripped. Jaron will be asked to play the power forward position again next year and in order to be successful he is going to have to hit the weight room and add about 15 pounds of muscle and work significantly on his close range game. From everything that I have heard about the young man, he will face this challenge head on and do what is best for the team just like he has done this year. However, if it doesn't work out, he could unfortunately be the odd man out in a 3-man rotation at small forward.
SuperTigerC: This is a great question indeed. I brought this up earlier but my guess is Jaron will see time at both the 4 and the 3 next season. Right now we just can't take K.J. out much at all and Djambo not giving us much has made it where Jaron has had to play exclusively at the 4. His backup is Josh Smith who lacks the athleticism to be a real factor and does better at the five position in limited minutes. Grantham coming in gives Brad another athletic guy who can play both the 4 and the 3. The potential is there to play both together or even play "small" with one at the 5. A front line of Blossomgame, McDaniels, and Grantham would be intriguing to say the least in some situations. I think having three guys who can legitimately play two positions will be a real plus for the team next year. Jaron will be able to play some 3 when a guy like Grantham is around to play the 4. If K.J. leaves early he will no doubt get to play the 3 a lot more.
Finally, what are you expectations for next season?
Mark: Next year has to be the year. I see McDaniels returning for his senior season unless he falls victim to the agents whispering in his ear telling him he will be a lottery pick. Clemson added the shooting threat that they needed in Gabe DeVoe and Grantham won't be afraid to pull the trigger. With no seniors on this year's roster and another year to perfect the system, it's NCAA Tournament or bust. The pressure is going to be on Brad Brownell as he needs to find the right rotation which will be difficult with an extremely guard heavy roster.
Ryan: Coming into this year. I was hopeful for an NIT bid, but realistically just wanted to show improvement and get near the .500 mark. Obviously, I'm pleased that my expectations were far exceeded. Next year, my expectations will be much higher. This of course assumes K.J. returns, but if he does this should be an NCAA tournament squad.
The ACC will improve with the Maryland-Louisville swap while other teams like Wake Forest improve. Nevertheless, the added depth from the incoming freshman, a healthy Patrick Rooks, more time for the bigs to develop, and maybe most importantly, more time for a very young team to mature brings me to expect a few more wins despite a tougher schedule.
SuperTigerC: NCAA tourney has to be the goal for next year's team with McDaniels back. The ACC will be tough, but it is always tough. Clemson fans should understand that Brad Brownell can flat out coach and if his talent is anywhere near the middle to upper middle portion of the league the team will challenge for a top 5 position. The talent on this year's team is somewhere between 10-14 in the league and they are playing well above that. The addition of a top 100 player and what would be a "six star recruit" should K.J. come back to go with a veteran point guard and developing 5 man should excite the Tiger faithful. Really, this year's team is very close to being what UVA has become but needs a boost in scoring ability and shooting that guys like Rooks, DeVoe, and Grantham should help provide. If Harrison can continue playing at the level he has demonstrated the last 4 games, it is all the more reason to believe this will be a 22+ win team next year.