Last season Jaron Blossomgame only played in 52.6% of the team's minutes (%Mins), and while on the court took just 15.9% of Clemson's shots (%Shots). He was a role player putting up 4.9ppg and 5.0rpg.
Jump a season ahead and 4/5 of Clemson's starters are back. K.J. McDaniels is gone, and in the three-spot is freshman Donte Grantham. We hypothesized that Rod Hall or Landry Nnoko would be the ones to pick up the slack in a lineup no longer featuring "Flight32," but it's been Jaron Blossomgame. He is no longer a role player, he's the star player.
Coach Brownell has used Jaron Blossomgame much more heavily this season. Through the Virginia game (1/13/2015) he has played in 79.5% of the team's minutes and taken 23.0% of the team's shots while on the court. Only Hall has a higher %Mins and only Grantham has a higher %Shots. He has become the most heavily utilized scorer in the Clemson offense (product of %Mins and %Shots). He is averaging 13.7ppg and 8.3rpg — both team highs.
In preparation for our Shakin the Southland Clemson Basketball Preview, we connected with Blossomgame. He told us:
"Our coaches did a really good job at helping me work on that (three-point shooting) and other areas of my game like driving to pass and to score. Overall I feel like I'm 10 times better than last year, but we will have to take it day-by-day until the season starts." - Jaron Blossomgame
Looking back, that is pretty prophetic.
His ability to drive to the basket has been the biggest improvement in his game from a season ago. It has helped him create more shots close to the basket. Last season he made only 52 two-point shots. He's already made 65 this season. Below you see the result of his improved dribbling and quickness.
Additionally, he has increased his assists per game from 0.4 to 1.3. To ensure that his bump in the traditional stats (e.g., points per game, assists per game) isn't just a product of playing a bigger role in the offense, we can look at his offensive rating (Ortg), a measure of a player's efficiency. Despite playing a larger role in the offense, Blossomgame has actually manged to be more efficient, improving his Ortg from a respectable 97.0 to an outstanding 108.4. Blossomgame's three-point shooting is up seven percentage points, and his FT% is up 10 percentage points.
"This summer was really crucial for me and my development. With K.J. leaving, I knew that would open up opportunity for guys to step up into a new role, and I knew I was capable of that. I worked really hard this summer on being a better player and how to play to my strengths, and I've been successful with that all season so far.
This summer did help my leg, but I'm past all the issues with my leg — it's back to normal now. I feel healthier and more athletic as I'm sure you've seen so far.
Yeah, this offseason was strictly business with me and basketball. I take the game seriously so I just worked and worked and it's finally paying off. The hard work I put in this summer motivates me to do the same thing every offseason so I can become the best player I can be." - Jaron Blossomgame
It is encouraging to know that we have what I would call a "real gamer" on the team — someone who takes the game "seriously" and is willing to put in the hard work to improve. If you needed more reason to tune in to Clemson basketball, I hope this young man's hard work is enough. Obviously, this 9-7 start isn't quite what we had in mind, but KenPom projects Clemson to close out the remaining regular season games well enough to finish at .500. That puts Clemson within an upset of two of another NIT berth. This Saturday's (4 p.m.) home game against Syracuse is a prime opportunity to get back in the hunt to be "playing in March with a chance to advance," and that's what Jaron's hard work has all been for:
"At the end of the day, I just want to WIN." - Jaron Blossomgame
Statistics as of 1/14/2014