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Clemson Basketball 2015-16 Season Preview: Roster Evaluation

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We take a look at the Clemson basketball roster and discuss what each player can contribute this season.

Donte Grantham and Jaron Blossomgame will be expected the carry the load for Clemson this season.
Donte Grantham and Jaron Blossomgame will be expected the carry the load for Clemson this season.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Departures:

  • Rod Hall
  • Damarcus Harrison
  • Austin Ajukwa (transfer)
Additions:
  • Avry Holmes (now eligible after transfer)
  • Ty Hudson
  • Legend Robertin
  • Marquise Reed (will sit out due to transfer)
  • Shelton Mitchell (will sit out due to transfer)
The departures of Rod Hall and Damarcus Harrison were obviously expected as both exhausted eligibility, but the loss of Austin Ajukwa less than two weeks before the first game of the season was unexpected and puzzling. Ajukwa reportedly had unrealistic expectations with regard to playing time, which is interesting considering he should have been in line for a solid 15 minutes per game with the potential to earn more. He was basically the only option at the small forward spot behind Donte Grantham and could easily have logged some minutes at a two-guard spot that lacks depth, size and defensive ability. He essentially wanted starter minutes and was not satisfied with what very well could have been a sixth-man type role. It's a shame and is an undeniable blow to Clemson's perimeter depth.

The Tigers return a solid nucleus with Grantham, Jaron Blossomgame and Landry Nnoko, but guardplay will be the big question mark as they aim to replace Hall and Harrison.

On the Perimeter

PG - Avry Holmes: The plan when Clemson accepted Holmes as a transfer from San Francisco was that he would step in a year later to fill the starting point guard void left by Rod Hall, and it appears that remains Brad Brownell's intention. Holmes immediately becomes Clemson best perimeter shooting threat after knocking down 41.9% of his three-point attempts two years ago. We will reserve judgment on his ability to smoothly operate the offense, but Brownell is obviously convinced enough in said ability to hand him the reigns. Holmes is faster than Hall and should provide Clemson with a more significant threat to push the ball and try to get easy baskets - something the Tigers have to get more of.

Defensively, Holmes is a downgrade from Hall. He is quicker, which may help him stay in front of drivers a bit better, but he isn't the physical specimen Hall was and won't be able to frustrate lead guards with the kind physicality Hall brought to the table. This may be the area where Holmes is tasked with the biggest adjustment from the West Coast Conference to the ACC, as this conference sports some of the nation's more lethal guards.

You hate to heap too much expectation onto the shoulders of one player, especially one in his first on-the-court year with the program, but Holmes' effectiveness could be the number one determinant of how good Clemson is this season. This team is going to have to score more, because it is nearly assured to take a step back defensively. If Holmes can distribute effectively and also provide the long-range shooting threat this team has lacked for years, the Tigers can be very competitive.

PG - Ty Hudson: Hudson was a good get on the recruiting trail for this staff (4-star according to ESPN; Rivals 150 member) and should be capable enough as a freshman to serve as Holmes' primary backup at the point. Hudson is a good ball-handler and distributor, and while his shot is a work in progress, he is crafty in the lane and finishes well with that left hand off the bounce.

There's not much to go off when trying to project Hudson's prospects on the defensive end, but he is a physically strong athlete who should be a competent defender at the minimum. We will be able to gauge Brownell's confidence in the freshman early on to see how much of a role he can potentially play this season.

SG - Jordan Roper: It seems like Roper has been with the Tigers forever, and he has finally reached his senior season, when he will likely have an undisputed spot as the team's starting shooting guard. We know what to expect from Roper at this point. He is a streaky shooter who will have games where he scores 20 and also games where he can't get anything to fall. We saw last season that when Roper is playing well offensively, this team is usually in good position to win games. More consistent play from the senior would certainly be a positive for this team, but projecting that to happen would be hopeful at best and foolish at worst.

Defensively, Roper is opportunistic and one of better thieves on the team, but as a fundamental defensive player he doesn't offer a whole lot, mostly because he is just too small to compete with the larger guards Clemson is facing 90% of the time.

Despite his clear defensive shortcomings, expect Roper to play a bunch unless Gabe Devoe emerges unexpectedly to steal minutes from him. The team will undoubtedly look to him for leadership as he is a heady veteran that's the one guard on the team that we know actually wants the ball in pressure situations. Roper is going to shoot you into some games and shoot you out of some, so Clemson just has to hope the former outnumbers the latter.

SG - Gabe Devoe: Devoe had a couple decent games late last season, but on the whole his freshman season was a disappointment. With Ajukwa's transfer announcement, Devoe is the lone two-guard left to back up Roper. If you take a look at his numbers from a year ago, that inspires anything but confidence. Billed as a shooter/scorer coming out of high school, he shot just 26.8% from the field (25% from three, where he supposedly excelled). More concerning than his numbers, though, was simply Devoe's demeanor on the court, which lacked any sort of confidence and frequently bordered on confusion. He did not have the swagger of a guy who scored a million points per game in high school. He obviously was faced with a significant step up in competition, but we only saw that scorer's mentality once, maybe twice all season.

Simply put, Devoe is a liability on the perimeter on defense. He offers a bigger body than Roper, but he is slow-footed and really struggles to stay in front of penetrating guards. Like Roper, he's smart enough to grab a crafty steal every once in a while, but he won't be any kind of defensive upgrade when he enters the game.

Devoe is only a sophomore, so he has plenty of career left to become a quality player. Clemson desperately needs him to show signs of improvement this season, however, lest he go the way of so many other recent Tiger guards we've seen that just couldn't compete at this level.

SF - Donte Grantham: In his first season, Grantham contributed as much as any true freshman in recent memory at Clemson. His campaign was fraught with the inconsistency you would expect from a first-year player, but he showed the potential to be an impact player for the Tigers for the next few seasons. Grantham did not shoot the ball well from a percentage standpoint, and those who watched the Tigers know that much of that was a result of poor shot selection. We saw Brownell stick with his freshman small forward through some poor performances that included far too many forced shots. That should be a good thing in the long run, as Grantham is a key part of the program's future and needed as much game experience and opportunity to work through struggles as possible. I would expect that he will be smarter with his shot selection this season (Bronwell needs to make sure of it), but as one of Clemson's top threats on offense, he will still have to take a high volume of shots if the Tigers are going to stick around on the scoreboard.

Grantham isn't an elite athlete, but his length on defense can be problematic for opponents. He led the team in steals last season and was second in blocked shots - something he has a pretty good knack for despite not being an especially good leaper. Clemson may consider tasking him with the opponent's best guard/wing often this season, as the Tigers' other perimeter players aren't the same caliber of defender.

It's no secret that Grantham needs to be a more efficient scorer of the basketball this season, as Clemson can ill afford to have a 30-minute player shooting 37.2% from the field again. I expect he will, and he has the potential to lead the Tigers in scoring.

In the Post

PF - Jaron Blossomgame: Blossomgame took a huge step in his sophomore season and did all he could to pick up the slack left by K.J. McDaniels, including leading the Tigers in scoring and rebounding. He shot an impressive 48.6% from the field as he really developed a multifaceted offensive arsenal. His three-point shooting did not spike to the degree we were led to believe it would, but it did increase by nearly nine percentage points. A similar improvement this season would make him a competent threat from the outside and would make him even tougher to defend. He also became one of the team's best free-throw shooters, knocking down better than 70% of his attempts. Blossomgame is still figuring things out offensively, which bodes well for this Clemson team considering his production last season.

All things considered, Blossomgame is pretty clearly Clemson's best defensive player. He still struggles mightily at times to correctly defend ball screens, but aside from that he doesn't have a weakness at that end of the court. He is a versatile defender who can cover several positions. Blossogame is Clemson's best athlete and can guard adequately on the perimeter while still being able to bang in the post. He doesn't block as many shots as he probably should, but he is inarguably the Tigers' best defensive rebounder (although he needs to box out more consistently).

Blossomgame was a pleasant surprise last season, and hopefully he continues to trend upward as he is now a player this team will look to even more for leadership.

PF - Josh Smith: Smith is a player who gets the most out of his ability, and he actually proved to be a valuable reserve for Clemson a season ago. While not a threat to score a bunch of points, Smith knows his role on offense and is by far the most selfless player on the team. He is a willing screener and moves the ball well within the offense.

Smith's athletic limitations are a bit more glaring on the defensive end, where he is often overwhelmed by bigger and more talented players. He works hard on the glass though and had the second most rebounds per minutes played on the team a season ago. Smith has found a niche on this team, and while others have transferred when faced with a lack of playing time, he has stuck around and embraced his role as an occasional contributor and great teammate.

C - Landry Nnoko: Most expected Nnoko to take a big step in his junior season after coming on strong toward the end of his sophomore campaign. While he was decent statistically, the big man largely underachieved. While he didn't play as well or consistently as we hoped, his biggest problem was his inability to stay on the court due to foul trouble in what seemed like every game. He is a capable back-to-the-basket scorer when he gets opportunities, and Clemson will desperately need him to look more like the offensive weapon it hoped he would be a season ago. He did manage a relatively solid 65.7% from the free-throw line, so getting to 70% or above would seem to be a reasonable goal for him this season.

Nnoko is a good shot-blocker on defense, but his effectiveness began to be cancelled out last year by his fouling issues. There is no denying that Nnoko fouled too much throughout the season, but it also seemed at times like he was a "marked man" of sorts in officiating circles. Hopefully any kind of reputation he developed won't follow him into 2015-16, but that is most likely wishful thinking. Nnoko was the team's second-leading rebounder, but he could be much better given his size and athletic ability.

It's fair to put a hefty amount of the blame for Clemson's disappointing 2014-15 season on Nnoko, who just didn't show marked improvement from the year before like many believed he would. With that in mind, expectations should be tempered for the Tigers' center, but he still has the tools to put together a solid senior season if he can stay on the court and play with confidence and aggression.

C - Sidy Djitte: It was understood when Djitte came to Clemson that he was a project, and Clemson needs its backup center to exhibit this year that he will be ready to inherit the starting role once Nnoko departs. Djitte was still raw on offense last season, but we will see if another off-season with Mike Winiecki has him looking like a useful player on that end of the court yet. We've seen flashes where it looks like he knows what he is doing, but there are more times where he is somewhat of a disaster when he has the ball. Djitte is still working to catch up mentally to players who have been playing basketball their entire lives.

Djitte can present problems as a defender with his size, but his subpar coordination can also leave him vulnerable to foul trouble and poor positioning. His frame alone makes him a quality rebounder, however, and he can be fairly useful as a shot-blocker.

It's misguided to expect Djitte to end up being a similar player to Nnoko, as he simply just doesn't have the upside athletically. What Clemson needs is for Djitte to continue to improve, learn and mold his own style of basketball as a physical grinder.

C - Legend Robertin: Robertin comes in as a JuCo transfer with three years of elibility remaining. He is a legit seven-footer with good mobility for his size and should be a rim protector on the defensive end. His offensive game is a work in progress, but he runs the floor well and could hopefully be a threat to finish in transition. Robertin is raw at this point, but he gives the Tigers another big body to work with in the post.