Consistent guard play has been a facet of the game that has held Clemson basketball back in recent seasons, but the Tigers are the deepest they have been on the perimeter during head coach Brad Brownell’s tenure. The overall talent level is much improved, boosted by two now-eligible transfers, and Clemson’s guards should be able to produce on the offensive end at a higher level this season. While defensive ability may not be at the level it was during the days of Rod Hall and Damarcus Harrison, the expected strides this unit should take at the other end of the court will hopefully outweigh any potential struggles. Let’s take a player-by-player look at what should be Brownell’s best group of guards yet.
#1 Ty Hudson - Sophomore, Guard, 6’1”, 200 lbs.
Hudson was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules just hours prior to Clemson’s exhibition game against Lander last Thursday, and we don’t have any word on how imminent his return might be. Hudson was relatively highly thought of coming in as a freshman but got a bit lost in the shuffle despite having moments where he contributed off the bench. His role is likely as a reserve at both the guard spots given the sudden influx of talent on the Clemson perimeter, although his playing time could increase with Shelton Mitchell out for an extended period of time. Again, this is contingent upon when the staff determines he is eligible to return from suspension. For what it’s worth, Hudson was present on the Clemson bench for the scrimmage and looked to be in good spirits, so my inclination would be that the suspension may be minor. As far as his skill set, Hudson has a pretty good handle and can play point guard if necessary. His shot isn’t the most gorgeous thing ever, but he has shown the ability to make a jumper out to three point range. His quickness is an asset on defense, and he has the potential to put the clamps on opposing guards. It will be interesting to see what Hudson is able to make of his sophomore campaign, as this is a guy who doesn’t appear to be in line for a ton of playing time, but also one who has some ability.
#2 Marcquise Reed - Sophomore, Shooting Guard, 6’3”, 185 lbs.
I vividly remember watching Reed as a freshman at Robert Morris when the Colonials faced the Tigers in Littlejohn and being somewhat in awe of the wiry freshman guard who was a frustratingly crafty scorer. That game was early in the non-conference slate, and by the end of the season Reed had captured his conference’s rookie of the year honor while leading a team full of veterans with 15 points per game - including better than 20 points each against the Tigers, North Carolina, and eventual national champion Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Reed isn’t a special athlete, but he just has a knack for scoring the basketball. He shot an impressive 41 percent from beyond the arc at Robert Morris and will give the Tigers an additional threat from three-point range. He also excels at getting into the paint and has the touch to finish tough shots when he gets there. His lack of strength or great athleticism could render him a bit of a liability on the defensive end, but he brings a natural scoring ability that Clemson has been missing at the shooting guard position for some time. He will likely start the year as the Tigers sixth man, but it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get a look as a starter if he has success early on.
#4 Shelton Mitchell - Sophomore, Point Guard, 6’3”, 215 lbs.
Much of the excitement surrounding Mitchell has been halted with news of his injury on Tuesday, and his torn meniscus will likely sideline him for several weeks. This is a major blow to Clemson’s backcourt before the season even starts. Mitchell was a touted recruit coming into his freshman season at Vanderbilt two years ago, and while things didn’t work out for him there, he is a player that can greatly help Clemson at the point guard spot. He was slated to be the starter prior to his injury and is the first true point guard Clemson has had perhaps since Demontez Stitt (R.I.P.). A true playmaker, Mitchell is well-suited to quarterback an offense with a great feel for the game, passing ability, and knack for getting into the paint. He can finish in the lane or dish out to open shooters once he collapses a defense. He is a good athlete that should be able to hold his own on defense, though he may not be special at that end of the court. Mitchell is the kind of lead guard Clemson has desperately needed for the majority of the Brownell era, and he recovers as swiftly as possible from his injury because he is a key piece to this year’s team.
#10 Gabe DeVoe - Junior, Shooting Guard, 6’3”, 210 lbs.
A much maligned swingman during his first two years at Clemson, DeVoe is the ultimate wild card coming into the season. He was heralded as a prolific three-point shooter coming out of high school, but it would be disingenuous to label him as anything but a gunner to this point in his career. He had nowhere to go but up after a freshman year that saw him shoot an abysmal 27 percent from the field and 25 percent from three, while he often looked incredibly uncomfortable as he struggled to adjust to the college game. DeVoe’s numbers improved marginally as a sophomore (34 percent/30 percent) but he was still far from an efficient scorer of the basketball. The Tigers will likely use DeVoe in a versatile reserve role backing up the shooting guard and small forward spots, and fans can expect to see him on the court a good bit. He also may spend time backing up Avry Holmes at the point guard spot in Shelton Mitchell’s absence. This is a guy who, despite still posting less than desirable shooting numbers, looked much more comfortable on the court last season. He has a good feel for the game, rebounds his position well, and is an above average defender and passer. We won’t hold out hope that he will shoot the ball at anything more than a streaky clip until we see it for an extended period of time, but it would be nice to at least see DeVoe continue to improve, as he has the potential to be a useful piece. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him shoot the Tigers into some games; it’s limiting how many he shoots them out of that’s the tricky part.
#12 Avry Holmes - Senior, Guard, 6’2”, 195 lbs.
The transfer from San Francisco served as the Tigers starting point guard for the 2015-16 season with somewhat mixed results. Holmes shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore at USF, and the Tigers had high hopes that he could do the same while running the show for the Tigers last season. While he shot the ball well at times, a terrible midseason slump - wherein he made just 8 of his 45 three-point attempts - drug his numbers down for the season, as he finished shooting just 37 percent from the floor and 33 percent from beyond the arc. The addition of Shelton Mitchell could be huge for Holmes this season, as Brownell will likely allow Mitchell to shoulder the starting point guard duties and slide Holmes to the off-guard position where he can focus more of his attention on spotting up for threes and not having to worry about orchestrating the offense. It’s probable that Holmes will also serve as Mitchell’s main backup at the point, as he is more than capable of running the position (Note: Holmes will almost definitely start at the point for the duration of Mitchell’s injury). But I think Brownell will do his best to keep Holmes in more of a scoring role this season to try to get the most out of his shooting prowess. Holmes is the closest thing the Tigers have to a lockdown defender and managed to shut down several of the ACC’s best guards a season ago. What he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for with lightning quick hands and great instincts, making him far and away Clemson’s best perimeter defender.
#22 Scott Spencer - Freshman, Guard/Forward, 6’6”, 195 lbs.
Spencer is a freshman that brings a great frame and athleticism to the Clemson perimeter. He is a bit raw skill-wise and may have a bit of a learning curve, but he is a good finisher at the rim and has the ability to knock down the three-point shot. Spencer will likely back up Donte Grantham at the small forward spot along with DeVoe. His length and athletic ability make him a potentially great perimeter defender under Brownell’s tutelage, and while he may be used relatively sparingly this season, Spencer should have a bright future as a Tiger.