The phrase “So close, yet so far away” has perhaps never described anything better than it does the Clemson basketball team in 2016-2017. After starting the season 11-2 and positioning themselves for the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011, the Tigers lost 12 of their final 17 games. Six of those losses came by three points or less, and arguably as few as two wins in those games could have sent Clemson to the Big Dance. While the Tigers’ guards showed an ability to consistently score the ball at a level they hadn’t in recent years, the overall subpar performance on the defensive end was too much for the improved offense to overcome. Fortunately, Clemson returns talent at the guard spots, and we’ll see if perhaps its best offensive backcourt in many years can lead the Tigers to success in 2017-18.
#0 Clyde Trapp - Freshman, Guard, 6’4”, 192 lbs.
A late bloomer on the recruiting trail, Trapp hails from Hopkins, SC, Lower Richland and is one of two freshman guards for the Tigers. Trapp didn’t begin to play on the perimeter until later in his high school career, so he is certainly a developmental player, but he possesses excellent athleticism and a high ceiling. He has shown the ability to attack the basket off the dribble and should be capable on the defensive end. It’s unlikely that Trapp will contribute much as a freshman, but it will be interesting to see what kind of player he turns into for Clemson.
#2 Marcquise Reed - Junior, Shooting Guard, 6’3”, 189 lbs.
Reed lived up to his billing as a talented scorer last season, posting 10 points per game as the most productive sixth man the Tigers have had in quite some time. He will be relied on even more heavily this season (potentially as a starter), and Clemson will need his three-point shooting (40% last season) and free-throw proficiency (90% - 15th nationally) to help fuel its offense. Reed has the ability to score in a variety of ways and will be a key offensive component. While not what you would describe as a great defender, Reed was at least opportunistic a season ago and led the Tigers in steals and ranked 34th nationally in steal percentage. Reed is the most gifted pure scorer Clemson has had recently and should be expected to take a step forward this year and potentially lead Clemson in scoring. Can he do enough defensively against more athletic players to be a net positive for the Tigers? That remains to be seen.
#4 Shelton Mitchell - Junior, Point Guard, 6’3”, 194 lbs.
It’s not a stretch to say that Clemson’s fortunes this season depend largely on the health of Shelton Mitchell. He injured the knee last preseason and played at less than 100% for the duration of the campaign. Unfortunately, it sounds like this may be the type of injury that never quite fully goes away, so we may never know exactly what to expect from Mitchell on any given day. We certainly expect him to play at a high level, but he may never completely return to full strength. The weakness of the knee rears its head largely on the defensive end, where Mitchell was perhaps the Tigers’ biggest liability a season ago. While in theory he is a good enough athlete to at least be a serviceable defender, change of direction on that end of the court proved to be a consistent problem.
Offensively, Mitchell was a revelation late in the season. He scored 15 points per game over the final 11 games and was the Tigers’ best offensive player during that stretch, more than once taking over games with his ability to score off the dribble. We expected him to be a quality point guard in his first season at Clemson, but he offered more of a scoring punch than expected. In addition to his driving ability, he got to the free throw line consistently and shot 80% from the stripe. The biggest surprise, however, was his 45% shooting from three-point range - as shooting was, by all accounts, a weakness for the transfer point guard. It’s hard to expect him to replicate that number, but Clemson needs him to continue to be a threat from beyond the arc. You hate to put too much stock into one player, but Clemson’s potential for success hinges largely on Mitchell’s ability to stay healthy and play to his capability.
#10 Gabe DeVoe - Senior, Guard, 6’3”, 207 lbs.
DeVoe is the only senior guard on this year’s roster, and it will likely be his first as a starter. The Tigers will be heavily reliant upon DeVoe to play bigger than his 6’3” frame, as he may spend a lot of time playing at the 3 spot. This largely includes rebounding at a high rate and defending bigger players. DeVoe has shown adequate ability in both of those areas in the past, but Clemson will need him to do both for long stretches if it wants to compete from a physical perspective with a schedule full of teams who will run much taller lineups onto the court. I am confident he is willing to give the effort required, but this team will be asking a lot of him and it’s hard to know to what degree he can deliver. DeVoe has had a three-year career that could best be described with the word “fine.” He has made steady statistical improvement on offense in his three years, but he has really only progressed to the point of being serviceable. Much like Grantham, this season is DeVoe’s last chance to turn the corner and leave more than a “what if” type legacy, and Clemson hopes its pair of seniors can produce at a level they haven’t previously.
#21 A.J. Oliver - Freshman, Shooting Guard, 6’5”, 190 lbs.
Oliver is perhaps the best pure shooter Clemson has successfully recruited since Terrence Oglesby, and the Tigers will likely use him as the first or second guard off the bench to hopefully bring some kind of scoring boost like what Reed was able to offer last season. The son of Clemson women’s head coach Audra Smith, Oliver graduated high school early and actually spent last season with the Clemson team as a redshirt player. That extra year in the program should have him mentally ahead of where your average freshman might be. Hopefully he has also been able to use a year of college-level lifting to add bulk to his very thin frame, as he will need that in order to be a useful defensive player.
He is athletic enough to grow into a versatile scorer but needs to commit to improving his offensive skillset with regards to ball-handling and finishing plays near the basket. It is fair to expect him to be a project on the defensive end of the floor, but Oliver will likely see a decent amount of playing time off the bench and should give the Tigers an additional threat from three-point range if nothing else.
#22 Scott Spencer - Sophomore, Guard/Forward, 6’6”, 190 lbs.
Spencer was significantly hampered by injury as a freshman for the Tigers and only appeared in seven games. He was highly thought of coming out of high school as an athletic wing with some scoring ability and a potentially versatile defender. Hopefully he has had ample time to fully recover, and we will see if he is able to work his way into the rotation more this season.