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2017-18 Clemson Basketball Season Preview: Frontcourt Analysis

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A pair of incoming Freshman and a pair of experienced transfers are featured on a new look frontcourt for the Tigers in the upcoming season.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

It seems that we make the same comment at the beginning of every basketball season since Brad Brownell took control at Clemson, but due to his guard heavy recruiting approach, the Tigers are dangerously thin at the Forward/Center position. To sure up the depth in the frontcourt, Brownell has added graduate transfer Mark Donnal from Michigan and Croatian Forward David Skara is now eligible to play after sitting out his NCAA required one season after transferring from Valparaiso. Skara and Donnal are joined by Freshman newcomers Malik William and Aamir Simms to compliment returning starters Donte Grantham and Elijah Thomas. Join us below as we breakdown the skillset of the four new Tigers, and how they will fit in with the likes of Grantham and Thomas.

#5 Mark Donnal – Graduate Student, Forward/Center

Donnal is the latest in a slew of transfers that Brad Brownell has landed at Clemson, but is the first graduate transfer that will be eligible to play immediately under NCAA rules. Donnal, who graduated from Michigan last year, chose to come to Clemson over Vanderbilt and Creighton and was an important snag by Brownell as the Tigers will be looking to replace their two leading rebounders from last year’s team. Donnal averaged 3.9 points per game in just over 12 minutes per game last season at Michigan, but is a gifted offensive player with an impressive jump shot. Donnal’s main offensive production will come from the pick-and-roll, as he shot 75% from the field last year on screen-and-rolls to the basket, and 38% on the pick-and-pop. With a thin front line, expect to see Donnal receive a significant minute bump from his final season at Michigan.

#14 Elijah Thomas – Junior, Forward

Elijah Thomas is the latest in a slew of interior forwards that Clemson is looking to develop from raw talent. Thomas was an ESPN top 50 recruit out of high school, and will be playing his first full season as a Tiger after transferring from Texas A&M. Thomas is a nightmare for defenses in the paint has he shot 52.2% from the field in post-up possessions and has shown the ability to take control of the offense. The downside of Thomas’ game is that he is turnover prone as he tends to develop slowly in the paint and struggles to pass out of double-teams. His ball placement in the paint is low, which gives the opposing players the ability to slap the ball away and his post moves take time to develop. One thing that Clemson fans need to be very worried about this season from Thomas is his defensive fouling. Thomas is slow on the defensive side of the ball and his lack of positioning makes him easily foul prone. In Sunday’s scrimmage against Tennessee, Thomas fouled out after only 12 minutes of court time. With a thin and relatively inexperienced group of players behind him, Thomas can put Clemson in a serious jam if he is consistently in foul trouble this season.

#20 Malik William – Freshman, Forward

Malik William is one of two Freshman who will likely be considered for serious minutes off of the bench for the Tigers this season. William was a Top 200 prospect in the country per 247 sports and the 20th ranked prospect out of the state of Florida. The Freshman from The First Academy in Orlando was Second Team All-State his Senior season in High school and is known to be a gifted passer for his 6’8” frame. William had the ability to protect the rim in High School as a gifted shot blocker (including 10 blocks in a triple-double performance his senior year) but only time will tell if that talent will translate to the college level. William chose Clemson over offers from West Virginia, UCF and Connecticut.

#24 David Skara – Redshirt Junior, Forward

Skara joined the Tigers last season after transferring from Valparaiso and will be eligible to play in the 2017-18 season. Skara is easily the most intriguing of the Clemson forward newcomers and Clemson has a lot to thank Valpo for as Skara was set to join the Vanderbilt Commodores before the move was blocked by the University to prevent him from joining his former coach at Vanderbilt. Skara chose Clemson over Georgia Tech, Davidson and Richmond and will be the key to what Brownell hopes to be a defensive resurgence on this year’s team. Brownell has already stated that Skara is easily the best defender on the team, and that distinction is set to earn him a spot in the starting lineup at the beginning of the season. Skara averaged 6.5 points per game in his final season at Valpo, and was third on the team in assists with 60. Skara has the ability to defend multiple positions, including guards, which will help the Croatian big man see significant playing time this season, likely in the starting five (he started in the exhibition against Tennessee).

#25 Aamir Simms – Freshman, Forward

Aamir Simms, the Tiger’s highest rated newcomer, is out of the Blue Ridge School in Virginia, where he averaged 13.0 points and 9.4 rebounds per game which made him a consensus 4-star recruit and was ranked as high as the 89th overall prospect in the country by Rivals. Simms differentiates himself from the other Clemson post players due to his excellent footwork in the post which allows him to effectively use a wide range of post moves that I was impressed with coming from such a young player. He also has the ability to hit the mid-range jumper, which makes him a challenge to guard. On the defensive side of the ball, Simms is the typical long and athletic defender that fits Brownell’s system perfectly. He is an above average rebounder, but needs to work on his positioning in the defensive post early on in his career. I expect Donnal to be the first off the bench for Clemson at the beginning of the season, but as the Tigers enter ACC play, eventually I expect that role to be taken over by Simms as the season progresses.

#32 Donte Grantham – Senior, Forward

Donte Grantham returns to the Tigers for his Senior season after briefly flirting with the NBA draft and, at this point, we are all familiar with the tremendous amount of potential that this young man has, but we have yet to see it translate to performance on the court. Grantham shot career lows from the field last season of 37.2% from the field, 27.9% from behind the arc and 54.7% from the free throw line. Grantham appeared to lose confidence in his shot as the season went on, and never recovered. On the defensive side of the ball, he is known to be long and athletic, but through our analysis of film from last season, Grantham appears to have a trust issue with his teammates defending as he over-helps on a tremendous amount of passes into the interior of the defense, leaving his man open for an uncontested jumper.

There is no doubt that Brownell will be looking for Grantham to provide Senior leadership and points, but based on the previous two scrimmages (18 points on 8-of-11 shooting against Augusta and 5 points on 2-of-9 shooting against Tennessee) Grantham cannot be counted on for consistent scoring for the Tigers this season. The Tigers will be dangerous against anyone if he is hot, but that is something that Brownell and the Tiger coaching staff cannot depend on.