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2018-19 Clemson Tigers Basketball Preview: Evaluating the Frontcourt

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Clemson vs New Mexico State
Aamir Simms (25) may be the biggest X-factor for the Tigers entering his sophomore season.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Fielding a competitive frontcourt by ACC standards has been something Clemson has struggled to do during the Brad Brownell era, but this year’s team boasts perhaps the deepest, most experienced unit the Tigers have had in recent memory. Last year’s Sweet Sixteen run should give this group the confidence that it can play at a high level and continue to progress toward the top of a loaded ACC. Let’s take a player by player look at the frontcourt players that will take the court for Clemson this season.

Elijah Thomas; F/C; Sr.

Thomas has truly been a great story for Clemson, as he has developed into arguably the heart and soul of Brownell’s revamped program since transferring from Texas A&M three years ago. There is not a harder worker on the team than Thomas, who has molded his body and game during his time as a Tiger and become one of the ACC’s premier post players entering the 2018-19 season. His offensive arsenal includes the ability to score with either hand in back-to-the-basket or face-up fashion, and his growth into a competent free-throw shooter (15% improvement last season) has helped make him a more efficient scorer.

As great as his offensive improvement has been, however, it was Thomas’ defense last season that made Clemson an entirely different team from the disappointing 2016-17 campaign. His off-season progress in that department was nothing short of stunning, as he went from a relative liability to an all-ACC defensive team member and gave Clemson the rim protector and defensive rebounder it desperately needed. Thomas’ return for his senior season may give Clemson its best post player in at least a decade.

Aamir Simms; F; So.

The silver lining to Donte Grantham’s unfortunate season-ending injury last season was that it put Simms’ development on the fast track and provided him with valuable experience as a freshman. Now entering his sophomore season, he feels much more like a veteran than a newcomer. Simms is a bit undersized for the 4-spot at 6’7”, but he makes up for it with a 250-pound frame that enabled him to compete physically as a freshmen. Now with an extra off-season of skill work and training under his belt, he is a prime candidate for a breakout season.

Simms’ minutes increased significantly in the wake of Grantham’s injury, and he averaged a solid 6 points and 5 rebounds the rest of the season. He is a versatile player on both ends of the court and will likely start at the power forward position with the ability to play small forward if needed. He is an efficient scorer in the post and has the ability to step out and knock down a shot from three-point range. He may lack the requisite athleticism to be an elite defender, but his strength and feel for the game make him far from a weak link on that end.

David Skara; F; Gr.

One of the biggest happenings of the off-season for the Tigers was Skara’s decision to return to Clemson for one more season after previously announcing he would head back overseas. Inarguably the team’s best defensive player, he gives an otherwise offensive-minded group a proven stopper that can limit the opposition’s top offensive threat. Skara’s offense was largely disappointing in his first season as a Tiger, but he has already shown improved ability in the preseason and seems poised to deliver more on that end of the court.

Skara could basically be listed as a co-starter at the 4 with Simms, as they will both play significant minutes and could be on the court together a decent bit. We’ll have to see how Brownell decides to shuffle these guys, but what’s undeniable is that the coach knows Skara’s value and will play him starter-type minutes even if he doesn’t start.

Javan White; C; Gr. (Junior)

The ever-rare graduate transfer with two years of eligibility left, White comes to Clemson on the heels of a season in which he averaged 10 points and 9 rebounds at Oral Roberts. It will take him some time to adjust to the kind of defense Brad Brownell demands of his players, but Clemson hopes they have nabbed a high-quality backup for Elijah Thomas that can bang with the big bodies the Tigers will face in the ACC.

White isn’t a particularly threatening post scorer, but he should convert the opportunities he is presented with. He was a top-30 offensive and top-100 defensive rebounder a season ago, so at minimum he should keep Clemson competitive on the glass when he’s on the court. White’s development will be interesting to watch, as he could potentially be in line to start at center in 2019-20 after Thomas’ departure.

Malik William; F; So.

William played sparingly as a freshman and may not see a huge uptick in playing time this season with the amount of returning talent the Tigers have. We’ll see what kind of strides he has made in the off-season and whether he can provide a credible bench player at a crowded power forward spot. He plays with a good motor and is pretty skilled offensively, but he will need to improve his athleticism by getting in better shape if he is going to be an ACC-level contributor. There’s still plenty of time for that, but right now he is sort of positionless and definitively behind two other players at the 4 spot.

Trey Jemison; C; Fr.

Jemison is a legit 7-footer that turned down other high-major offers to come to Clemson. He is very raw from a developmental standpoint and is also recovering from an injury/surgery situation at the moment. For those reasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the staff elect to redshirt Jemison given the team’s relative depth in the post. It just doesn’t make much since to burn a season of eligibility on a project player whose health may be questionable entering the season, especially to just play a couple minutes here and there. Now, circumstances can change, and it’s possible Jemison could be more ready than we think. But for now it seems reasonable to project him a serious candidate for a redshirt.

Hunter Tyson; G/F; Fr.

Perhaps a bit undervalued on the recruiting trail, Tyson gives the Tigers a tall wing player that can really stroke it from three-point range. There may be more of a role available for him this season than previously thought with the recent transfer of A.J. Oliver, as Clemson may look to him to provide shooting ability off the bench with what is now a somewhat thin backcourt. Tyson has a pretty well-rounded offensive game but will likely need to add some mass to his thin frame to compete physically at the high-major level, especially on the defensive end. He will be an interesting player to track this season, however, because he is not lacking in ability and basketball IQ.

Overall Outlook:

It’s been some time since Clemson was legitimately two-deep at both post positions, but the Tigers can claim that this season with the great combination of ability and experience in their frontcourt. This unit should be as capable as the Tigers have had since Brownell’s arrival and should contribute to another NCAA Tournament berth, and hopefully more.