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2021-2022 Clemson Basketball Preview: Guards

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This is the position that makes or breaks things for this season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Rutgers at Clemson Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to basketball season. I know it remains football season and most will focus on that, but those who want to multi-task and see if Brad Brownell’s hoops squad can provide some positive life distraction, this is for you. I’m here to break down the guard position for this year’s Tigers.

The Brownell era has been up and down, as we know, and has lacked a run of NCAA tournament teams like we saw with Rick Barnes and Oliver Purnell. Last year’s team DID make the NCAA tourney, though, just the third one of those in Brownell’s tenure. Can the Tigers put back-to-back bids together for the first time since Purnell’s last team and Brad’s first team did it from 2008-2010? That was the end of a four year NCAA tournament run, the best in Clemson basketball history in that regard.

Under Brownell, it has usually been the guard position determines if Clemson is going to make the tourney. His first team had Demontez Stitt, Andre Young, and Tanner Smith. The next tourney team featured Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, and Gabe DeVoe, and last year’s team had Al-Amir Dawes, Clyde Trapp, and Nick Honor leading the way.

Trapp was the most consistently productive guard on last year’s team, but he chose to finish his career as a graduate transfer at Charlotte vs. returning for the COVID year at Clemson. Trapp was never a volume scorer or reliable end of shot clock option, but he improved his game a good bit after his knee injury and his departure leaves a void.

Let’s look at who is back and what we might see.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Jr. Al-Amir Dawes: 9.0 ppg, 45 assists, 39 turnovers, 39.4% 3PT, 42.1% FG, 74.2% FT

Dawes returns for his junior season as the most productive guard back. He is the one guy on the returning roster who has shown the ability to create for himself. He’s had some highlight moments, such as his game winner vs. FSU as a freshman, but has been too inconsistent to average double figures. His assist/turnover ratio is not bad but you want to see it at 2/1 or better. Dawes is a strong on-ball defender and though not an explosive leaper, he is crafty around the rim when he drives and can make difficult finishes.

Like the majority of Clemson’s guards over the last few years, Dawes is a streaky 3-point shooter. He mixed really good games in with some real duds but ended up at a solid 39%, which you will take. Anything over 40% is really good at this level and Clemson would really benefit from Dawes being able to get to that number considering the volume he takes (over 100 attempts in 20-21).

This should be the year Dawes takes another step having had two seasons of heavy minutes in the ACC to date. My goal for him would be to approach Shelton Mitchell’s junior year production. If he can do that, this Clemson team can compete for another NCAA tournament bid.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Rutgers at Clemson Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

RS Jr. Nick Honor: 8.1 ppg, 53 assists, 24 turnovers, 36.7% 3PT, 39.2% FG, 73.9% FT

Honor came off his transfer sit year and gave the Tigers a very pesky defender (led the team with 32 steals) and, at times, some excellent 3-point shooting. Unfortunately, Honor had some struggles in stretches which usually coincided with the Tigers having problems as a team. In Clemson’s eight losses last year, Honor scored double figures just once (vs. GT) and scored 6 points or fewer in the last five games where the Tigers went 2-3 and lost in their first games of the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament.

Like Dawes, Clemson needs Honor to be more consistent and limit his bad games to just a scattered few vs. 4-5 in a row. Honor had a strong assist-to-turnover ratio of over 2/1, so hopefully he can push that to 3/1 or better this season. He and Dawes figure to be the lead guards all season with very young depth behind them.

My goal for Honor would be to continue his good work as a defender while getting his assist numbers up a tick. I’m OK with his scoring being around 9-10 points per game as long as his 3-point percentage stays at 40% or better. Honor isn’t the guy you want to lean on for heavy scoring due to his relative lack of size, but his ability to stretch the floor is going to be very important to helping create space for PJ Hall inside. He can absolutely shoot it 40% or better from 3.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Jr. Alex Hemenway: 4.7 ppg, 14 assists to 19 turnovers, 38.7% 3PT, 41.9% FG, 88.9% FT

Hemenway is easily the best pure shooter on the team and has improved a great deal as a defender the last two seasons. He has some sneaky hops as he got loose for a dunk or two last season. His free throw shooting is nearly automatic, though he only got to the line 18 times last season. It is clear that 3-point shooting is going to a focus of the Brownell teams, so doing that more efficiently is going to determine just how good this team can be. Hemenway is a key for that to occur.

My goal for Hemenway is to be Clemson’s version of Hunter Cattoor. Cattoor’s 2020-2021 season for Virginia Tech featured 43.3% 3-point shooting on 90 attempts and 11 games with double figure scoring. Hemenway shot his nearly 39% 3’s on 62 attempts and only scored double figures twice. Another year in the weight room should help Hemenway’s defending against wings. He needs to be a solid option at the 2 when Clemson needs to be bigger at guard and have just Honor or Dawes at the point. Make 3’s at 42-44% and get to the line more to take advantage of being a great FT shooter. If Hemenway can get to double figures around 8-11 times, that should mean good things for this team.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

RS Soph. Chase Hunter: 2.9 ppg, 22 assists to 19 turnovers, 14.3% 3PT, 31.1% FG, 66.7% FT

You see it above, those are ugly shooting numbers. I picked Hunter as my X-factor for this year’s team despite all of that. Hunter is one of the top athletes on this roster and has the physical tools to be an explosive off the bounce player. Of course, that won’t matter at all if he continues to shoot the ball as poorly as he has in his career to this point. He’s battled injuries and that hasn’t helped his development in that regard.

At his best, Hunter is a dynamic wing defender and has the ability to attack with mid-range pull up jumpers. He can create for himself, which is essential for late shot clock and end of game scenarios. You have to think this is a make or break season for Hunter to carve out a strong role or likely hit the portal and reboot his career. Terrence Oglesby shares my feelings on what Hunter could potentially be, but he’s been a long way from delivering on that to this point.

NEWCOMERS:

NCAA Basketball: South Florida at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

GR. David Collins: Collins comes as a grad transfer from South Florida with a proven scoring pedigree at the high major level. He’s a physical 6’4” wing who has put up solid shooting numbers last season (37.5% 3PT, 42.0% FG). The Tigers desperately need a guy to at least match Clyde Trapp’s production from last year. Collins is a better scorer than Trapp was and can hopefully rebound and defend at a similar level. If he can just match his 13.3 career points per game average, that would be a boost to this year’s Tigers. Anything better than that would really make things interesting.

Fr. Josh Beadle: Beadle arrives from Columbia’s Cardinal Newman High School. Clemson fans hope this Cardinal Newman product works out a little better than Austin Ajukwa did. Beadle has a solid skill set but is behind in the physical size/strength area for this level. I have learned to not expect too much from freshmen in this program, but the Tigers will need Beadle to provide some help especially if Hunter flames out or there is an injury to either Dawes or Honor. I wouldn’t call Beadle a pure point guard but he will need to develop in that area going forward.

Final thoughts:

Overall you like that Dawes, Honor, Hemenway, Collins, and Hunter are all veteran players with at least two seasons of work at a high major D1 level. he team either needs all of them to be good for 8-12 a night or one or two to have career seasons and put up 13+ ppg. The main thing I’m hoping for is improved offensive efficiency, which SHOULD be happening when you have veteran players at your disposal. Really the difference between what UVA has been able to do vs. Clemson over the last eight years comes down to being efficient on offense. Clemson is in UVA’s ballpark defensively, but has been a long, long way away in offensive efficiency. We’ll hope to see improved guard play change that this season.