@ Wake Forest 1/21/2023

This was another great win on the road, the first suffered by Wake at home this season. We shot the lights out from deep, including a career game from Armaan Franklin with 25 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes, and weathered the storm with both Reece Beekman and Kihei Clark playing through foul trouble both playing under 30 minutes.

But there was another storyline that has been developing for several games now, and seemed to peak in extremes in this one. Jayden Gardner, who started at 4 alongside BVP at the 5, finished -22 points in plus/minus for the game. No other UVa player finished in the negative, and for the 20 minutes Gardner was sitting, we outscored Wake Forest by 31 points. Meanwhile, Ryan Dunn played a season high 30 minutes, a few at the 3, but mostly at the 4. His ascension at the Smaller Ball 4 seemed to reach its pinnacle, also coinciding with Clark and Beekman’s foul trouble, and he tied Beekman to pace the team in plus/minus at 13. Meanwhile, Kadin Shedrick was limited to a season low 3 minutes (with Caffaro even playing over him). Now, individual game plus/minus is a highly variable stat that isn’t always indicative a player’s direct impact on the floor. But, when one player is so drastically behind all of the others, it’s attention grabbing, especially in the context of an early season starter getting reduced minutes. I’ve re-watched the game with a targeted focus on these three, and I’ve concluded that Gardner was every bit as negatively impactful as the metric suggests, that Dunn improved BOTH the defense AND the offense, and that Shedrick was effective in his three minutes on the floor. So, I’m going to spend this review discussing these findings on both sides of the ball, focusing primarily comparing Gardner and Dunn, and wrapping the piece with a possession-by-possession look at the time Shedrick was on the floor.

Defense

I’m only going to focus very briefly on the defensive side because I think this is more clear to the naked eye and because I’ve showed many examples of this in previous pieces. When Dunn is playing at the 4 in Smaller Ball, or is even just on the floor at all, our rim protection and ability to get contested rebounds improves, and he’s even just a better individual post defender at this point. Afterall, he has two listed inches on Gardner with a longer reach, and he plays with bounce and athleticism above the rim.

As a quick example, here’s a direct comparison of the two defending the 6’10” Andrew Carr from Wake Forest in the post. The first clip below is Gardner, giving up 4 inches, who really puts his all into a jump and blocks Carr’s jumpshot. But, in doing so has to exert himself such that he’s off balance when he lands, staggers, and takes himself out of the play. Carr just easily collects the ball, now with a clear path, and finishes the easy bucket.

The clip highlights the size mismatch between the two. Gardner has to put SO much into contesting the initial shot that the second effort is easy for Carr.

Now compare to the clip below with Dunn isolated on Carr later in the game. In both of these clips Carr is attempting to dribble and back down his defender from the top of the lane:

The difference should immediately jump out. Dunn is more mobile and offers more resistance on the dribble initially, is longer and blocks the shot while keeping himself in the play, and is able to snatch the loose ball after the block to retain possession. It’s the same Wake player – a hard presence for Gardner to deal with and Dunn holding up firmly with his athleticism.

Below we’re going to look at a different clip, this time with Gardner only giving a token hedge up top, allowing Appleby to keep his dribble and continue pressing forward into the lane with Clark struggling to stay in front. The drive isn’t that quick developing, Appleby isn’t large by any means, and Clark does his best – but Gardner doesn’t come over to help nor is he able to help offer any shot blocking to protect the rim. Compare with Dunn’s help side below, but also BVP’s help defense.

With Dunn you’re also getting plays like this one below. It’s a subtle play but it’s a good example of how much he helps in Smaller Ball on defense. Here, Clark gets beaten pretty handily by Appleby but BVP comes over and offers great help to shut down the drive. On the back side, both Dunn and Franklin are there, taking up space and supporting BVP’s recovery back to his man. Appleby is stuck and has to give it up to Hildreth, who begins to attempt to post up Franklin. BVP once again leaves his man to help and Dunn does a really good job of positioning himself so that a pass to BVP’s man, the 7’1″ Matthew Marsh is shut down. Instead, Hildreth kicks it out to Carr in the corner. Both Dunn and Clark leave their men to go contest, leaving Marsh in good rebounding position as BVP attempts to recover and box the much larger Marsh. Marsh remains in good rebounding position and would have easily grabbed this, if not for Dunn crashing back down again toward the hoop and just skying over him to ensnare the rebound with seemingly iron hands. It’s just an incredibly athletic play where he toggled between denying a 7’1″ Center the ball, contesting a 6’10” player, and then out jumping the 7’1″ player again for the rebound.

And, in this clip below, Dunn is at the 3 and playing with Gardner on the floor and BVP – but it has to be shown because he shows the ability to go from guarding opposing bigs with physicality, to no guarding Appleby and erasing his shot attempt in a huge moment of the game.

When we talk about playing above the rim, rim protection, rebounding, and defensive versatility – these are all things Dunn uniquely brings to the floor that Gardner is not offering on the defensive end of the floor. Especially the ease of rebounding, especially if not in immediate ideal position, and the inability to easily to up and affect shots. But, I would suspect that few people would spend much time arguing this point. The argument, instead, is that what Gardner brings on the offensive end is more valuable than the defensive trade-offs. So that’s what I want to spend the majority of the time examining.

Offense: Gardner

Jayden Gardner has been a high volume shooter/scorer for the majority of his career. He’s a traditional post player who primarily takes two points shots, some around the rim, but especially in the mid-range game. He’s actually been slightly more efficient this year than he was last year for us, shooting just over 51% from the floor (compared to just over 50% last year) but on close to five fewer attempts per game. By contrast, Ryan Dunn is shooting just over 59% from two on about 5.5 fewer attempts per game, but also almost 31% from three. Kadin Shedrick is shooting just over 69% from two on about 4 fewer attempts per game. But, add another wrinkle, Gardner got heavy volume and feasted on two low quality teams in Albany and UMES earlier in the season. If you remove those games he’s shooting just 46% from two (Kadin actually improves if you do the same as his points have been relatively opponent agnostic, typically having his most efficient games against the hardest competition).

He’s taking more shots per game than both of the others combined. He’s more comfortable and capable of getting his own shot, so even if he’s shooting less efficiently, he’s averaging more points and is more able to create offense. Last year, this was a huge boon for us as offense was very hard to come by in any given game. Neither Franklin nor Beekman were proficient outside shooters last season, Clark was still typically more proficient in a facilitating role, and both Shedrick and Stattman typically were best when others were creating them quality looks. As such, any and all offense was welcome, we just needed guys who could put the ball through the hoop. Gardner was taking 12.5 shots per game as opposed to 7.8 and we needed every single one of those shots, if not more. But, that’s also the story behind why that was an NIT team last year, because exclusively two-point shots at 50% a clip, worse against major programs, without dominant defense to back it up can help support pretty good basketball, but not very good and certainly not great basketball.

This year is a different story. Three-point shooting is almost 7% improved this season, more if you consider who is getting the bulk of the playing time. We have four players getting significant minutes (Beekman 46.7%, IMK 41.7%, Franklin 40.8%, Clark 39.3%) shooting the three-ball considerably better than our best player with regular minutes last year, Clark at 34.6%; and we have ANOTHER in BVP at 33.3% knocking on that door. Our recent offensive shifts have been designed to exploit that three-point proficiency, force opponents to guard us on the perimeter, and then sprinkle in highly efficient drives/dunks/shots close to the hoop to take advantage of that spacing. It’s the NBA philosophy, really – threes and dunks/layups being highly emphasized. So, Gardner’s shots and shot selection, then, need to be much more highly scrutinized (there’s a reason they’re down by over 5 attempts per), both because he does not offer that three-point spacing, and because mid-range jumpers are an opportunity cost for the more efficient shots we’ve been getting since the shift to the Triangle and 5-Out offenses.

Before going too much farther down this rabbit hole, let’s give some examples. Gardner scored 5 points in this game off of 2-7 shooting from the floor. He scored on a designed play that set a backdoor screen and he caught a lob pass and finished. It was a quality shot, but not one that came within the standard flow of the offense and one that several players on the team could have had just as easily designed for them. Here’s that look:

This is a highly efficient shot but, again, not something that came out of running the offense nor something that the other players in this discussion couldn’t have converted.

Gardner converted one of two free throws after a nice shot fake on the baseline that drew a foul at the end of the half, and then his other bucket was this clip below. Now this was a nice shot and shows off how he can be effective in the mid-range, but I want to draw attention to a lot of other things going on in this play. Firstly, Caffaro is on the floor which also changes the equation but this is the Triangle offense. Again, remember that the main goal of this is to clear out the middle of the floor for easy finishes around the rim without help, and getting open looks from outside otherwise. Gardner and Caffaro both attempt to double screen/pin down Beekman’s man, but Wake Forest does a good job of playing enough off Beekman so that the screens don’t work effectively. Gardner then attempts to dive toward the hoop, but Caffaro’s man sags far off of him, obscuring that pass and discouraging IMK’s effort to drive (granted, this is much more due to Caffaro’s skillset than Gardner’s, but more on that to come when Caffaro is out). Gardner is pretty easily covered under the hoop there so he instead curls around another Caffaro screen, whose man just switches the screen and offers a pretty quality contest on the Gardner jump shot.

Again, in terms of the offensive system, this is more of a highlight of how much Wake didn’t have to defend Caffaro, but it’s also a look at Gardner’s game. He makes this shot, but it doesn’t come easily.

The next clip below is the last with Caffaro in, so the direct comparisons will be better moving forward. Generally speaking, these two likely shouldn’t be playing together in this offense (play Sides if they’re in together!), but it is a good look at a shot we’re settling for. Wake’s switching these screens with the bigs and then recovering if able. Eventually Gardner has the ball faced up just outside of the block, but Carr, again, is 6’10” and rather than attempt to make a move into the lane, Gardner settles for a jab step jumper over the top of him that misses.

Now, I’m well aware that Gardner CAN make that shot, and there are times, like the game before vs. Virginia Tech, where he’s hitting those shots at a good clip. There are also other games where he’s not giving up so much size and can be a handful in the post. But I would still argue that this is still not a good shot. It’s contested, no real advantage was created, it’s settling because no other offensive advantage was created. It’s not one we should be relying on at volume unless he just really heats up. This was just one miss so far, let’s look at some other possessions.

This next clip is from later in the game. He sat shortly after that play above, we ballooned the lead up to 19 points, at 34 to 15, he returned at that point and Wake immediately started getting back in the game. Gardner is at the 5 instead of BVP, has a 7-footer on him and is playing the Traingle with Franklin and Clark all setting the screens and IMK and Dunn on the wings. Watch as they set these how Gardner’s man camps the center of the lane. He’s down by the restricted area while Gardner is at the free throw line providing help to what could have been a back screen for Franklin that we’ve seen him come open on in this offense over the past few games. Wake allows Gardner to catch and take the jumper from the foul line, which he misses. If this would have been BVP at the 5, he would have been able to float up to the three-point line and his man would have had to go with him, clearing out that middle for the potential Franklin back cut or even a move/drive by Kihei after getting the ball. Instead, clutter, derailing the offense and forcing a mid-range jumper.

Here it’s Gardner as the 5 again with Dunn at the 4 on the wing, Franklin and Clark running the Triangle and IMK on the opposite wing. Wake just switches the screens again and has no fear of Gardner shooting. His man who switches onto him is even stumbling on his way out to his catch but they make sure they have Franklin covered up as the cutter. As a result, IMK ends up taking a contested three that, once again, he CAN make, but he can also get any time and looks very much like that Gardner mid-range jumper against Carr earlier. This offense had been humming, now it’s having trouble creating advantage or getting open looks.

Here’s a really great look at the clutter/impact to the spacing. Gardner spends ost of the time setting screens in the high post on this possession and his man remains sagged way off for the entire time. He helps to cover up Franklin as a cutter after he has his man on his back, he stays down by the foul line when Gardner has the ball near the three-point line, playing soft on the pick and roll with Beekman and deterring his drive, Gardner has a chance to post on the block after but doesn’t look to get the ball aggressively because of the size mismatch. As a result, Franklin has to force another well-covered three-pointer that misses badly (notice the lead slowly eroding in these clips).

Now we’re in the second half and we have the starting five for this game back on the floor with BVP at the 5 and Gardner back at the 4. Gardner, BVP and Franklin are attempting to run some tight Triangle screens. Gardner catches the ball in closer to the short corner area but pretty close to the block. He looks like he wants to look at a shot but thinks better of it with the size he’s giving up. Franklin gets around a curl screen and Gardner finds him, but there just isn’t any spacing there and his man is able to help contest Franklin’s shot and force a bad miss. Again, just very congested and tight in the middle of the court – the opposite of what the offense is trying to create after the screen actions.

Here’s another look at the offense being ineffective primarily due to spacing and ending up in a turnover. They’re trying to clear out the middle of the floor initially for BVP to post up Appleby with advantage. Eventually he gets the ball near the foul line with the same mismatch, but there’s really just nowhere to go or threaten with the ball. Gardner is on the three-point line, but his man is sagged off and right next to BVP. Gardner just kind of looks lost on this play like he’s not sure where to go or how to get his man out of the play so eventually he just runs through and goes down to the opposite block. BVP attempts to fake a screen and post up his old man, but the ball gets deflected and pushed into the corner, eventually leading to a turnover. It just feels like they’re out of ideas or how to effectively work together/press an advantage on this sequence.

Here’s another set, again in the Triangle, with Beekman, Franklin, Dunn, Gardner, and BVP. BVP sets a pick and pop for Gardner who begins driving but doesn’t look back to BVP when his man helps (pause at around 8 second into the clip and notice how much space BVP had if Gardner had looked back). He plays an effective two man pick and roll game with Beekman and gets the pass moving toward the hoop, but is immediately stonewalled on his drive and instead decides to change course, pull up, and shoot a fadeaway that misses badly. This was sort of a compounding problem here of not looking in the right places (missing that BVP was open), not having the size/ability to keep driving the ball after the pass from Beekman, and resorting to another mid-range jumper.

Okay, the last of the Gardner clips on offense is below. I’m going to ask you to directly compare this to another clip momentarily. Gardner is initially open in the post but he has another 7-footer directly behind him, so instead BVP kicks it down to IMK, who could have and probably should have taken the open three, but instead gives a shot fake and starts to drive baseline. Gardner’s man is able to step out to make a shot difficult without conceding a great look to Gardner and, when he forces the IMK miss, Gardner isn’t able to grab the rebound despite being in the best position to secure it of anyone. This is, once again, a combination of playing amongst the trees and not providing enough spacing to allow for clean driving lanes from other players.

I didn’t show all of his misses but the key takeaways, for me, in watching these above is both how limited to taking that mid-range jumper Gardner was in this game due to the size disparity, and it wasn’t falling. But, furthermore and probably more concerning, his presence in the Triangle bogged everything down, eliminating openings for others due to the lack of respect for his outside shot, at times even looking confused. This, along with the lack of defensive presence that I highlighted above was the reason behind that -22 point differential when he played. So, let’s take a look at what things looked like with Dunn at the 4 for comparison.

Offense: Dunn

Please go back and look at that last clip with Gardner with IMK attempting to drive baseline. Now check out this clip below, this is earlier in the game than the clip above, and immediately after Dunn comes in for Gardner at the 4, with Clark, Beekman, Franklin and BVP still on the floor. When IMK begins his drive, Franklin is the man in the lane, BVP is just inside the three-point line, Dunn clear on the opposite wing, and Beekman had been screened for to go outside of the three-point line. These are all threats to shoot, so Wake is pressing them closely (look how much Franklin’s man has his back entirely turned to IMK at first and is holding onto Franklin. Remember how as soon as IMK drove in the clip above, Gardner’s man was right there to help and to stop it. Here, no one sees and/or is able to react to the drive until it’s too late, and they get called for the foul when they do. IMK’s success here vs. his failure earlier is a direct result of how occupied the defense was trying to keep track of our shooters and the spacing it provided.

Okay, not let’s back up to the first half again. Dunn is once again at the 4 in Smaller Ball with BVP at the 5. You could compare this clip with the one above where BVP attempts to post up and ends up turning it over out of bounds. When Dunn feeds BVP in the post, Appleby has switched onto him after a screen switch JUST like the clip above when BVP couldn’t capitalize because of Gardner’s hovering man. Dunn successfully feeds BVP in the post and Appleby attempts to steal it so as not to give up the advantage. Wake attempts to rotate help and effectively does so, but the entire middle of the lane is wide open because neither IMK nor Beekman can be entirely left and Franklin just makes a good cut to open (read: very open) space.

Same lineup in the clip below, another great example of the spacing. Remember how often Gardner was catching the ball in the high post or short corner in those clips above? Dunn gets the ball in the high post here but kicks it out and immediately makes his way over into the far corner. Clark, IMK, Franklin, and BVP accompany him on the floor. This is a 5-Out look. Franklin sets a screen at the high post for IMK and then flares back out to the top of the three-point line. When Clark passes him the ball, he immediately rips and drives the lane… because there’s literally no one there! All four other players are spaced around the arc and he’s able to just explode hard past his man for the open layup. Gorgeous spacing.

Speaking of things of beauty… the clip below is another 5-Out look with BVP getting Appleby switched onto him again in the post. Again, remember how that ended up earlier with Gardner on the floor. This time, he one-hands the pass into the post from IMK and immediately whips it out to Clark, who immediately kicks it over to Dunn, who immediately hits the continuation pass to Franklin darting out to the corner for the three. Franklin’s man was fully on the other side of the rim attempting to provide help to Appleby, faced with the prospect of a BVP post move. He got punished as he wasn’t able to recover fast enough to catch up to the ball movement – which is the very real reason that the spacing is possible because when defenders cheat off of it, that open three is in play and lethal.

We’re back in the second half again with Clark, Franklin, IMK, Dunn, and BVP in the next clip. They’re running the Triangle with Dunn and IMK on the wings again and, in case you were wondering, this is why the opposition isn’t able to cheat off of Dunn when he’s sitting out there vs. how they play Gardner. After some screening action Clark gets a pretty decent driving path to the lane and Dunn’s man does leave him to come into the lane and help to bother the shot when Clark attempts the reverse. Clark is able to collect and find Dunn for the kickout and, without hesitation, he fires away and knocks down the open look. Make no mistake, he’s not a sniper from out there and we aren’t going to be running much offense designed to funnel outside shots to him, but his ability to hit them enough when he’s open means he’s a threat who can’t be left to help, which is the entire point of these offenses and was the biggest question about him playing in them. It really is night and day with the spacing Gardner is providing when he’s in.

Now this, below, is the other thing when you lose track of Dunn as a play develops. They’re in the same lineup and are running 5-Out. Clark takes a baseline drive and finds Franklin cutting down the lane. Dunn’s man does leave him to help on the drive, and so he simply follows the play in, hangs in the air for roughly a full minute, before slamming the putback through the rim. Kidding aside, revisit the IMK shot above where Gardner had a run at the rebound with a running start but it was deflected away. Dunn flushed this in traffic over a 7-footer and another 6’10” player with ease. So between shooting and crashing the glass, that’s MULTIPLE ways that he can punish his man leaving him and ensure that he’s maintaining proper spacing in the Triangle and 5-Out.

I’d like the key takeaway from the above to be how extremely different the spacing is and the offense operates when Dunn plays the Smaller Ball 4 alongside BVP vs. when Gardner plays the 4 or the 5. He may not take as many shots or create as many looks on his own, but the shots he’s taking are either high percentage ones or three-pointers and his mere presence improves these offenses because he allows the best offensive players on the team to have more room to work. As such, in most cases against ACC size and competition, he’s not just going to be a more effective defensive player than Gardner, he’s also going to be a more effective offensive one.

Now I want to be clear, I’m not saying never play Gardner as a result of the above. There are going to be better matchups for him in the future – games where he’s not conceding as much size to the opposition’s 4, or games where he’s just shooting so well from the mid-range that it’s worth it (although I’d probably argue that’s a less compelling case because those still aren’t high quality shot selections and we will still run into similar spacing issues unless we return to Sides). You certainly want to see if you can get him going in every game, especially when he’s not conceding that size. That being said, I do think that the time is now for Dunn to start at the four and get a lot of run there for all of the benefits that he brings above on both sides of the ball complimented with the use of the Triangle and 5-Out offenses.

Kadin’s Minutes!

Until this point, I’ve been primarily talking about Dunn vs. Gardner and making the case for Dunn as a starter, but another enigma that persists with this team is regarding Kadin Shedrick’s minutes. He went from starter’s minutes, going a combined 13-14 from the floor against Baylor and Houston, and still leading the team in both PER (26.4 with Beekman’s 19.7 being next closes), Box Plus/Minus (10.3 to Beekman’s 7.9 being next closest), AND the best offensive and defensive ratings on the team at 136.8 scored per 100 possessions offensively (2nd, Reece at 118.4) and 89.2 allowed per 100 possessions defensively (2nd, Dunn at 92.6)… to playing a combined 12 minutes over the last three games, including a season low 3 minutes in this one. I’ve heavily documented on this site my thoughts on his initial reduction in playing time and how the mistakes he seemed to be penalized for were disproportionately so to other players and how his impact to the game as a whole was significantly positive. Since his time started to dip, though, it has appeared that his confidence has started to waiver on the offensive side of the ball especially. This is always the risk of benching your players when they’re playing well, that they can’t just turn it off and on at will. That being said, I looked at all 8 possessions that Shedrick had in this one, 4 on offense, 4 on defense, to see how he played and to gauge what to make of his sparse minutes/whether they seemed to be based on his performance in this game. Let’s look at them together, shall we?

Possession #1: Offense. He loses his shoe! This is his first play of the game after not having played much the previous two and he plays most of it on a sock foot, which is just kind of amusing in and of itself but, more so, he gets an assist! Kidding aside, we’re down two points when he enters the game and there are a couple of things of note about this play. One shoe or not, Kadin hasn’t looked to score much with his back to the basket in the post when he gets the ball isolated down there. I would like to see him increase his aggression when he has these opportunities (and both shoes, not in the clip below). That being said, he is a very good passer out of the post, and notice how improved the spacing is still when he has it. We’re running 4 on the outside with Kadin posted up. Him having it in the post is commending much more attention from the Wake defense, as Appleby is sagging down in an attempt to bother the dribble if he takes one, so he just kicks it right out to Clark for the open three. Plus 3 points

Possession #2: Defense. Heading the other way now, he’s primarily away from the ball on this possession, but does do a good job of being the “tagger” when Dunn’s man slips a screen and catches the ball in the high post. Kadin is there to help from behind and Carr, feeling his presence, kicks it right back outside while Dunn and Shedrick both recover to their respective men. Appleby ends up taking a pull up three over Clark as the shot clock winds down and makes it. Minus 3, zero total.

Possession #3: Offense. The lineup is still Clark, Franklin, IMK, and Dunn. Kadin sets a screen for Clark and then moves into the lane. I believe this is the Triangle with Dunn and IMK on the wings and Clark just hasn’t moved into the lane yet. Shedrick sets a down screen for Franklin which Wake doesn’t switch because they can’t leave Hildreth on Kadin. This gives Franklin room to take the mid-range jumper off of the screen. This is also a mid-range jumper, but Franklin was heating up, the shot was open in rhythm, and you prefer him as a shooter at this point. Plus 2 points, two total.

Possession #4: Defense. This possession is them mostly running Dunn off of screens and Hildred eventually taking him to the hoop with a nifty spin move in the lane. Shedrick is out between the opposite elbow and three-point lane defending his man when this drive begins. He is able to come over and make a swipe at the ball on the driver, but that didn’t really impact the play either way. This is just a solid move by Hildreth as you’d expect Dunn to be advantaged here. Minus 2 points, zero total.

Possession #5: Offense. Same lineup, they’re playing 5-Out here with Shedrick setting an initial ball screen on Appleby for Clark. Now, I’d love to just see him dive to the hoop here when Carr steps away to stop Clark’s progress. The path down the lane is open and he’s had success catching lobs like this from Clark in the past. That being said, he takes the return pass from Clark, draws Franklin’s man, kicks it to IMK, who swings it back to Franklin for the three. This is primarily Franklin just being on a heater at this point, but the last shot helped to build that confidence and the ball was moving in this set, forcing Wake to react which they did too late. Plus 3, three total.

Possession #6: Defense. This is a very good defensive possession from Shedrick, ultimately forcing a turnover. Appleby initially gets by Clark on the dribble and Shedrick steps in to deter the drive while also being able to recover to his man on the wing and change direction to stop his man’s drive after receiving the ball. It’s great mobility and change of direction from a big his size and the 6’10” Klintman (who looks small in comparison) has nowhere to go on the drive. Instead, he kicks it back out to Appleby and attempts to set a ball screen. Kadin gives a hedge and swipes at the ball while Appleby is trying to fade away and get a pass back to Klintman. Either the disruption or the miscommunication cause him to throw it out of bounds for the turnover. Very good example of Shedrick’s defense away from the rim and how beneficial his mobility/size combo can be.

Possession #7: Offense. This is the last offensive possession he’s on the floor. Beekman is in for Clark, otherwise the lineup is the same. Wake moves to a 1-3-1 zone in an attempt change up looks. Kadin plays the high post and the ball plays through him twice. The points are made by Reece driving the ball through the spot where Kadin vacates and finding Franklin in the corner for yet another three. Shedrick certainly not an instrumental part of this play but also not a detriment, handling the ball twice and keeping it moving. Plus 3, 6 total.

Possession #8: Defense. This is his last possession of the game. He’s not really involved much as his man hangs out in the corner. Monsanto ends up taking a long three, Dunn boxes his man and draws and over-the-back call, Kadin had dropped down into the lane for the rebound as his man remained outside the three-point line. Final Total +6 points

Now, look, I’m not saying he played out of his mind in those clips above. It’s hard to in just three minutes, but the offense literally scored every possession they had the ball when he was in. He didn’t concede any points or rebounds on defense, in fact, Wake mostly avoided him, and he had one really nice defensive possession that highlighted his size and mobility and ultimately forced a turnover. The team was down two points when he entered and up four points when he left, the beginning of our momentum swing. That doesn’t seem like a performance that doesn’t merit getting back into the game again… especially when Gardner was playing as he was.

I’ve seen a lot of debate about Kadin as it’s the most confusing topic on the team right now. The most conventional line of wisdom that I’ve seen acknowledges that the defense is improved when he’s on the floor, but questions his fit in the Triangle offense because opposing teams don’t respect him outside of the three-point line nor his mid-range jumper. To this I would say there’s an element of truth. There have been clear times in previous games where he’s gotten the ball in the high post in the Triangle offense, the defense has sagged, and he’s had to either shoot or reset. This is also why I’m advocating for Dunn to start at the 4 right now due to the way the offense functions, as I highlighted above, when he’s in and his defense is kind of “Kadin Light” with more versatility as to WHO he can guard but without quite the same reach/size. But, in the four offensive sets above, not only did they score every time, but the spacing and opportunity WERE much better than when Gardner was on the floor and the reason is two-fold:

#1. Wake couldn’t switch as much on Shedrick as they could on Gardner. They were switching in many situations when he was in, they even were switching and letting Appleby take BVP on multiple occasions. They tried to switch a lot as a response to the Triangle and 5-Out. They were unwilling to do that off of Shedrick because of the unique size mismatch he represented. You saw this on the Franklin jumper off of the screen.

#2. The spacing is actually still just better when Shedrick is on the block compared to with Gardner on the floor. They ran 5-Out a couple times when he was in, but really mostly played it like 4-Out with Kadin inside. You saw earlier where any number of Wake players from Carr to Marsh to Williamson were just stone walls to a prospective Gardner drive. When Shedrick caught the ball in the post vs. Wake they handled it entirely differently, anxious to cheat down and help, which freed up the one Franklin three. It’s his size that makes a difference with regard to the spacing when he’s on the block. Wake had to divert more resources toward him when he had the ball, couldn’t switch off of him easily, and just generally had to be more aware of him around the rim. You probably do have to skew more 4-Out, 1-In when he’s playing, and you probably are better off running the Triangle either as a two-man game with him in the middle or with him down on the post as a passer (and hopefully, eventually, a scorer as well) as they did in this game, but if you’re still doubting this, I’d ask you to revisit the way Wake’s defensive flow looked in those Gardner clips again, just skip the Dunn clips entirely (because those are obviously cleaner) and then watch the 3 non-zone Kadin clips. The ball does move better. The spacing is better.

In Conclusion

I love Dunn as a potential starter and 30 minute player for us in Smaller Ball. He does so much for this team and offers so many options on both ends.

I hope that Saturday is the beginning of a shift (it might be gradual IF it happens) back to 20ish minutes for Shedrick per game. The ability to always have one of he or Dunn on the floor seems very important defensively, and Saturday should have helped to illustrate that he’s not a liability even in these new offenses; even playing alongside Dunn instead of BVP. They just have to be mindful of how they play him and, yes, I’d love to see him be more aggressive, but he still commands attention, is a good passer, and is a great finisher when he gets the ball with an advantage. None of that has changed, we’ve just also seen HOW efficient Smaller Ball can be offensively.

I do think that far fewer Gardner minutes is correct. He doesn’t offer the defensive impact of the other two and that’s compounded by him actually being the worst of the three when it comes to providing quality spacing within our Triangle and 5-Out offenses. The offense he does bring is often harder to come by, less efficient, and at the expense of higher quality opportunities created elsewhere on the team. I think you use him more as a situational player now – if we’ve tried the other two (Dunn and Shedrick) and the offense is still slumping or stagnant, or even just if BVP is struggling with his shot again, see if you can put Gardner in there, give him some isolated touches, see if the jumper is falling, etc. As an alternative to the main plan not working, have his offensive style/game as a back-up. Or, if we’re matched up against a team with a small or finesse-type Power Forward; say a smaller team during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, or a team like Miami, play him, get him the ball on the block, and let him use all of his post moves which is a much more effective element to his game than when he solely has to fall back on his mid-range. It absolutely doesn’t mean no Gardner minutes or that he wouldn’t have a very important role, but it could mean playing him more like Dunn used to be played; sometimes not very much, sometimes a significant chunk, depending on what the game called for.

I don’t think there are many who don’t acknowledge that in some games Gardner eats on offense, in others, he’s much less of a factor, while always struggling at defending as an undersized PF. But last season he had 20 games with at least 15 points! This is the Gardner some keep hoping we’ll see, but that was also out of volume and necessity. This year he has two such games, against Albany and UMES. His shots and minutes are down, and the offense and team are better. The logical extension of this if we’re thinking about the team reaching it’s absolute ceiling is being much more aggressive about limiting his time when the matchup isn’t right, and increasing the minutes of the other two who improve our collective defense and better augment the offensive skills of those around them. System fit matters and sometimes you can be a much more impactful player without having high volume utilization. That’s what we’re experiencing right now and what I hope we continue to gravitate toward with Dunn, and return to with Shedrick, while still having room for Gardner to make a big impact when the situation is right.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: