After the last game I anticipated taking a break from writing about the frontcourt but, sure enough, it’s the most notable point of discussion after Jayden Gardner flipped the script from the Wake game and went off for 18 points and 6 rebounds in this one, shooting 8-12 from the field and firing up the midrange game unlike we’ve seen him recently. What a luxury to be able to turn to him as a high volume scorer on a day when BVP went 1-4 from the floor for 2 points after being a key cog in our offensive flow ever since the UNC game.
In my last piece, I wrote the following about Gardner:
“I do think that far fewer Gardner minutes is correct…. 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…”
Boston College was exactly one of these matchups! Not only was BVP not on his offensive game but, outside of the 7’1″ Quinten Post, B.C. runs a plethora of players 6’7″ and shorter, primarily 6’6″ and shorter – they start four guards fitting the latter category. With BVP on the floor, Post covered Gardner and was initially very effective, but when we brought other bigs onto the floor (starting with Caffaro), B.C. switched Post onto them, leaving Gardner to feast on the smaller players. The recipe was ripe for it to be Gardner time and he certainly delivered, but what was notable was that he did start hitting these shots over the 7’1″ Post as the game progressed and the matchups shifted him back his way. What does that mean in the broader context and can we infer anything about that moving forward? In the below piece, I’m going to spotlight Jayden Gardner, just like I did Kihei Clark after the FSU game. I’m going to look at all of the points he directly created on offense and those he allowed on defense to get a sense of the full picture and where things came out.
A Lens on Jayden: Offense Created
Jayden’s first bucket of the game came just under the 16 minute mark, putting them up 11-8. Caffaro is one the floor for his lone stint (I’ll have more to say about this later), but Gardner is being guarded by the 6’6″ Prince Aligbe. He was initially being guaded by Post but when BVP was replaced by Caffaro, Post switched to Caffaro to take the bigger, less mobile, less stretch option. Already a mismatch, but even more so when Beekman sets a screen for him in the Triangle and the 6’5″ DeMarr Langford Jr. gets switched onto him. It bears repeating that Gardner is not often faced with a defender smaller than he is, but when he does, he can feast an that he did here with a post up and turn around jumper, not fading away, moving toward the center of the lane. Plus 2 points.
It’s my belief that Gardner is at his most effective when he makes plays on both ends of the floor to get him into the flow of the game. So this was a huge play both within the flow of the game (cut a 3 point deficit to 1 with Post shooting the lights out), but also, IMO, to get/keep him locked in in this one. Despite how the game had been going to this point, this was an energizer. Plus 2 – 4 total.
This next one highlights some of the spacing issues that we still had in this one when he, but especially when Caffaro was on the floor. This is supposed to be the Triangle offense with Clark and McKneely on the wings, and Caffaro, Gardner, and Beekman running the inside. It ends up being three men around the arc and both Caffaro and Gardner standing at the high post half-heartedly looking for the ball. Caffaro setting a ball screen for Clark but with no real threat to roll, and Reece ending up jacking up a desperation shot at the end of the shot clock. Fortunately, the heave leads to a long rebound and B.C. doesn’t make an effort to box out. The carom goes right to Gardner who alertly collects it and immediately launches a pure jumper from the foul line. Plus 2 – 6 total.
Now you can tell he’s starting to feel his shot after the last few because after Kihei collects this rebound and finds him, he immediately goes into his shooting motion from the baseline and this shot is also over a Post contest, not a smaller man. Plus 2 – 8 total.
This next one is very early in the second half which is when he really started heating up. Post is on him this time, switching over from BVP. Smartly we run him off of a ball screen and make him recover to Gardner in space but, notably, Gardner lets him fully recover and set before just rising up to shoot over him from the midrange. A bit questionable on the shot selection, but pure in the result, likely buoyed by the confidence from getting cooking earlier. Plus 2 – 10 total.
I think this possession below is an interesting case study because Post is on Gardner again and you can see how he sags in the middle throughout the entire possession, clogging up the lane for the Traingle which, again is trying to pull those big bodies out of the lane to free up space. Franklin gets covered up by Post on the inside and Beekman also sees lots of help funneled his way as he attempts to drive. B.C. is switching screens, though, and as soon as the offensive action gets Aligbe switched onto Gardner, he drops to the block, calls for the ball, and shoots right over him. This is fantastic awareness re: identifying that the mismatch is back, going right at it, and taking advantage of the hot hand. Plus 2 – 12 total. But, one thing I do want to point out and ask you, reader, to keep in the back of your mind – these last two shots are in the context of Gardner being on fire. Having watched the Triangle over the last several games and how many open threes and open finishes at the rim its generated – are these looks we want to rely on or prioritize outside of this context of mismatches/being on fire? The flip side of this coin and what we’ve seen a good amount this year is a less efficient conversion rate with the same types of looks.
The next clip I love because it’s a fantastic catch in traffic on a secondary break and a seamless motion to go up draw the foul in traffic. When comparing what all of our frontcourt bring to the table, Gardner has to be the player you’re most confident in to make this kind of catch and turn it into something positive, with Dunn probably second. He’s just very good at taking advantage of scattered opportunity like this. Plus 2 – 14 total.
Now THIS. This got me fired up because Gardner doesn’t often play above the rim like this with such tenacity. Clark really made this play following his own shot and then pulling JG’s man away, but the way in which he put this back in shows how engaged he was, which was great to see. I mentioned this with the coast-to-coast layup earlier, but this is another of that style of play outside of his normal game that you sometimes get when he’s feeling it, and it IS relevant that he can finish like this without coming down and going back up. Plus 2 – 16 total.
Last bucket on the day is an interesting one with Dunn and IMK on the wings, and Clark, Franklin, and Gardner running the middle of the Triangle. Normally, we’d see BVP in this slot – but this is the uncommon BVPless version of Smaller Ball. Effectively, Clark gets the ball on the block and Franklin curls around a Gardner screen, moving to the hoop. Post sags to help deny the cut, and Gardner flares out just inside of the opposite three-point line above the elbow to sink the midrange jumper before Post can recover. Plus 2 – 18 total. Now, this is very much something BVP would normally do to punish the post player helping inside, only he would extend it out past the three-point line. This is a less effective version of that, both because it’s worth one less point and because, if the defender stuck to him, he’d still have less ground to recover to help inside. That being said, when BVP isn’t on in a game and Gardner very much is, this can (and was) a really nice alternative.
So, that was his offensive game, tying for high score on the team with only Franklin and Beekman attributing to more total points. A huge spark with microwave shooting in the midrange, and then creating/converting on some opportunistic plays. Let’s go the other way now and look at his defense.
Post was B.C.’s primary offensive weapon this game, scoring 24 total points. Much of that came in a short stretch against Caffaro, with the rest primarily coming against BVP and Gardner. There were some other looks, however, that took advantage of Gardner’s awareness/technique.
The good news is that we saw how Gardner got going against the smaller Aligbe/guard switches early in the game. One trade off is on the play below where he’s tasked with guarding a guard one-on-one on the perimeter. Here, Aligbe gets him on his heels off the dribble after a cross-over and hits an open midrange jumper. Minus 2.
This next clip is not primarily his responsibility but he definitely should have prevented these points. Post gets the ball outside of the three-point line and dribbles toward Gardner’s man like he’s setting up a dribble hand-off. Gardner flies up to deny the pass, taking himself out of help position and then turns his back to the ball as his man starts to drift back into the corner like he’s going to set a screen on Clark. Post just takes Caffaro off of the dribble without much footspeed but Gardner’s overplay and recovery mean that he doesn’t immediately see the drive nor does he react in time to help. This is certainly more on Caffaro than Gardner, but this is definitely a situation where, given Post’s lack of quickness and how he should have been playing this, he should have been able to step in on the drive. He’s still deeper than Post when the drive begins, is right there, and should have been more alert. Minus 2 – 4 total.
Here’s one toward the end of the first half. Gardner overplays a lingering hedge opportunity and leaves his man to double the ball handler on the sideline. His man slips and rolls to the hoop where he collects the pass and is able to finish past Clark. Gardner isn’t able to get back into the play. Minus 2 – 6 total.
This is in the second half and we can see that awareness and tracking the play can be an issue for him. It’s almost like he gets tunnel vision on a certain aspect of what’s happening at times and loses track of his man or where he’s meant to help. On this one, he plays the role of “tagger” after BVP hard hedges on the Post screen and he rolls to the basket. Gardner offers some resistance initially with a bump but then lets him go to recover to his man on the three-point line. The ball does go down to Post but it’s covered pretty well by Beekman dropping from the off side and BVP getting back into the play. And that’s where it all goes wrong because Gardner starts ball watching Post and loses track of his man entirely who just cuts past him for the wide open dunk. A lack of concentration/focus on this one. Minus 2 – 8 total.
We should be starting to see a little trend here of Gardner focusing on something and losing track of the bigger picture. In the clip below, he actually takes the three with BVP under the hoop going for the rebound. His man is Post now, a big assignment and one he was surely focused on, but he’s so locked into covering him on the way up the floor that he forgets about transition defense. This is also on McKneely who leaves the bottom of the screen to run cross-court to his man. Gardner is back, though, with good vision on the play unfolding and either is not aware of what’s happening despite BVP pointing and calling out that his man is unchecked, or doesn’t communicate assignments with IMK. The result is just a wide-open dunk behind the defense. Especially because his man (Post) is the only one behind the ball when it’s initially being pushed up the floor, and he’s not a player who is going to take the ball there off of the bounce anyway, Gardner needs to have his head on a swivel here. It’s bad awareness and transition defense. Minus 2 – 10 total.
This next one he’s the primary defender on Post, a tall ask of him. It’s a blocking foul (probably his best shot at a positive outcome here) created by him moving to hedge position prior to Post setting a ball screen. Post, reading Gardner’s commit, fakes the screen and slips and Gardner has to scramble to get back into the play. Notably, Dunn should have also offered more help here. Minus 2 – 12 total.
This is the last one I’d put ownership on Gardner for the game. He’s just giving up too much size to Post, and unsuccessfully attempts to front him, conceding the layup. Minus 2 – 14 total.
One more bonus clip I’m not crediting toward Gardner, but I think is worth contrasting with a relevant comparison later is this play where he attempts to come and double Post with BVP. We clearly made an effort when BVP and Gardner were in together to try to send double teams Post’s way (one forced a turnover on the first play of the game). But with this one he gets the ball too deep, the double team isn’t able to disrupt his move, and he spins away from it with the finish over an ineffective contest from BVP.
So, in the end, I have him at Plus 4 with buckets created vs. conceded. His offensive explosion was more impactful than the defensive tradeoffs, especially in a contest when BVP didn’t get going. I would say, this is exactly the kind of offensive game you’re hoping for him to have and contribute in this kind of situation. He was not generally sharp on defense, neither mentally nor with his ability to help impact Post. He was also left to cover Post one-on-one a few times and that went poorly, he conceded too much size and likely just shouldn’t be put in that situation. That being said, the pros certainly outweighed the cons in this one.
I do want to look at a few other clips, for some context, though.
Spacing Still An Issue
Jayden punished B.C. in this one with a razor sharp mid-range jumper that started out as exploiting mismatches and taking advantage of opportunities, and evolved into no one being able to bother it. But, the same offensive issues from the Wake game, where how the opposition was able to play him on defense and were able to make the Triangle less effective were still on display in this one. Let’s take a look at a few sets.
This is the first possession of the game. B.C. played Post on whoever was the most traditional big on the floor and whoever pulled him away the least from the basket. We saw earlier how the main benefit of playing Caffaro (it could have been Shedrick) alongside Gardner rather than BVP, is that it pulled Post from him and allowed him to get going against smaller players. This is before BVP’s first stint out of the game, and you can see how Post is basically able to just sag the lane on this entire possession. He deters a BVP post up, cuts off any potential passes to a lurking Armaan, and the result is that the offense has to settle for a Kihei mid-range jumper – not a high value shot here.
Here’s one with Caffaro in, so the matchup is switched favorably but through the screen actions Post is there to switch onto Gardner when he gets the ball on the block. Firstly, just notice how probing Kihei is in the lane but how entirely non-threatening Caffaro is offensively. The ball swings back out and there’s some solid two-man game action with Gardner and Beekman, leaving Gardner free near the hoop but, as soon as Post is there he ends up taking a pretty wild fade-away shot baseline because Post’s size negated his opportunity around the rim. This was very similar to the looks in the previous game where he’d run into Carr in tight and wouldn’t have options, but the mid-range wasn’t on.
This next one shows, in my opinion, the fairly uncomplimentary situation with BVP and Gardner together. Post is on Gardner, who isn’t yet shooting with the confidence of the burning Sun. BVP has the much smaller player on him, but Post is able to sag off of Gardner and deny any plays toward the lane. As a result, BVP still tries to take advantage of the matchup but can’t do so at the rim, rather shooting a turnaround jumper in the lane. This is much more a Gardner type of move and isn’t a big mainstay of BVP’s game, who is better suited launching from outside. To B.C.’s credit, this is how you should choose to defend these two when you can, putting the size on JG and the mobility on BVP, but it’s effective at stalling what both do best.
Here’s one in the second half with Gardner and BVP again, this tmie playing the Triangle with Clark, and with Armaan and IMK on the wings. This is the dreaded “Small Ball Minus Reece” lineup that I mentioned previously being our worst defensively and not much better offensively. We didn’t run this more than a few possessions, and here’s one look as to why, with the screening action not yielding much of anything inside and Clark eventually forcing it into the lane trying to create something with plenty of help back there. Again, please remember how clean these driving lanes have been over the past several games in Smaller Ball.
Okay, last one we’ll look at to illustrate this point. This is once again the Small Ball minus Reece lineup and when you watch this, you can see there just aren’t that many threats working together in cohesion. Post camps the lane because of Gardner, eliminating the screen action/ability of the wings to drive. Franklin ends up with the ball but, again, there’s no realistic option to drive the ball into the lane, so he resorts to a step back mid-range jumper that’s a low-quality shot.
Normally, when the opposition has a larger player like this who can effectively negate Gardner’s inside game, forcing him to almost exclusively the mid-range, we do see the kinds of sets we see in the above with that player able to camp the lane and not have to recover far to contest which, once again, runs counter to what the Triangle is attempting to do. Even though it wasn’t overall an effective trade off (and moving forward it will hopefully be Shedrick instead of Caffaro), playing Caffaro did have the effect of shifting the matchup and letting Gardner start to get going against the smaller 4s on B.C. which then carried over into the rest of the game. I’m increasingly of the opinion that BVP and Gardner are not a stong pairing together. The spacing that BVP offers is often negated by Gardner providing the worst spacing of the bigs (outside of Caffaro), especially when the opposition keeps their Center on Gardner, as B.C. did, or when they have multiple players with that kind of size, as Wake did. Furthermore, neither are great at stopping a quality inside presence individually or together, and do not offer that rim protection/help for our perimeter defenders.
For contrast, Dunn and Shedrick also played well this game, mostly together, positively pushing the differential out both times they played together, including taking the lead from 9 to 19 from just under the 12-minute mark in the second half to just under the 6-minute mark, effectively icing the game.
Shedrick didn’t let Post score while he was in, which is kind of crazy considering he had 24 on the game and how everyone else struggled with him. He did have four fouls (two in one series and one in garbage time) that led to four points, but his collective defense was felt on plays like this – where he stopped his man on the dribble, offered help side support on the baseline to cut off a drive, and still recovered to block his man’s shot at the rim.
And the next one below, where he forces a shotty violache ™ with great on-ball defense on Post after also shutting down another attempted baseline drive and recovering.
And then there’s this one, which is almost a direct parallel to the clip earlier when Gardner and BVP attempt to double Post and he spins with the baseline hook, but Shedrick is able to get a much more invasive contest there, which leads to the break out alley-oop to Dunn.
Speaking of Dunn… we all remember what he was doing this game:
He was effective coming over to help contest shots inside and to help rebound, but he was also displaying increased confidence in his shot, in one case pulling up off of the dribble, here (one of the few times B.C. tried using zone):
So, this is the kind of size and athleticism that you’re pulling off the floor when you’re playing BVP and Gardner together. And going from Post getting offense pretty easily (BVP did force a few travels early until he found his footing), to not being able to find points is a big difference.
Offensively, neither Shedrick nor Dunn are going to give you the shooting ability and confidence that BVP and Gardner can generate from game to game, but we’ve covered extensively last game how Dunn’s ability to play the wing really opens up the spread in the middle of the floor and how Shedrick’s ability to keep teams from switching and to necessitate attention in the post opens things up for everyone else. Here’s one example of that this game where B.C. ended up sending help which burned them for a wide-open three.
It’s all trade-offs. You need the offense the BVP and Gardner can create, but you also need what Dunn and Shedrick bring (and they, too, help the offense, just not as directly). CTB primarily played Dunn with Shedrick in this one, which was effective, but I still prefer a Dunn/BVP pairing and I do like a Gardner/Shedrick pairing for the same reasons the Caffaro pairing helped Gardner’s matchups but without the liability of Caffaro on defense (which we haven’t focused on but Caffaro got absolutely torched by Post both inside and outside). Dunn with Gardner still runs into the same issues on offense as with BVP, but it does still provide improved defense, and Shedrick with BVP I think is very effective, especially in 5-Out.
I’m still of the believe that I’d rather BVP and Gardner be an either/or situation rather than an “and” situation, to be paired with Dunn/Shedrick. One of each from those duos do a much better job of complimenting each other and masking the weaknesses of the other, where BVP and Gardner’s offensive and defensive games do not really play off of each other very well. I also think that, on an average day against a quality team, Ben’s ability to pull that guard outside of the three-point line and to convert his opportunities for 3 instead of 2 (as well as his passing and ability to cover larger players) is going to be more valuable more often and so we’re still going to want to pursue him as the lead option, with Gardner spelling, as the matchup or situation dictates, like on Saturday.
This opinion based on watching the games is backed up by the season long data. All three of our Smaller Ball lineups with Beekman, Franklin, BVP, and then any combination of two of Clark, IMK, and Dunn are still all of our most effective lineups on evanmiya.com; followed closely by Clark, Franklin, IMK, BVP, and Shedrick and then the original starting lineup of Clark, Beekman, Franklin, Gardner, and Shedrick. You also have Beekman, Clark IMK, BVP and Shedrick as another option before our seventh best option – our current starting five. Of all of the top 5 most efficient lineup options this season, only one includes Gardner and it’s the one where he’s paired with Shedrick, not BVP.
So, did Saturday’s stellar offensive torrent change my perspective on what I think our ideal lineups and utilization are? Not really. What it did do is provide a healthy reminder of how effective Gardner can be on offense given the right circumstances and just how valuable it is to have that skillset as an option because, over the course of a season, there are going to be PLENTY of games where BVP is not and where we need the additional scoring or where the matchup is perfect for Gardner’s talents to exploit what the opposition is throwing at us. That is INCREDIBLY valuable, because you have to be able to win in many different ways and having a veteran who can get going like that is another potentially lethal arrow in the quiver.