vs. North Carolina State 2/7/2023

Every time I think I’m done writing about our frontcourt, they reel me back in! Hi, everyone. Took a needed (and timely, considering the game) vacation during the VT game, but am back to cover one of our better (and most encouraging) wins of the season. In the wake of looking lost on defense, implementing a switching defense that did not work well given our size limitations, and playing Shedrick 0 minutes and Dunn only 10 despite the defensive concerns, I was not feeling optimistic about the direction things were headed. With a red-hot N.C. State coming to town and another big-bodied, effective post player in D.J. Burns to try to check, it felt like a breath of fresh air to see CTB change up his strategy and the team to respond defensively.

I joked at the beginning and will touch on some other things, but the evolving development with the frontcourt really is the most interesting and in-flux aspect of the team right now. 1-3, we’re pretty much locked in rotating Clark, Beekman, Franklin, and McKneely; but 4-5 still feels like a continually shifting process. I’ll spend some time focusing on McKneely today, as I’ve probably touched on him the least and he’s evolving into a nice complimentary player whose shooting has fully lived up to the billing but who also is starting to contribute in a variety of ways. I’ll briefly marvel at how much Reece’s explosion and burst are back. But we’ll spend most of the time chatting about the evolving frontcourt; Shedrick’s return to big minutes and then a look at some of the different pairings between Shedrick, BVP, Gardner, and Dunn. So, let’s get into it!

Return of the Shedi

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know I’ve been waxing about this ever since his minutes took a plummet, and if I’d written after the VT game it probably would have been a lot of, “WHHHHYYYYYYY?!?!?!???!??!?!???” type stuff. But, clearly CTB decided that the VT game was impetus to make a change as well. After watching us struggle to defend inside on Saturday, we started the same duo of Gardner and BVP at the 4 and 5 in this one. Immediately, D.J. Burns started taking over the game with these two plays below and then BVP drawing a foul on a hedge (don’t worry, the first two clips are in the old format because of coverage but the rest are in new formatting). You’ll notice in the first clip that he’s just too big for BVP. All he has to do is create just a little space and shoot right over him.

In the second clip, they once again try to compensate by sending a double team with Gardner but, as has been the issue, the sight lanes are too easy, Burns is able to scan the floor and whip a pass to Morsell in the corner for the three.

So, N.C. State had clearly done their homework and was making a concerted effort to play through the interior as all of our recent opponents have. It was working effectively out of the gate.

But, this time, Kadin Shedrick was the first off of the bench and the defensive shift was immediate. Not only did Burns not have an effective solution on offense for him (only scoring 6 points from then on and most when Shedrick was out), but we didn’t have to double the post (although sometimes we still chose to, which was more effective with Shedrick in the sight lines) which allowed us to spend more time focusing on limiting the N.C. State guards. Some brief examples (I’m not going to belabor this point because it was plain to see).

This clip is the first play with Shedrick in the game and N.C. State immediately goes back to Burns. Notice the parallels between this one and his first bucket of the game. This time, we don’t have to send a double, and Shedrick just stands him up, leaving him with nowhere to go. He eventually has to pass out and Clark plays good one-on-one defense on Joiner (who shot 2-14 for the game, we rotated players on him but especially great work by KC with Beekman on Smith!) forcing a contested three that misses. The difference in this defensive possession vs. the previous two should be obvious.

Here’s another one a little later in the half. Terquavion Smith, the second highest scorer in the conference, is being guarded by Armaan Franklin. He runs Franklin off of a screen by Burns, Shedrick hedges and Franklin does a good job getting by. Still, Smith pushes the issue into the lane attempting to get a shot near the rim, but Shedrick is able to recover, get back into the play, and block the shot, helping off of Burns. This is the mobility and rim protection that we talk about that only Dunn among our bigs approximates.

And then this clip, near the very end of the game, Burns is just lost at this point; unable to get around Shedrick and bothered by his length. Shedrick forces him into a travel and a turnover during a crucial possession for the Wolfpack:

These are just three clips I selected to paint the picture. Kadin also forced a charge on Burns, forced another travel from him with a Gardner double team, and basically just rendered him ineffective for most of the contest (he also got in foul trouble). Keep in mind that Burns had been playing very well, too, going for 24, 15, and 31 in his previous three games and we saw how he started off at the beginning of the game. He was held to 8 on Tuesday, most of which were not when Kadin was playing. This was a big deal, especially with Filipowski, Post, Bacot, and Hall on the upcoming schedule.

But, while his defensive impact was fairly obvious and we’ve spent a lot of time in the past (and other sites have also highlighted) highlighting that BVP/Gardner pairing struggles on defense; I want to spend some more time discussing a topic that’s come up recently regarding Shedrick’s impact on the offense. I’ve talked about this some, most at length in my review of the Wake Forest game and then the looks at Smaller Ball against UNC and FSU, but I think there are some misconceptions about his offensive impact, how “spacing” matters, practically, and how our different combinations of big men work together (and are evolving). It will also be a look at how our offenses are adjusting to better account for the players on the floor while still maintaining similar principles. Now, granted, we didn’t get much Dunn in this one, only two minutes because he had a turnover and a goal tend in that short run, but I’ll highlight him where I can as well.

Frontcourt Combinations Offensively

So, depending on the matchup and how individual players are playing, I’m of the firm belief that BVP and Dunn are best when paired together, and Gardner and Shedrick are best when paired together. I tackled this topic a little after the B.C. game for some pretext to this conversation. BVP and Shedrick are fine together and I think there’s some room to improve that dynamic, but not as ideal as the other two combinations. BVP and Gardner are the worst of these options, both IMO and convincingly metrically (except for against the 2-3 zone where they’re solid). Per http://evanmiya.com teammate chemistry, Gardner and BVP have both the SECOND WORST defensive AND offensive ratings (points allowed/scored per 100 possessions when both are on the floor) of any two players on the entire team. As an aside, I also don’t like Dunn and Gardner as a combination, which has been the worst defensive pairing on the entire team. Dunn and Shedrick together doesn’t have a big sample size, although it was effective against B.C. and crushes the other pairings in both metrics in its small sample size; yet to be determined there and I still think you want exactly one of Gardner or BVP to play the more volume scorer role. Neither of those duos saw time together on Tuesday, though, so we won’t focus on them. Let’s start with the current starters:

Gardner and BVP (Small Ball)

These are our two best offensive frontcourt players in terms of shooting the basketball, creating their own shots, and scoring in bulk so, in theory, you’d think this would be our best offensive combination. On the contrary, the trouble with this lineup tends to mostly be fit. Where BVP has been at his best this year, is as a stretch 5, pulling opposing bigs out of the lane to have to contest his three-point shot, opening up the middle. The problem when Gardner is in, however, is that the middle is still never open. Opposing players often don’t follow him out to the three-point line, nor does he often stay out there as a threat to shoot. His defenders are usually around the lane and able to sag into it to provide aggressive help because they’re usually bigger than him around the rim and, even if they get too far off, are often only conceding a mid-range jumper. As a result, even with BVP on the floor, the middle of the floor is rarely open and our guards aren’t able to get the clean lanes that they have often gotten with Dunn on the floor, hanging out at the three-point line. Similarly, BVP is not a commanding mid-range or post up presence. He can make those plays, but they’re not his strength in most ACC matchups. So, you have a situation where the opposing team often just leaves their 4 on BVP to follow him outside, leaves their 5 on Gardner to be able to hang out in the lane and out length him inside, or just switches on both. Many of the benefits the Triangle offense is trying to create, clearing out the middle of the floor for guard drives and creating mismatches inside, don’t have the desired effect as a result. Here are a couple of looks at what I mean below:

In this clip below I do think BVP could have probably fit a pass to Gardner on his drive, but he didn’t see him and it would have required a good deal of accuracy off of the bounce through traffic, with a lucking Smith from above. He either didn’t see him or thought better of it. Either way, it’s a good look at what I’m talking about. N.C. State just switches the screens between the two interchangeably down low because it doesn’t really matter to them who is on who, meaning that most of their inside screening for each other is fruitless. Gardner attempts to set an on ball up top, but BVP’s man is there to tag the roll. Gardner then posts up on the block, but doesn’t have an advantage on his man one-on-one that close to the basket because of the size differential, so he whips it out to McKneely forcing a rotation. If it had been a more accurate pass maybe more could have come of it, but McKneely has to reach and recover control of it so, even though NC State messes up the rotation, they’re able to recoup enough to get back to BVP. He pump fakes the shot and drives into the lane, but these drives of his are slow and N.C. State helps out. Here’s where he might have been able to hit Gardner but, instead, kicks it back out to McKneely who ends up having to force a contested three.

As you can see, none of that came very easily, the biggest advantage came from a Wolfpack miscommunication, and we still ended up getting a shot that you can get on most possessions without running much offense.

Here’s another look. This time it’s Beekman inside the Triangle with the other two and this time the offense “works” as you’d want it to. The 6’1″ Jarkel Joiner gets switched onto BVP, who takes the opportunity to dive to the block to post up. He gets the ball in good position against a much smaller player, but a couple of things happen to derail the advantage. For one, his back to the basket game often consists of taking multiple power dribbles and doesn’t come quickly. This gives the quick hands of Joiner a chance to disrupt his dribble, something we’ll see later. But, additionally, Burns is playing well off of Gardner, down near the circle in very good position to help, as opposed to stretched out on the three-point line as he’d be if it was Dunn, and not having to jockey hard for position inside as he would if it were Shedrick. The result is the BVP has to re-gather the ball after losing advantage, kicks it out to Clark in the corner who is closed out on, and Gardner ends up taking a last second mid-range jumper fading away from the hoop – exactly the kind of shot N.C. State would hope to create.

So, a few things working in tandem on that one – Gardner’s man being able to keep effective help spacing because he’s not a huge threat to score at the rim against him and can’t stretch all the way outside, and BVP’s post game not being his strongest suit nor something that develops quickly, even with the mismatch.

Last clip with this pairing. Firstly, N.C. State is comfortable switching Joiner onto BVP again, and they really don’t even need to. They did so, IMO, because they liked adding some length on Beekman from time-to-time and weren’t getting punished for it. Note Gardner gets the ball out by the three-point line and Burns doesn’t need to pressure him, standing way back at the elbow. So, unless Gardner is going to shoot the three, which he’s attempted only once this year, there’s not much he can do on his own offensively here and Burns is able to keep BVP from catching the ball in deep around the rim (pause at 7 seconds into the clip for a good look at this dynamic). Instead, BVP gets the ball out at the elbow and again loses the dribble to Joiner. Miraculously, he’s able to collect the ball and find IMK from the ground for a shot, but that was just fortunate and didn’t result in a bucket anyway.

So, these are some example of why this frontcourt pairing hasn’t been as effective as one might think, especially since they’re the starting pairing now. In fact, they’re the least effective commonly used duo.

BVP and Shedrick

Now, personally I would have thought this would be our best offensive pairing and best total pairing in the frontcourt. And, over the span of the season, it rates as a respectable 111.4 points per 100 possessions (over 186 possessions), considerably higher than Gardner and BVP’s 96.9 (over 365 possessions). It actually rates out as the second best frontcourt duo, ahead of BVP and Dunn but that’s because they played together some with Dunn at the 3. The five man pairing of Clark, Beekman, Franklin, Dunn, BVP is still the most efficient offensive grouping with over 30 possessions. As you’ll see below, there are still some of the same issues that the two run into when together.

In this clip, you’ll see a very similar look and situation as with the above looks. Initially, N.C. State opts NOT to switch when Shedrick and BVP screen for each other, definitely something to note and a plus in the Triangle. BVP gets Joiner switched onto him again when setting a ball screen. Shedrick is able to draw his man a little bit deeper into the lane, but he still hangs out for help side, even when Shedrick pops up to the elbow to set a back screen for Beekman, which means that the lane is still cluttered when Beekman is attempting to dive on the backside because Kadin’s man doesn’t vacate. That being said, he’s not quite in as close proximity to BVP, and BVP does draw the double team off of IMK’s man, finding him for a quality three-point look despite the contest. It’s certainly better offense than what we got above; the shot is more open (aside from after the scramble on the ground for the loose ball), but it’s still relying on a contested three when BVP has the ball on a guard in the post, and it’s still the defender on the opposite post player clogging up the lane.

In this next clip there are some nuances from what we saw earlier. Franklin’s in the Triangle with BVP and Shedrick. N.C. State isn’t switching off of Shedrick, which is good, the screens inside are a little more purposeful and effective, with Kadin setting a pin down for Franklin that he gets too late to shoot, but he does have a driving lane to the right. With Kadin on the opposite block, his man has to play deeper than he does on Gardner, because Kadin is a threat to catch a lob or to finish over him with advantage near the hoop. That being said, he’s still there and in good enough position to help contest the shot on the drive, which bothers Franklin enough to force the miss. BVP’s at the high post when the drive starts and vacates out to the three-point line too late, leaving his man close enough to able to crash on the backside to help secure the glass. If BVP had either followed the ball to the hoop to help crash the glass or pulled out to the three-point line a little earlier, it could have been a little better but, either way, still an issue of Kadin’s man being able to help, and BVP not really being an efficient player in the mid-range.

Here’s another look. Again, a little better and you can see the positive differences, but still not ideal. This time they start in one of the box sets that STL just did a whole piece on. IMK sets a quality back screen for Kadin who would have been open for a lob but Clark either doesn’t see him or doesn’t trust himself to throw the pass because he’s got 6’8″ Greg Gantt on him at the time. BVP has Morsell on him throughout but doesn’t post him up, instead getting the ball back out at the point and then resetting through Clark, who now has Joiner back on him. As Clark starts his drive to the hoop, Shedrick sets a back screen for BVP which, again, N.C. State is not switching, so there’s a moment where BVP is open with no one between him and the basket (and the much smaller 6’3″ Morsell behind him trying to recover). Clark isn’t able to see or land that pass, though, and the window closes on him around the rim with way too many bodies and congestion among the trees, he turns it over attempting to kick it out into the corner. A play that did work and create multiple advantages and one decent opportunity, but also one that wasn’t ideal or easy.

Last one from this grouping. It’s another good example, not just because it ends in a very poor quality long three attempt from Franklin at the end. I feel like this best illustrates how the pieces just aren’t in perfect harmony. BVP has Morsell on him throughout, which he once again cannot take advantage of, but he’s tempted enough to that he still hangs out around the paint rather than pulling outside around the three-point line. He first attempts to find Franklin on a cut which doesn’t work, tries to post up on the block but drifts too far outside, and the offense just doesn’t go anywhere and stalls out.

So, I do think there’s some stuff that can be integrated here, primarily with BVP playing more outside and then Shedrick setting some ball screens. 5-Out feels more relevant with this pairing, or just a few different ways to run the Triangle, but it’s not as complimentary of a pairing as you’d think. It’s still better than the Gardner/BVP pairing (both on offense and on defense).

Just to illustrate that point, here’s a successful look with the pairing early on in the game where BVP does successfully pull his man far enough out of the lane so when Clark beats his man on the blowby and draws help, Kadin is wide open to dive , score the bucket, and draw the foul.

The pairing can absolutely be very effective in the set when they’re able to create a situation where it’s just Shedrick on the inside to punish any help, which he does at an incredibly efficient clip of 71% from the floor and 81% from the free throw line.

BVP and Dunn

Now, we really didn’t get to see this pairing much this game, but we’ve focused on Smaller Ball in the past and we know what it offers. With Dunn camped in the corner and BVP roaming outside, the middle of the lane is often WIDE open, unlike with either Gardner or Shedrick on the floor, which creates all kinds of options for all of Clark, Beekman, and Franklin to get into the lane and look to finish rather than looking more to distribute (Beekman can finish regardless but the other two are considerably better with the clean lane). Unfortunately for Dunn, he dribbled the ball off of his foot on one drive and goaltended on a defensive possession and that was it for his evening. There was one possession, though, that I thought highlighted a slight change of dynamics/player confidence than before.

In this clip, we see McKneely hit a contested mid-range jumper off of the bounce. Great for him and his confidence, but not the high-quality shot we’ve come to expect from this lineup. It wasn’t the best case study because normally you have Franklin and Beekman in the Triangle along with BVP and then Dunn on the wing with either IMK or Clark. In this case, you had three of IMK, Clark and Dunn, and so there seemed to be some initial confusion as to whether IMK or Dunn was to be in the Triangle. Now, I think it’d probably just be better to have Dunn inside in that case, but they appeared to settle on Dunn staying on the wing. The thing that struck me was around the 9 second mark where Dunn gets the ball on the wing with a ton of space between he and his defender who had been sagging in to help in the lane. But instead of shooting, he hesitates and brings the ball back out top to IMK who then makes his one-on-one move. Now, it’s possible that the end result of this play was two points and that Dunn would have missed, but the fact that he was unwilling to shoot that shot when he was taking it just a few games ago is a new development. I’ve hypothesized on here that opponents will start sagging off of Dunn within this grouping and forcing him to make that shot and, just one possession, but it appears that may have begun.

With neither Dunn nor BVP having their best games and BVP not being on with his shot, this was definitely not the grouping to give a lot of run on Tuesday. I still think, however, that these two pair very well together (especially with Franklin on the floor). You could definitely see how much more open the middle of the floor was. Get both feeling more confident in their shot, and this is still a great option to go to. It’s one I’m actually surprised they haven’t used AS much in recent games, instead seeing Dunn’s minutes decreasing.

Gardner and Shedrick

And now we’ve arrived at the best offensive pairing on Tuesday and, with 116.5 points scored per 100 possessions (on 351 attempts), our most efficient OFFENSIVE frontcourt duo for the season. Now, a lot to discuss here. Some are probably either surprised because of the spacing issues that we’ve discussed about both just earlier, or correctly pointing out that much of their time together was when we were still running Sides, not the Triangle. This is very true. In fact, Shedrick really hasn’t gotten that much run in general since our transition to the Triangle offense after UNC sagged so severely off of him in the first half of that game. But, when he has, his ability to force his man to stick near him when he’s close to the rim, and some significant adjustments to the way we run the offense in this game should hopefully change the perception around that.

Unlike BVP, Gardner thrives in the mid-range or around the hoop against players who aren’t as long/if he’s mismatched against guards. His mid-range offense, in general, while not often the most efficient, he can get at most times and while working in smaller spaces. He’s much quicker and explosive with his post moves than BVP when those mismatches do come and, unlike when teams often leave their 5s on him when he’s paired with BVP, he ALWAYS draws the 4 when paired with Shedrick. Together, with Shedrick, they’re a much more persistent and omnipresent force around the rim working in tangent, as well. Basically, he’s just better off working alongside someone who requires the attention of the center and, similarly, this puts more pressure on the opposition which, in turn, creates more opportunity for Shedrick as well. Let’s take a look at what I mean and how all of this came together on Tuesday.

This first clip I’m showing I think is really interesting. Gardner and Shedrick and IMK are in the Triangle with Clark and Franklin on the wings. This is interesting in and of itself because normally IMK would be on the wing and Franklin on the inside. But they time their screens such that Shedrick sets a ball screen for Clark while Gardner is simultaneously moving down the lane to set a screen for IMK, drawing the defense’s attention and acting as a distraction. Note, IMK doesn’t even use it to bring his man into the play, instead just fading away from the bucket (also a key sign this play was by design). The result is that we get that Clark/Shedrick two-man game that used to be so effective out of Sides only we get it out of the Triangle offense. Really slick stuff from CTB to integrate Shedrick’s skillset into the offense. Clark throws a pretty bad lob, which highlights how crazy Shedrick’s reach and ability to finish with a pretty crazy catch radius around the rim.

Here’s a different look not much later with the same group. This time, N.C. State attempts to switch the screen with Shedrick and Gardner but either there’s some miscommunication between them or Burns just feels the need to linger inside to make sure it’s covered. Either way, this is where Gardner’s ability in the mid-range pairs well with Kadin. It’s a shot BVP likely wouldn’t have opted to take so quickly as it’s not part of his standard bag, so to speak.

Here’s another look at the similar concept. Just like we saw with BVP earlier, Morsell gets switched onto Gardner after the screening action, voluntarily doing so in a screen with IMK. The Wolfpack would soon learn the difference. Notice here that when Beekman drives, Shedrick dives, which draws two Wolfpack defenders to make sure he doesn’t get a pass, one of which is Morsell. But, since that open mid-range shot is exactly what Gardner is looking for, catching it with so much space and having a smaller defender attempting to recover to contest him isn’t going to work. We’ve discussed in the recent past how Gardner completely feasts on smaller defenders. This clip is a really good contrast with the clips above where BVP was paired with Shedrick and had Morsell on him, but wasn’t able to take advantage. It also highlights how Shedrick does positively impact spacing in the post compared to Gardner, as well. When he dives, not only does his man have to hang right with him, he actually draws another to help.

In this next clip below, it’s still Shedrick, Gardner, and IMK in the middle of the Triangle with Franklin on the outside. It actually comes chronologically before the previous three, but I wanted to illustrate those points first. This is a designed play, but one that they could still replicate within flow and points to the trust that IMK has earned in that it’s being run for him. It actually opens up in Sides to get McKneely the ball but that’s just a decoy because he immediately interchanges with Franklin and moves into a Triangle look. He passes to Clark on the other wing and moves as if he’s going to make a run through the lane – a pretty standard motion within the offense, only to pop immediately back outside through a quality Shedrick screen to hit the three. The design is really cool by itself but also in that they bother to open up in Sides prior to starting off in some Triangle, only to deviate for the shot. It’s like the Inception of plays: a decoy within a decoy.

Man, I love this stuff and CTB is such a mad scientist when it comes to the variations within his “flow” offenses. This clip below is still the Triangle offense but it opens up playing like Sides. It’s not. Effectively Clark is in the Triangle, though he primarily stays out at the point, and Beekman and IMK are the wings. The ball starts with Beekman on the wing and Shedrick goes to set a ball screen. Beekman whips it over to Gardner at the opposite high post, who continues it back out to the wing with IMK and sets a ball screen for him. Multiple two man games back-to back where the Wolfpack have to defend a two-on-two game without help. They do so, and the ball goes back out to Clark who then kicks it into the post with Gardner. Now, Shedrick could have stayed out near the three-point line, but his man was in good helping position and could have sagged off of him. Instead, as Gardner starts to make a move, he dives toward the rim. This effectively pulls his man back away from the ball, having to retreat into the lane to protect the rim from Shedrick. It also makes Gardner’s man hesitate momentarily, as well, but notice that complimentary basketball where, because of his ability as a rim-runner, Shedrick can still pull help, and because of Gardner’s efficiency making a quick post move and shooting that mid-range shot, it functions well within the context of what Shedrick’s doing. Also, having both on the floor allows for this wrinkle to the offensive set initially which could have been effective on its own. I’d been calling for running some Sides and playing Shedrick and Gardner together a little while ago, instead, CTB just added a package into this new base offense that allowed for the same benefits without giving up the core new base.

This is the last clip I’ll use with these two, but also a very interesting set while killing the clock at the end of the game. IMK and Gardner basically swap, forcing a N.C. State switch and swinging out into four corners. Shedrick comes out to set the ball screen for Clark, requiring Burns to work a lot in space, and we once again get the Clark/Shedrick two man game with the pick and roll. Morsell never really buys Gardner at the three-point line, but it doesn’t really matter because he can’t really do anything about Shedrick when he gets the ball with a path to the hoop. Sure, it’d be even better if Shedrick finished this through the contact, but still, the fact that the only thing N.C. State can do is blatantly foul him when he gets it, is the sign of a creative set, and one that surprisingly worked with Gardner hanging out at the three-point line. This isn’t a set I’d expect us to be able to replicate in most games because we were intentionally milking the clock and N.C. State had pretty much accepted defeat at this point, but it is a neat nod to CTB’s renewed commitment to finding opportunity to play Shedrick off of the pick and roll in open space (normally with Clark who is the best at finding him), and it working well even with Gardner on the floor.

So, there you have it. Hopefully this will challenge some of the notions out there that “Shedrick is a liability on offense,” which, he isn’t. You don’t have to be great at creating your own shot to be able to grease the wheels of an offense by effectively playing your role (and providing something we don’t have elsewhere). Hopefully it will also challenge the notions that BVP and Gardner are a great offensive pairing just with drawbacks on defense; they aren’t very complimentary on either side of the ball. Hopefully, there will be an increasing shift toward emphasizing complimentary skillsets, especially now that our Triangle has evolved to play much differently with true bigs on the floor or when we turn to Smaller Ball (which I’d like to see us continue to utilize and explore). Given the number of new wrinkles we showed on Tuesday, I’m optimistic.

Okay, that was already quite a bit but, before I close, I do want to spend some time focusing on Isaac McKneely’s play on Tuesday. It wasn’t his most impactful game of the year by any stretch, but I think it’s worth spotlighting his evolution outside of his three-point shot. CTB telling him to take the “parking break” off has been well reported on and his shooting has been, frankly, phenomenal since doing so. It’s the improvement in the other areas of his game that have been impressing me, though. Sure, with guards as talented as Clark, Beekman, and Franklin, you love that he’s shooting the deep ball well and want him to do so, but he’s not a one-trick pony by any means.

The Growth of IMK

First thing’s first, you can even see him processing, learning, and adjusting real-time during a game. Specifically, his defense on Casey Morsell improved as the night wore on. We switched our perimeter matchups a bit, but with Clark mostly on Joiner and Beekman mostly on Smith, Morsell often tried to isolate IMK.

Initially, it didn’t go great. IMK was, correctly considering how Morsell has been shooting, focused on the shot and in the clip below, we just see him bite on a simple shot fake from the outside, conceding the foul.

But what I liked to see was the evolution of how IMK played this. In this next clip below, we see a good recovery and then a similar situation, where Morsell isolates IMK. This time he doesn’t bite on the shot fake, but perhaps is a little too concerned with the blowby so his contest isn’t that strong or bothersome. It’s still much better defense and requires Morsell to make a tough shot with a hand in his face.

Now in this clip below, he’s a little slower recovering but runs at Morsell with a hard contest. Morsell tries to jump into him to draw the foul, but IMK smartly takes an angle where that’s not possible. The result is that Morsell has to take (and still makes!) a really difficult two-point shot from just inside the three-point line jumping and leaning toward the basket. Still not ideal defense, but incremental improvement and increasingly harder shots.

Now, look at the next clip below. It’s a little better every time and not just because Morsell misses this time. IMK doesn’t bite on any of the subtle fakes and this time is in better position to get some elevation on his challenge to make it more intrusive. The result is that Morsell misses a three where the ball just stuck with him for a few seconds. No offensive rhythm. I like looking at this progression because it really is obvious how he’s learning, adapting, and slightly improving through each repetition.

But IMK was also matched up against others at times, in this clip below, it’s Smith who is a more explosive player and one we typically put Beekman on for a reason. IMK does a good job in the clip below cutting off Smith’s drive. Smith then gives a little push off to create space back outside of the three-point line, which works, but IMK is athletic and springy enough to give a strong contest on the shot, forcing a miss. This is really good defense. Again, we’ll take step-back threes contested like this all night.

So, I think his defense is still a work in progress, but that’s a great thing because it already has a solid baseline (being able to play the second highest scorer in the league as he did above), and there’s clearly a lot of room for improvement still. People always compare IMK to Kyle Guy for their shooting, and Guy improved defensively by leaps and bounds over his time here, but he still wasn’t a great defender, certainly by UVa standards, by the end of his time here. IMK has the potential to be a great defender.

We’re starting to see it with some splash plays, as well. He’s starting to anticipate and get some steals, like in this clip below:

And his ability to play above the rim has always been relevant, as evidenced with his increasing presence on the glass (4 in each of his last 4 games), but also his ability to contest shots. The below clip is his clutch block after N.C. State had closed the gap to 9 with just over 3 minutes to play. The rotation itself he’s slow to make. Kadin makes a good hedge on Smith and recovers to Burns, who eventually gets the ball. Gardner comes on the double team (which I still don’t like when Kadin is the primary defender and, we saw later they did stop doing), making IMK responsible for dropping to shut down the pass to Gardner’s man, while still being able to recover to his own. IMK doesn’t identify it quickly enough, but he is explosive enough to recover and to be able to go up and block the shot cleanly. It’s important to have your help side guards be rangy enough to bother passes AND be able to contest shots from bigger players, and there’s no doubt that IMK fits that need well.

Lastly, just a couple of things I liked from him on offense that didn’t involve shooting but, I think even more so, indicate improved confidence and willingness to play make. In the clip below, which is another example of the Gardner/Shedrick Triangle, IMK gets the ball on the wing and rejects the ball screen from Gardner, instead driving toward the baseline, drawing Kadin’s man, and absolutely whipping a dime to him for the easy finish at the rim. I love the confidence to reject the screen, know that he can beat Joiner off of the dribble, and then how crisp and accurate the pass was to Shedrick. I remember thinking that this play was very Kiheiesque within this offense.

And I LOVED seeing the clip below. After breaking N.C. State’s press (and IMK showed off an improved handle to help break it earlier in the game), he could have pulled this ball back out to set up the offense. Instead, he showed confidence and aggression by threading a nice pass through, I wouldn’t say a tight window but a quickly closing one, for Gardner to get the easy bucket. At this point there was still plenty of time for N.C. State to get back into the game and they were ramping up their pressure, so it was great to see this killer instinct rather than shrinking from the moment. From not only his shooting, but also plays like this, it seems like IMK has that clutch gene.

Good stuff! I’ve tried to keep modest expectations for IMK this season, both because we have such a veteran guard rotation playing in front of him, and because it takes a lot to get minutes as a first year player in CTB’s system; but he’s starting to exceed those expectations that I did have, both with his shot making but also in how well-rounded the other areas of his game have the potential to be, and how quickly he seems to be learning from and building on his repetitions. He’s going to be heard from down the stretch, and should be especially valuable as a safety net so that our outside shooting has a high floor.

In Conclusion

I don’t really have many points on the above I haven’t already made other than to point out that the Shedrick revival couldn’t have come at a better time. Duke is really big inside between Filipowski and Lively, and we’re going to need his length in there (also think Smaller Ball with Dunn and BVP could be effective in this one).

So, instead, I’ll leave you with some Reece Beekman appreciation clips (and Clark for two of the finds)!

4 responses to “vs. North Carolina State 2/7/2023”

  1. Appreciate the work, as always. I do think the Gardner/Shedrick pairing worked relatively well in this game but, as you sort of alluded to, my intuition is that BVP/Shedrick would be more potent offensively. I understand the metrics say otherwise and suspect some of that might be attritutable to the fact that we aren’t running as much 4- or 5-out actions with BVP/Shedrick as perhaps we ought to be. I also wonder if the the early season games (against softer competition) where Gardner and Shedrick were both starting might have inflated the efficiency numbers a bit. In any event, I tend to agree that one of Shedrick or Dunn should be on the floor pretty much at all times in order to provide stability on the defensive end.


    • I do agree that early metrics bolstered that grouping a bit, but they were also heavily utilized in Vegas and against our stronger out-of-conference competition. I think the BVP/Shedrick pairing has potential with some changes to how the offense is executed such that BVP plays more outside, but for the reasons I pointed out about how Gardner benefits from Shedrick and is also better at taking advantage of some of the interior mismatches than BVP, this game took me more toward thinking that Gardner is just the best pairing of the two with Kadin.

      On the other hand, the Dunn/Shedrick pairing’s metrics are through the roof but on a tiny sample size, so I would be interested in seeing more of that look, especially against the biggest teams like Duke. I doubt that’s in the cards much for this year. CTB trusts both Gardner and BVP too much to go away from both for any considerable stretches.


      • The prospects on offense for Dunn/Shedrick are uncertain but the defensive advantages are patently obvious. Makes for a certain level of optimism in 2023-24 (especially if we can avoid attrition at a couple key spots).


  2. Love the Reece appreciation posts. Beekman has become the player we all hoped for four years ago. Running the team, scoring from the outside, penetrating at will and an absolutely devastating defender both individually and team wise. With the Duke block, that’s two game winning blocks (Michigan.) He’s amazing, 1st team all ACC


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