Basketball. Basketball? Basketball.
With only two and a half weeks until Cal basketball tips off, it's time to take a look at the upcoming delightful season of no expectations. (You think no expectations is bad? Think about how much enjoyment you've derived from watching Cal football the past few years.) Our defense of the Pac-10 championship begins with eight members of last year's team (whether via graduation, transfer, dismissal, or nationalism) gone, and a fresh new crop of California Golden Bears ready to attack the hardwood at Haas with fervor and enthusiasm.
Today, we look at the Cal point guard situation.
Avinash: Replacing Jerome Randle is probably impossible. Just look at his accolades. Defending Pac-10 Player of the Year. Greatest 3 point shooter in Golden Bear history. Nasty on the court. Great penetrator, sat back and ran the offense. Pretty much owned the conference his final two years. I know plenty of people in Pullman and Tucson are happy never to see Randle again, because he feasted against them.
That leaves us with this group.
- Jorge Gutierrez
- Brandon Smith
- Gary Franklin.
Jorge proved he was capable of running the points for stretches last season. Now he's likely going to be called upon to be the main starter. He has a curious handle (seems like it's too far away from his body), and he'll never be respected as a big-time shooter (he's made big-time shots, but to ask him to produce on the level of Randle is asinine). At least we know one thing that'll improve is point guard defense with Jorge; Jerome might be a great offensive player, but like most guys his size couldn't do much other than funnel his man into the help defense. Jorge could give a lot of opposing guards trouble.
Brandon Smith...man. He didn't look good at all last season. His struggles forced Randle to play even more minutes and we had to go to Jorge to run the backup point. Getting anything out of him would be great. I'm intrigued by Franklin, although I doubt he's up to college standards. What does everyone else think about the Cal point guard position?
Kodiak: I know that Coach Montgomery said that Jorge wanted to play point and that they'd give him a shot there.
Um. Not sure how long that experiment will last. There's a big difference between bringing the ball up a few times a game and running things full time. Granted, Jorge improved dramatically from the turnover machine as a frosh to being fairly reliable as a soph. He's shown an ability to penetrate and dish without knocking people over in open-court situations - I just don't know how effective he'll be in half court sets. You know he really works hard at his game. There was a significant improvement in his outside shot last year. It would be great if he could just knock down open shots with enough consistency that teams don't help off of him - and any improvements in his mid-range game would be gravy. Personally, I feel more comfortable with him off the ball. However, I suspect that Monty is going to change his offensive system to be less reliant on the point guard being able to manufacture plays and more dependent on crisp ball movement + screens and motion. If that's the case, Jorge probably works just fine.
Brandon Smith looked okay at the beginning of last year (I thought he was pretty poised for a frosh), but struggled overall. I've heard some reports that he had some injury issues.(ankle) Besides Kidd, I don't think I've seen too many true freshman PG's handle the transition to Pac-10 play all that smoothly, so Smith's struggles really didn't surprise me. But, he needs to show improvements across the board if he's going to earn minutes at the expense of the talented newcomers. I remember Randle telling reporters that he constantly would tell Smith to shoot it when open because he had a good shot...it just never showed up in games. He's under-sized and may not be able to match the speed/athleticism of the new guys, so he'll have to make up for that with some grit - either toughness on D, steadiness with the ball, decision-making. He may be that smart/steady backup that comes in and gives you a good 10-15 minutes a night without hurting you. Considering Jorge's all-out style, and the fact that true freshmen tend to be foul-magnets, we really need Smith to be able to step up.
It would be absolutely awesome if Gary Franklin wins the starting job. He's got good size, can shoot it, and has combo guard skills. Although he looked great when I saw him at the Academic All-Star game, that's a far cry from playing more structured, organized ball at the Pac-10 level. A lot of HS guards look great in wide-open systems where they can dominate the ball, but struggle when they move to college and have to run a more structured offense against guys who are just as big/fast/quick, and have more athletic help defenders. My suspicion is that Monty would love for Franklin to emerge as the guy because he offers the most potential at that position.
However, that's a lot of responsibility to put on a young player. I could see him splitting duties w/ Jorge/Franklin...Start Franklin at the off-guard so he doesn't have as much to worry about and give him more minutes at the point as he becomes more comfortable. I'm more concerned about him on defense. Youngsters tend to get abused.
If Smith can't provide steady play, and we have foul trouble w/ Franklin, we may even need Emerson Murray to swing over. He's also considered a combo guard. Maybe he'd be more of a scoring point than a true set-up guy...but that works as long as he has the handles to initiate the offense as needed.
TwistNHook: I miss Randle already!
LeonPowe: Obviously expecting the sort of production we had from Randle from our 3 headed trio is just silly. But one of the things that a basketball coach has got to like, is that you can change your system from year to year in basketball. Knowing Monty's history at the Furd, and seeing as how our best offensive players are going to be Kamp and Crabbe - I think we move to an offense where the point guard is not expected to do much more than bring the ball up the floor and initiate the passing game or motion flow. I don't think Jorge really proved that he could run back-up point last year - all he proved is that he was better than Smith - but I think this year, Smith wins a lot of minutes being a low-turnover, don't take anything off the table guard. I think we're going to see the offense initiate from the high and mid posts - with Kamp and Sanders-Frison both being excellent passers with a soft touch from 10-15' - either that or see Murray and Crabbe be the initiators.
Let's be frank - this is a learning year - I don't like the talent we have at the 1, but in the end that might not matter as much as our ability to defend and grind teams with our big men. And getting Crabbe the ball.
ragnarok: I think the point about Monty working his offense around the pieces he has is a very good one. In fact, his Cal teams these past two seasons have been pretty unusual for him, as he had a trio of very efficient scorers outside and not much size or experience inside. To his great credit, he took the hand he was dealt, played to their strengths and won a conference title.
Franklin is really the wild card here. As good as high school stars look in highlight reels, I'm never confident about freshmen coming in and being able to dominate, at least until I see them on the court. He could be great, or he could really struggle; he'll probably do both in consecutive games.