(For those of you don't know, Gary Franklin has transferred to Baylor. We wish Gary the best and hope he finds his way forward to fulfilling his dreams of being an NBA player.)
Cal looked like a much more improved offensive team the past two weeks despite losing their primary shooter. The Golden Bears averaged 1.07 points per possession against ASU and 1.06 PPP against Arizona, two of their most effective offensive games of the season.
What's the reason for the rallying Cal offense? Let's explore some of the reasons beyond Franklin being an inefficient volume shooter.
Better ball movement, better shots. People who watch basketball casually might presume that since the object is to score as many points as possible, scorers are the most important players on any team. It's true scoring is very important, but there are other intangibles to being a good basketball shooter in the collegiate ranks.
Basketball is predicated on not just who scores the points, but how the points are scored. Anyone who has played hoops knows the team plays better the more the ball moves and the more the players move without the ball. If the ball stops, if one player holds the ball for too long or rushes a shot, the defense can dig in and lock you down, and the players around him struggle to figure out how to space the floor (especially when it's a scorer).
Franklin just didn't seem to do those things well. I always felt he was the black sheep on the court, even though I couldn't really pinpoint it. His offense was all over the place, and his shot selection was abominable. By extension,
Franklin did not operate well within the offense. Despite taking so many shots, it never seemed to work within the context of Cal's offense. Franklin was not a great catch-and-shoot player; he didn't have the height or the ability to work off screen. Watch Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez come off screens, and you see a much smoother release.
Way too often, you'd see Franklin either (a) rush his shot, or (b) do something that didn't operate within the flow of the offense. Franklin would take some good shots too (nothing is black and white), but the style of his play seemed to predicate him shooting us in (like against New Mexico) or shooting us out of games (too many to list). Kind of exciting, but hardly the way you want a successful college basketball offense to run.
A more assertive Crabbe and Richard Solomon, more minutes for Brandon Smith and chances for Emerson Murray. With regards to the starting freshmen, there always seemed to be this tug-of-war as to who would be the scorer on this team. With Crabbe seemingly not looking for his shot, it appeared like Franklin was going to be it, for better or for worse. It didn't feel natural. It felt very forced when the offense had to run through him. And we always kind of hoped #23 would step up and step into his opportunities.
Whether Crabbe likes it or not now, he's going to have to take more shots. And he proved he could put points up the last two games, very effectivelly. With more time, and more shots, Crabbe will be able to grow in his confidence as a shooter, and help him evolve as a more complete player for us down the road.
Although he hasn't gotten enough of a chance to show it, Solomon got some extra minutes, and he upgraded from potential to actual production; with Crabbe having his back, those two will be the backbone of future Cal squads. With Franklin no longer being involved in a bunch of the possessions, Smith gets to see the floor more; he might not be as strong offensively, but he plays much tougher defense and is a pest to deal with. And we saw some flashes of what Murray could do in the desert as he took some of Franklin's minutes (along with Nigel Carter's, surprisingly enough, as Ted Lee from Bear Insider points out). There is definite upside for these guys to grow.
Does that mean everything is happy-go-lucky for our team now? No. There will be times when our team can't buy an outside basket for teams with enough athleticism to defend us everywhere on the court. We can do everything right on a possession, but still struggle to score points. Only maybe Markhuri Sanders-Frison has a go-to shot, but Harper Kamp has been shown to be eminently defendable as a post player. That forces us to rely a lot on our free throw shooting and jump shots, and neither of those have been reliable ways for us to score.
However, the offense will start looking like an offense again. And with home conference play beginning tomorrow, that might be enough to excite fans to return to the stands of Haas.