clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Golden Spotlight on Cal Men's Basketball: The Guards

New, 17 comments

Brandon Smith:

27.2 5.6 36.3 35.7 63.0 3.8 2.2 0.0 0.769

Although no one is going to mistake him for the departed Jerome Randle, Brandon Smith has shown some nice improvements from the beginning of the year. Where he was previously turnover-prone and occasionally hesitant about running the offense, he's stepped forward to provide steady play at the point. Because Smith is able to handle the bulk of the ball-handling, it really allows Jorge to focus on his strengths instead of also trying to run the team. Smith has gotten a lot better at initiating the sets earlier in the clock and has improved his timing with feeding the ball to guys in the right places on the wing or in the post. His handles are good enough to push the ball in transition, but he's still very inconsistent with his pull-up jumper and with finishing it at the rim. Also, as Coach Montgomery pointed out recently, he needs to get better at running the break when they have numbers. Surprisingly, his three point accuracy has steadily improved throughout the year despite the fact that his legs should be showing the effects of heavy minutes. He doesn't take a lot of 3's, but the other team has to respect that he's 11 of his last 21. (right ucla?)

Defense: You could make the argument that he gives a more consistent effort and does a better job closing out on shooters than his predecessor. Smith doesn't get a lot of steals, but has probably been instructed to play more fundamental position-based defense instead of gambling. He did a great job denying the ball to Klay Thompson in our overtime win, but we so rarely play man that it's hard to say whether this was playing over his head, or something to be expected. If guys do catch the ball in the proper position, Smith's lack of size allows them relatively uncontested shots. He has also had his issues with denying dribble penetration. To be fair, some of this is due to the scrambling nature of our zone as well as the inexperience of some of the wing players with where and when to rotate. Even so, it's been far too easy for opposing guards to get into the heart of defense. (See Thomas, I; Jones, M; Jones, M;)

Let's be honest, we've gotten more out of Smith this year than any of us would have expected. Considering that he got almost no meaningful playing time last year, for him to come in and hold his own for the most part is a fairly big deal. Historically, most Cal point guards have struggled mightily during their first year of starting. Think back to Anwar McQueen, Shantay Legans, Ayinde Ubaka, and even Jerome Randle. All of those guys had higher high's, but lower low's than what we've seen from Smith. He's relatively steady; he doesn't turn the ball over much, usually plays within himself, and gets the team into their sets. Does he do the things that an elite point can do with regards to dictating tempo, directing traffic, or creating shots? No. But, I think it would be unfair to expect that of him at this stage of his career. It will be interesting to see how he continues to develop under Monty's tutelage. I know many fans are eager to see touted transfer guard Justin Cobbs and fully expect him to start next year. Worst-case, Brandon Smith is a steady backup who can capably run the team as needed. Best-case, he continues to develop his jumper and turns into one of those annoyingly competent guards that are a near-trademark of Monty-ball.

Full stats are here.

NCAA Basketball

FG %:

College Basketball Stats

3PG %:

NCAA Basketball Stats


NCAA Basketball


College Basketball Stats

Emerson Murray:

7.75 0.8 20.0 13.3 41.2 0.58 0.54 0.0 0.125

Offense: Although touted by noted Cal alum Jason Kidd that Murray reminded him of former Zona stand-out Jaryd Bayless, we have yet to see this potential translate to the court. He's clearly still more of an athlete playing basketball than an instinctive player right now. His handles seem solid enough and he shows a nice burst when he decides to take it to the bucket. Unfortunately, shaky is an extremely polite way to describe his outside shot and he hasn't shown any signs of having a pull-up or mid-range game yet. As is typical for most young guards, decision-making remains suspect; he'll show great vision one moment and force it into traffic seconds later.

Defense: There's plenty of potential here. He's easily got the quickest feet and best lateral agility of the Cal guards that we've seen this year. Once he gets strong enough to avoid getting rubbed off screens and experienced enough to figure out where he needs to be, he could really become a strong defender. Admittedly, this is an optimistic projection. But, I like his willingness to mix it up and be active on the defensive end. He just needs to keep working and keep learning.

Overall: The serious illness that kept him out of most of training camp really slowed his development. Under most circumstances, this would have been an ideal year to blueshirt. It's still hard to say exactly what we have with Emerson Murray. He's certainly got the quicks and athleticism to make you eager to see him continue to develop.

Full stats are here:

Jorge Gutierrez:

32.96 13.8 39.2 35.7 77.4 4.3 3.7 0.12 1.4

Offense: Definitely more of a scorer than a shooter at this stage of career. Still, having watched him the past two years, it's a testament to his hard work that he's transformed himself from a complete offensive liability to someone the defense has to respect. Sure, when he comes curling off a screen, no one knows what's going to happen - not even Jorge. But, you have to respect his willingness to take and make the big shot at any moment. His passing ability is a bit underrated - he has a real knack for drawing defenders and then finding guys in traffic. The move off the ball really helped him and it's amazing how much his ability to finish at or near the rim has improved. He's at his best in transition or coming off of movement. He's not as good at trying to create on his own by taking guys off the dribble, although his handle seems to improved from early in the year. You love his desire and toughness, but he does have a tendency to try to do too much and will settle for either forced shots or early shots. Although he draws a lot of fouls with his aggression, it can be fool's gold when he goes out of his way to initiate contact instead of looking for good shots within the flow of the offense. (*Edit: Just added after the overtime win against ucla - Forgive me, Jorge. You can do no wrong. Take all the shots you want, whenever you want.)

Defense: Unlike past seasons, Jorge hasn't had the same game-changing impact on the defensive end for most of this year. Don't get me wrong - his trademark in-your-grill intensity is still on display every night. But, we rarely get to see him play the part of the pesky lockdown stopper that we've grown to know and love. Part of it might be his realization that he has to pace himself to stay on the floor, but I think it's more due to this team's almost exclusive reliance on zone. Jorge's at his best when locked up in man where he can be physical, knock a guy off his cuts, and deny him from catching the ball where he likes. In zone, his aggressive nature can occasionally lead to him being out of position. Unlike man coverage which allows him to focus solely on his guy and play more instinctively, zone requires more total-game awareness of opposing players' strengths as well as having teammates who are on the same page. For some reason, he also seems to play the passing lanes better and provide better help defense out of man instead of zone.(*Post-ucla edit: Now that was the defensive terror we know and love. It's absolutely awesome seeing him wreak havoc all over the court, even hobbled on one leg.)

Overall: Has there ever been a better return vs. recruit rating player in the history of Cal basketball? (Perhaps Ryan Forehan-Kelly? - Sorry, have to give a shout out to one of my all-time favorites.) Let's just be honest. Jorge is the heart and soul of this team. There are more skilled players, better shooters, even bigger/stronger/faster guys. But absolutely no one is tougher and no one wants to win more than he does. If nothing else, he inspires the guys around him to play better in ways you simply cannot chart with numbers alone. Maybe we can petition former Golden State Warrior great Sarunas Marciulionis to share his "Human Karate Chop" moniker; I have no idea how Jorge makes it through each game without internal bleeding. With his skillset he'd be best served as the second or third perimeter scoring option who could get his points within the flow of the offense. Case in point, look at how much more effective he is with Crabbe in the lineup to open things up. Due to depth and youth, Jorge has had to embrace the challenge of carrying this team with varying results. Moving beyond wins/losses, you have to respect and admire his heart, not to mention his cajones. In many ways, he's exactly what's right with the college game; a hard-working, humble kid who has gotten better each year. In this spoiled age of me-first and easy instant gratification, it's refreshing to see a guy who literally leaves everything on the floor every night. I really look forward to seeing what he can do as a senior with a more experienced and complete team around him.


NCAA Basketball


NCAA Basketball

3 PG%

NCAA Basketball


NCAA Basketball Stats


College Basketball

Group Summary: When you look at it on paper, it's been a frighteningly thin rotation at the guard spot this year. Considering the minutes played, it's a tribute to our starters' conditioning and mental toughness that they've largely been able to avoid foul trouble and provide consistent backcourt play. With the college game becoming more and more guard-driven, we knew this would be a huge question mark. Even if the Point Jorge experiment didn't pan out, at least Smith was able to step up as a steady alternative. Sure, it might be nice to have more playmaking or scoring off the bench, but that's at least a year away. For now, these are the guys we have. Honestly, they're probably playing a bit over their heads...but I wouldn't trade any of them. They're our guys. They play hard and they're going to get better. Go Bears!