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Cal Basketball Monday thoughts: Marcus Lee, NBA decisions, 2016–17 projections

Just when we thought 2016–17 recruiting was all wrapped up, a new transfer target emerges? Plus: with NBA draft decisions finalized, we can finally project the 2016–17 Pac-12 season with some vague insight!

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Cal MBB recruiting continues against all odds

One of (sadly, many) recruiting white whales from the Monty era has resurfaced! From the indispensably ubiquitous (when he's not offering inane opinions) news breaker Jon Rothstein:

Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee will visit Cal on Tuesday and is expected to commit to the Pac-12 school, sources told CBS Sports on Sunday. "He's going to Cal," one source said of Lee. "Unless something crazy happens, he's going to Cal."

But as you might remember, Cal appears to not have any scholarships left for the 2016–17 season. If Lee is in fact coming, it's entirely unclear how this is going to work. I can think of three plausible possibilities:

1. Lee is not going to be on scholarship during his mandatory year sitting out, but will be on scholarship for his final year of eligibility in 2017–18

2. There's some yet-to-be-announced attrition from the current roster that will allow Lee to be on scholarship.

3. Somebody else on the current roster gives up their scholarship.

I'm not going to worry about the how until it's announced. As for the who and the what, here's what Lee has done at Kentucky in his three years in Lexington:


Lee has received some (misguided) flak from some Cal fans for an apparent lack of production at Kentucky, where he developed slowly in part because he's spent time playing behind Karl Anthony-Towns and Julius Randle. But even a quick glance at the numbers reveals a player whom any team would badly want. Let's just take a few numbers into consideration:

1. 7.3 block rate and a foul rate of 5.5 fouls/40 minutes - Lee blocks shots almost as frequently as Kingsley Okoroh, but fouls at a rate significantly lower than either Okoroh or Rooks put up last year. Granted, there are some team effects here (I'm guessing Lee wasn't asked to guard players like Jakob Poeltl without any help defense), but Lee is an excellent interior defender. We all know exactly how well Cal defended the paint last season, but you could still make the case that Lee would improve Cal's team defense.

2. 13.1 Offensive rebound rate - That's a number that would have led Cal last season—and the Bears were generally pretty good at rebounding misses thanks to Ivan and Kam. Rebounding is a skill that tends to translate well to different situations, so no need to worry about this being an artifact of being surrounded by uber-talents at Kentucky.

3. Career 66% shooter from the field - Because most of his shots are bunnies right by the basket of course, but we're talking about a guy with the size and athleticism to get those types of shots, whether through the previously mentioned offensive rebounding or through lobs and finishes from sharp point guards. Do we have one of those on the roster in 2017–18?

If there's any criticism to Lee's game, it's that he's not somebody capable of taking over a game by demanding the ball and creating his own shots. But that's a pretty high bar to set for any player. I'm more than happy to 'settle' for a player who rebounds, plays plus defense, creates second chances, and finishes pretty much everything he's given. If Lee is in fact coming, it's an excellent pick up that will help cover for Ivan's presumed departure.

How well would Lee mesh with an established pair of centers like Kam and King? That's tough to say. Lee does have some experience playing the 4 at Kentucky, but it's fair to say that he doesn't have much in terms of a face-up game. One big question to answer is whether or not he's comfortable defending smaller players. Either way, it's a good problem to have.

Hello, Goodbye

The NBA changed its draft calendar this year, which made it much easier to declare for the draft but then pull your name out of the pool and return to school. The deadline to make a decision has finally passed, which means we have a much better sense of which players are actually staying and going. Here's a list of underclassmen that made final decisions one way or the other.

Happy Trails

Jaylen Brown, Cal
Rosco Allen, Stanfurd
Dejounte Murray, Washington
Marquese Chriss, Washington
Julian Jacobs, USC
Nikola Jovanovic, USC

Welcome Back

Ivan Rabb, Cal
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Josh Hawkinson, Wazzu
Ike Iroegbu, Wazzu
Conor Clifford, Wazzu

Allonzo Trier, Arizona

We knew much of this already. I've highlighted the players who made their decision last week. Let's break them down.

I'm certainly glad that Rosco Allen is gone, but his loss shouldn't make a huge difference for a Stanfurd team very much in transition. If Cal doesn't sweep Stanfurd this year, I'll be even whinier than usual. And for the sake of the Pac-12, thank goodness that Hawkinson and Johnson came back to Washington State. That won't stop Wazzu from being the worst team in the conference by a very significant margin*, but at least now there's a chance that the Cougars won't put up a totally awful non-conference resume. But these aren't the consequential decisions.

No, we're paying attention to the opposite fortunes of Oregon and USC. With Dorsey and Brooks back in the fold alongside a consensus top-20 recruiting class, Oregon is getting plenty of hype from humans and computers alike. Dana Altman has consistently produced solid results despite a total and complete lack of continuity. What might he put together with actual year-to-year stability?

Meanwhile, remember when USC was 7–3, coming off of a 19-point blowout win to complete the season sweep over UCLA, and seemed to be a major threat in the conference? Well, they went 3–8 to end the season and surprisingly lost two key juniors who are likely headed overseas for pro ball. The Trojans still have a solid young core and a couple of intriguing recruits, but losing two players ready to challenge for all-conference honors as seniors sets USC back a step or two in their rebuilding process.

*Seriously, you could almost make the argument that the gap between 1st and 11th in the Pac-12 was equal to the gap between 11th and 12th.

With rosters more or less set entering 2016–17, here's one man's unexplained, rough projection for next season:

Tier one: Arizona, Cal, Oregon (Good coaches, good talent)
Tier two: UCLA (Bad coaches, good talent)
Tier three: Colorado, Oregon State, USC, Utah (good coaches, average talent)
Tier four: Arizona State, Stanfurd, Washington (Rebuilding and/or ROMAR!)
Tier five: Washington State (If ever there was justification to fire somebody after just two years solely for basketball reasons . . . )