Basketball Position Preview: Experience Abound At Forward
With the inexperienced backcourt Pat Chambers will be rolling with in 2015-16, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that he’ll be counting on a Penn State frontcourt that returns a number of familiar faces. The only key contributor leaving the group is Ross Travis, who moved on to the NFL. Although Travis was a tough, athletic big man whose rebounding prowess was second to none, he isn’t exactly irreplaceable.
Similar to the backcourt, the frontcourt will have to adjust to life without D.J. Newbill. Anyone who watched Penn State last year knew Newbill was option number one, two, and three. Without Newbill, the burden will fall on the rest of the team to pick up the slack. For a Penn State program that’s relied heavily upon its guard play for offensive production, this year could bring change to Chambers’ offensive philosophy.
Starters: Brandon Taylor, Donovon Jack, Jordan Dickerson
From an offensive standpoint, the leading returning big man is Brandon Taylor. Taylor averaged 9.1 points per game last season — just a tick below the number Shep Garner produced. The 6-foot-6 big man also excels on the glass, pulling down 5.3 rebounds per game — good enough for second on the team last season behind the departed Travis. Though he excels in a number of areas, Taylor’s most important element is his ability to stretch the floor. He’s improved his long-range shooting during his three seasons as a Nittany Lion, knocking down 1.3 threes per game last season at a respectable 33.5 percent clip. For Taylor to take his game to the next level, he needs to continue the upward trend.
Similarly to Garner, he needs to drive to the basket more often. More often than not, Taylor will have a size advantage over his opponent, and he needs to use that extra length to his advantage. Whether it’s getting easy buckets in the paint, or drawing contact and heading to the free throw line, Taylor rounding out his offensive game will be integral to the team’s success down low — a notion that should in turn benefit the Lions overall.
As a sophomore, Donovon Jack averaged 19.8 minutes, 6.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game — very solid numbers for a young forward. Last season, Jack failed to build on his sophomore campaign, seeing his production and role decrease as the year went on. The 6-foot-9 big man averaged just 13.1 minutes per game, while putting up a mediocre 3.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per game — all down from his second season. Fortunately for Jack, he’ll have an opportunity this season to revive his role as a steady contributor if he can hold off the young guys vying for his spot. While it’s unrealistic to expect Jack to contribute much offensively aside from sporadic long balls, he’s athletic and has a knack for getting a hand on the ball near the rim. On a Penn State team that will look to score points across the board, Jack will have every opportunity to carve out a role.
Starting at center will be Penn State’s tallest player, 7-foot-1 Jordan Dickerson. With Dickerson, Chambers understands what his skill set entails — terrific length, great shot-blocking, stifling defense, and minimal offensive production save for the occasional putback dunk. Like Jack, it’d be unrealistic to expect much of an improvement on the offensive side of the ball for Dickerson, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t trying to further his game in other ways. At basketball media day, the senior talked about becoming more of a leader, something that his teammates will rely on in absence of Newbill.
Bench: Julian Moore, Michael Watkins, Deividas Zemgulis
The question surrounding who the first big man Chambers will turn to off the bench is still up for debate, but Julian Moore is certainly making his case. He only averaged 7.6 minutes per game last season, but stood out during his limited time on the court. Moore doesn’t have one specific skill that will make him jump out to the average basketball fan, but he doesn’t have any major deficiency either. Like we’ve been talking about with the big men, Moore understands his role. He’ll come off the bench, provide energy and rebounding, and will shy away from making any major mistakes . That may not sound all that enticing, but he’s a towering presence that should be able to provide 15-20 minutes on any given night.
There isn’t another big man on the roster with the high ceiling that freshman forward Mike Watkins has. A top-100 recruit who averaged 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 6.5 blocks per game in his senior season of high school, Watkins is anything but a plug-and-play type of player. He’s a phenomenal athlete, standing at a massive 6-foot-8, 245 pounds, but he’s still learning the nuances of the game. He’s a natural shot-blocker, but is extremely raw offensively. He’s sure to see time this season, and could surpass players like Moore and Jack as the season progresses.
The least heralded recruit of the 2015 recruiting class, Lithuanian born Deividas Zemgulis, could be a potential x-factor for Penn State’s frontcourt this season. He doesn’t have outstanding size, measuring in at only 6-foot-6, but Zemgulis can shoot the lights out — something the rest of the forwards outside of Taylor struggle to do. I wouldn’t expect to see a ton of Zemgulis this season, but when Chambers needs an offensive spark, he could potentially be the first big man off the bench.
Stay tuned as the team starts its season on Saturday at 1 p.m. at home against VMI.