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Forging Ahead

Now all that’s left is to forge ahead and hope for a better tomorrow.

There’s actually a lot of reasons to expect a better 2015 season for the Pack than what happened in 2014 (and not just how it ended, either). Yes, T.J. Warren is gone – nothing is officially official but the sooner Pack fans let go of that particular ray of hope the better – so that leaves a crater-sized hole in the offense that has to be filled.

The good news is that the Pack returns eight players with college experience to the roster, each capable of filling in a piece of that missing puzzle. They’ll also bring in three freshmen, who we won’t evaluate here, that also figure to settle into the rotation. The caveat is of course who stays and who goes. While there’s no clear reason for anyone on the roster to transfer at this point, its 2014 and scholarship players transferring is just a part of the modern landscape of college basketball. So, basically, expect someone from the list below to transfer.

Disclaimer: There is no discussion of free-throw shooting in this article. None. No one needs that right now.

Trevor Lacey (2013) 17.3 0.483 0.9 14.1 7.5 23.4 2.9 1.5 17.1 23.1
Ralston Turner 14.3 0.531 2.3 8.9 5.6 6.8 1.4 0.4 9 21
Desmond Lee 12.6 0.436 3.3 10.7 7 12 1.8 0.1 17 21.5
Anthony 'Cat` Barber 13.7 0.424 1.9 7.7 4.8 27.5 1.5 0.1 16.1 23.1
Lennard Freeman 12.5 0.514 10.5 18 14.3 4.4 1.2 1.2 10.8 10.1
Kyle Washington 8.7 0.435 4.8 17.6 11.3 4.1 0.5 3.1 15.5 16.4
Tyler Lewis 10.4 0.393 1.8 5.5 3.7 32.9 0.6 0 17.5 15.9
BeeJay Anya 12.4 0.587 7.1 13.5 10.3 1.8 0.6 12.6 21.9 10.6

Trevor Lacey
So, there’s a decent chance he becomes the centerpiece of the Pack offense next year. Aside from the rumors that he consistently looks like the best guard on the floor in practice, there’s his high usage at Alabama that suggests he’d be fine adopting a good chunk of the shots that T.J. Warren will leave behind. He’s not going to be Warren or anything close to him from a usage standpoint -- that was the rarest of rare things we saw this year with Warren -- but he might be the Pack’s biggest shot-taker.

From a shot-taking standpoint, Lacey’s biggest issue appears to be his propensity for taking bad two-pointers. He made just 41 percent of those in his last year with Alabama, while making 37 percent of his threes, which suggests a love of jumpers inside that painted line that he needs to get away from. If he does that, and brings his turnovers down a notch, he’s got a shot at being the best offensive player on the team next year. Also a plus, his defensive rebounding percentage on a team that desperately needs some help there.

Ralston Turner
Turner filled in pretty well doing a poor man’s Scott Wood impression for the Pack, hitting 37 percent of his threes on an otherwise terrible three-point shooting team. Unfortunately he filled in the rest of Wood’s job a little too well – not living up to the hope of providing better perimeter defense at that position and failing to be much of a rebounder/passer when he wasn’t shooting the ball. At this point, we have to just assume that Gottfried is always going to want one guy to fill this "I make threes and that’s about it" role on the team.

Ideally, if that’s the role Turner is going to have as a senior you’d like to see him hit a few more of those shots and push his three-point percentage over 40 or so. Not sure that’s realistic, and while perhaps Turner becomes a more dynamic player offensively in Warren’s absence it’s probably just as likely he generally stays as a senior the same player he was in 2014.

Desmond Lee
Lee started the year looking like just the thing State needed, a quick slashing guard who could score inside and out while playing great defense. The defensive part held up, but the offensive part didn't. Whether it was just an adjustment to stiffer competition that he failed to make once the calendar turned to ACC season or something else, conference play was not good to Lee. He shot just 39 percent from two and 28 percent from three in ACC games while turning it over on nearly 20 percent of his possessions.

But Lee’s defensive value on the perimeter managed to still make him an important piece of the puzzle last year and an improvement in his offensive game could drastically increase his minutes. He shot over 30 percent from three in his entire JUCO career, so the skillset is there. It could be as simple as a confidence thing for Lee, who will have a year of BCS-level experience under his belt now and can hopefully find the parts of his game that helped him become one of the best JUCO players in the country.

Cat Barber
Look, we all know how much Barber struggled when he was handed the reins fully in late December and January, and how Gottfried had to casually hand those reins back over to Tyler Lewis. However, the whole process seemed to make Barber a better player at the end of the day. He still took some questionable shots occasionally, but his February and March were nothing close to the level of what he was doing toward the turn of the calendar. He learned how to shoot less often, distribute more and take care of the basketball. He also, along with Lee, developed into one of the Pack’s best on-ball defenders.

Which is all to say that Barber’s numbers aren't particularly great, but it’s easy to envision a world where he takes that sophomore leap next year because the talent is there, the point takes a steep learning curve, and the transition from "I score all the points" to "I facilitate the basketball as part of a team" is clearly not the kind of thing that happens overnight.

Tyler Lewis
The above paragraph might sound like another round of doubting Lewis’ ability to be a starting point guard at the ACC level, but it’s absolutely not. Lewis struggled mightily from a shooting standpoint early in the season, but my suspicion is that if you cut the season into thirds, his final third is actually pretty decent from a shooting standpoint. And that’s probably closer to the Lewis we’ll see over the course of next season, at least in terms of his shooting percentage. Lewis will probably, due to his pass-first nature, have a pretty hefty turnover percentage (see Kendall Marshall) – but that’s the kind of thing you can live with if he pulls his shooting up and maintains that obscene assist percentage.

Lewis and Barber found a nice rhythm towards the end of the year, where both played significant minutes and were able to maximize their specific skillsets when in the game. It’s really one of the best coaching jobs that Gottfried has done during his tenure, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that the two point guards will be able to improve and coexist equally going into next season.

Lennard Freeman
Freeman was the best defensive rebounder of the freshman big-man crop, which should earn him a medal or something. There’s some definite Richard Howell in his game (though Howell was, even early in his career, at another level as a rebounder) and Freeman was smart enough not to take bad shots or turn the ball over very much. Like Howell, he needs more time and experience to learn how to score effectively against taller players and how to use his body better to aid his clearly natural rebounding instincts.

Also a plus for Freeman is that Gottfried and the staff generally regarded him as their best interior defender. He was adept at taking a charge, properly boxing out, and just generally being able to properly switch off of screens. You’ll also note that he has lowest block percentage among any of the big men (and highest DR%, what a coincidence!), so the notion that blocking shots = good defense should be taken out back and shot.

Kyle Washington
There is justifiably a lot of excitement around Washington’s potential. He’s an energetic kid with a lot of talent, but some of that energy needs to get reigned in if Washington wants to make a big improvement next year. Simply put, he takes too many low-percentage shots. Even if he can make them – and he clearly can – there’s just not a lot of value being gained by taking shots two steps inside the three-point line. Ideally Washington will either stretch his range a few feet and become a three-point threat, where you can shoot 30-odd percent and have it still provide positive value, or work more on his driving/back-to-the-basket game.

Defense is probably the biggest area of concern for Washington, who was often put in the position of guarding an inside-outside power forward and struggled when he had to chase those kinds of players around the perimeter. The good news is that he’s already a gifted defensive rebounder and his size/athleticism should allow him to keep improving in that area.

BeeJay Anya
Dear Mr. Anya, please stop trying to block every shot taken within five feet of the basket and learn to box out. Anya has an insane wingspan, and it’s fun to show that off, but there’s also a net loss from showing it off at the expense of getting a defensive rebound and actually ending an opponent’s possession. That said, Anya has the chance to become an opposing presence in the lane if he refines his approach a bit, because the natural talent is obviously there.

Offensively, Anya was actually very effective in limited usage. Most of his offense came from put-backs, dunks and the occasional post move. He’ll get more opportunity his sophomore year to show off those moves, especially if his offseason regimen gets him to a point where he can effectively run at the pace Gottfried wants his offense to move.