Phil Greene, a combination guard with ballhandling skills and a developing shot out of Chicago, emerged as a high-major prospect only in his last year and a half. Pursued by a few schools, Greene chose to come to St. John's despite stiff competition at both guard positions and eight other high major commitments.
Speaking to the lack of recruiting publicity, Steve Lavin discussed Phil Greene earlier this year to Jon Rothstein, revealing this nugget from the head coach:
"He may not make an immediate impact like some of our other guys but his body of work over the course of his career should be solid."
In Phil Greene's preseason "Baselines" post, I took this to mean that Lavin put slightly more modest expectations on the Chicago guard than he did on Nurideen Lindsey or D`Angelo Harrison. It sounded like Lavin intended Greene to be a player who would be a back-up for a significant period of time for the Red Storm.
But with Nurideen Lindsey leaving the team, circumstances won't allow Greene to continue to develop as a bench player. Phil Greene's going to have a shot at being St. John's lead guard. With no guard help on the horizon and a weak 2012 class of point guards still available, there is no choice.
A look at the promise Phil Greene has shown, and how the team will be different offensively going forward, after the jump.
What was lost
For the Red Storm, losing a player who may not have bought in to the team's philosophy should be good in the long run. The staff has approached this year as a teaching year, and while losses are not welcome, they are expected with a young group. The staff is not so desperate for wins that they need to hold on to a player who hurts the team concept.
But Nurideen Lindsey's talents - at least for the first four games of the year - were able to mask some of the Red Storm's offensive deficiencies.
Lindsey's turnovers were maddening at times. But many of those turnovers came through his aggressive scoring nature. When he could take the ball to the basket, his quickness allowed him to draw an incredible number of fouls. Whether or not he hit those shots is secondary; he was able to cut down the opponents' depth by himself.
And on a team that struggled to rebound the defensive end, his contributions on the glass were solid (though his best defensive rebounding games came against the weakest competition).
Lindsey's speed and length could give the opposition fits. It should be noted, however, that Lindsey's complete inability to hit a jump shot was a serious issue. He hit his first jumper of over 5 feet in the Northeastern game. Lindsey never hit a three pointer, though he at times called for the ball on the perimeter. Nuri's turnovers stemmed from overaggression, and he could have picked up more fouls for pushing off on offense. His passing vision, especially in the last three games, led him to some passes to non-existent players. His defense involved a lot of gambling and reaching; and with the gambling of Harrison at the other guard spot, that can make for a porous perimeter defense.
What could be gained
Phil Greene is a different guard, and it's hard to compare Greene's game with Lindsey's.
Still, Greene will have the ball in his hands a great deal. He won't be able to create straight-line chaos as Lindsey did. But as the opponents improve, that skill was going to be minimized by intelligent defenses and talented upperclassmen. Greene's more fundamental game has already earned him more playing time at the expense of Nuri; now the ball is (almost) all his, though Malik Stith will get some chances at lead guard.
Greene has some speed in transition, and does look to pass. His assist rate is much lower than Lindsey's, but he had not yet been tasked with lead guard duties; we'll keep an eye on the percentage of the team's shots he assists. Greene has been smooth and turnover free with the ball. Will that change as the lead guard? Likely; but he isn't as aggressive as Lindsey in transition, which should save a few possessions.
As for the shooting, Phil started the year with some strong catch-and-shoot possessions. But he has also developed some scoring off of the dribble, both inside the arc and nearer to the perimeter. That dimension should help open up the paint as he draws defenders a little closer to the perimeter. He's not yet "pure money", but Greene has a smooth stroke and some range.
But with the loss of a big shot-taker in Lindsey, others will have to take up more of the offense. Maurice Harkless already puts up nearly 30% of the team's shots; expect him to continue to hoist shots from all over as he improves his range. D`Angelo Harrison also takes all the threes he can get free for, as his range and accuracy develops.
But Sir`Dominic Pointer has a chance to show off his efficient (so far) offensive game - he can hit a stand-still three-pointer, he can drive to the hoop given a lane and finish spectacularly.
Malik Stith won't take up much more offense; he's a careful game-manager, and doesn't have the athleticism to create his shot like Greene does.
Nurideen was expected to spend a season or two at St. John's, helping shepherd a young team with his NBA-level quickness. That plan fell apart in recent weeks, and the Red Storm is left with 6 recruited scholarship players - with Amir Garrett likely to come in a few weeks.
But not all is lost. The team was already young, was already going to struggle. And Lindsey couldn't mask that all year; already, the team was exposed for their youth and lack of interior presence.
As a whole, the Johnnies will look more like they did at Detroit - a young squad working deliberately to find shot attempts, struggling a little more to draw fouls, but more careful with the ball.
Its a long year of development, and we'll keep our eyes on how Greene performs. Chances are that he will have at least a season and a half as lead guard with little competition at the point guard spot. Where he leads, the team will follow.
This is the chance Phil Greene came to St. John's to take - it just came a little earlier than expected.