The Red Storm are still a team working out the kinks (like many other Big East squads). There is an obvious leader in the backcourt, a second offensive player on the wing in JaKarr Sampson, and some promise in the front court (we'll touch on that tomorrow).
Right now, Steve Lavin has work to do in integrating a trio of talented players into the rotation. It's doesn't seem to be a matter of plugging them in and playing them; each of the newcomers has to know their defensive assignments well enough not to leave the perimeter wide open (or allow easy entry into the paint).
The returning players have struggled with the same problem.
"From offensive execution to defensive rotation to understanding time and score, there really isn’t one aspect of play from A-to-Z that we don’t need to work on and improve upon," Steve Lavin reflected after the Asheville loss.
Lavin's style requires the players to make their own decisions, to be aggressive and confident. Number 11 in the backcourt has taken that style to heart, entering league play as an all-Big East candidate; but others are still learning to attack in a controlled but effective way.
D`Angelo Harrison leads the Red Storm in minutes played (34 per game), field goals attempted (16 per contest), three-pointers attempted (6.6 per game), free throws attempted (5.4/ game), steals (2/ game), and in steal percentage (3.4% of opponents' possessions), free throw shooting percentage (81.5%), three-point shooting percentage (35.4%), and on-court yells (we are still tallying the results).
Harrison, so far, has been a one-man offensive gang.
Before the year started, D`Angelo Harrison - the Texan guard with swagger and on-court remarks for friends and enemies alike - was touted as a man developing into a leader, possibly into facilitating guard with his newfound maturity. Harrison was the only known quantity, a scorer in need of occasional discretion and better two-point shooting.
He's been very consistent, powering many of St. John's second half comebacks, and is shooting just over 50% inside the arc, while still being aggressive. But the Johnnies are very dependent on his ability to be consistent. Against San Francisco, he went 1/7 from the field in the second half, and the team lost ground to the Dons on the road.
The Red Storm have needed his all-around consistency. Two of his three least-efficient games were losses (Murray State, San Francisco) , and Harrison's worst shooting game was a too-close win over middling Fordham. UNC-Asheville was the only game where he did not record a steal. The losses aren't all on him, obviously; a team needs secondary players to step up when the main scorer has a hardworking B+ performance. Harrison may be learning to control his emotions, but his on-court scoring efforts are consistent.
Harrison's teammate in the backcourt, Phil Greene IV, started the season on fire with six double-digit scoring games out of 7 games on the floor - a new, more confident guard, healed from an undisclosed wrist injury last season. Since the South Carolina game, Greene has been held under 10 points 5 times, has attempted 10 or fewer shots per game, and has drawn 2 foul shots (he has 12 free throw attempts this season).
So far, Phil Greene has been the same guard as last year, with fewer turnovers per possession and better shooting percentages. He's still a jump shooter instead of a driver, a guard who finds space and puts pressure on the defense in transition.
For a starting player who looks to be the third scoring option behind Harrison and Sampson, Greene will need to get back to generating points for the Johnnies to be successful. Whether Greene is slowed by an undisclosed injury or by calls from the bench for patience, he needs to rediscover his game and hit shots with accuracy.
New to the floor is Jamal Branch. In one game, Branch showed that he was gifted with up court vision, but also a bit risky with his passing. Having a player who is known for defense at the point, while also looking for others' shots before his own could have a positive effect on the team.
"[He] makes it easier for me to score," said Harrison of Jamal Branch's role. "I’ve known him for a long time, and he knows where I’m at on the court. We have good chemistry, and he has good chemistry with the rest of the guys so he’s only going to get better from here."
Branch running the show would allow Harrison to create off the ball, and could activate forwards Sir`Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett (who will be in the frontcourt review). Is he good enough to cause an adjustment in the rotation for Steve Lavin's squad? A true point guard would likely help with the team's issues with shot selection.
The less new but still-intriguing Marc-Antoine Bourgault took a number of games to earn Lavin's trust on the floor. He played 15 and 19 minutes in the past two games, showing the game he was hyped for - mostly a shooter, but also a playmaker. He's earned two starts so far, and is shooting 36% from outside the arc, taking over 80% of his shots from beyond the arc for St. John's.
Felix Balamou had a hot start once he got on the floor, dunking with force, tapping out rebounds, and blocking shots (he blocked three shots apiece against South Carolina and Holy Cross - a mini-Obekpa). The last three games have found him on the end of the bench, logging six minutes or less.
His dynamic athleticism helped him get playing time, but his rawness was the reason the coaching staff wanted to redshirt the guard in the first place.