In Steve Lavin's first season, the St. John's Red Storm opened with promise and some high profile, late night games. Now at 7-3 headed into the Big East opener against West Virginia, and with a daunting upcoming schedule, some of the excitement has been deflated, but the players are coming along nicely.
There has been some attrition.
Forward Rob Thomas is listed on the roster but has not been traveling with the team - to deal with academics, it's said. But it sure seems like he's played his last minute for the Red Storm, given the lack of appearances from him. He will be missed.
Meanwhile, little-used guard Quincy Roberts transferred out of the program. no word on what school he will attend. He has already taken a redshirt for his migraines last year, so when he suits up for another Division I school - if that's the route he chooses - he will only have a year and a half of eligibility left. He has some talent, and here's hoping he lands on his feet.
The remaining players have been working on various defenses, turnover-free offense, and playing a faster, more attacking style. How have they been?
A continuation of the midseason report, below the fold>>
Justin Brownlee's been the best player, and most integral; he can get his offense going in the paint with a sublime combination of strength and athleticism. When he's not there, the team can struggle to generate points.
Dwight Hardy. He has stepped up his game (so far), scoring well in the paint, turning to the drive (and drawing fouls) when his shot isn't falling, and he's even passing and playing some decent defense so far.
- Dele Coker has gotten some time as a big body for the Red Storm with mixed results. His defense has been solid, but he barely appears in the box score, fumbling passes and rebounds. With more reps, he will hopefully improve.
- Justin Brownlee has been offensively capable and defensively tough. He blocks shots as well; he could grab more defensive rebounds.
- Justin Burrell is discovering his inner rebounding beast. He could be an x-factor for this team if he can keep up his high level of post rebounding, efficient scoring, and defense.
- Sean Evans has received a few cameos but hasn't been able to stay on the court. One can tell he's trying to make smarter decisions with the basketball and in his defense. His free throw shooting percentage and his field goal percentage are once again about the same.
- D.J. Kennedy is coming into his own in the offense, learning when and where to be aggressive; he needs to continue to drive. His interior scoring has been up, and if he can keep his 2-point shooting over 50% and his steal rate high, NBA teams will have more interest in him.
- Paris Horne is a roving defender who has capitalized on easy attempts, driving hard to the basket. He's getting fouled a fair amount and needs to improve his free throw shooting. He's not playing with a number of points in mind, and it shows - he's willing to do whatever needs doing.
- Dwayne Polee II often plays in the paint, but his game seems suited for driving from inside the perimeter. He is skinny and sinewy. Too much for the Big East? We will find out. He has been a low-turnover player, and his length can be bothersome on defense.
- Dwight Hardy is a star on this team, doing a bit of everything. His jump shot has been a little missing but seems to be rounding into form from the perimeter.
- Malik Boothe is the primary ballhandler. Coach Lavin played Malik Stith more minutes in the non-conference games, however. To protect Boothe's health? To learn more about + develop Stith? Or to see if a better point guard was on the bench? Boothe has a higher assist rate, defends opposing point guards solidly, and drives well to the basket, and should maintain his job as point guard for the team.
- Malik Stith has been a shooting guard in a point guard body. He has been a tough and willing defender for the team, and while he needs to improve his shooting, his skills have been a boon to the squad.
Team Stats: The Good
St. John's has done a fantastic job protecting the ball. Their turnover percentage is at a sparkling 15.9% of their possessions, 10th in the country. And they're forcing turnovers on 25% of opponents possessions. That's good stuff, and speaks to good coaching in the fundamentals by the staff. The pressure defense and a ability to attack quickly in the half court instead of bleeding the clock dry has also helped with the turnovers. The team looks to pass the ball and move around with purpose, instead of aimlessly dribbling into the teeth of a defense players can't score on.
Interestingly, there have only been significant changes in DJ Kennedy (who has reduced his turnovers from 18.6% of his possessions to 15% in the early going) and in the point guards, Malik Boothe (turnovers on 28% of possessions last season overall; 21% this season, so far) and Malik Stith (turnovers on 24.7% of possessions last season, overall and 11.2% this season, so far). And Stith's assist rate is down. The rest of the changes in the turnover rate come from a redeployment of players - less Sean Evans, no Omari Lawrence, and more Justin Brownlee, Dwight Hardy, and Dwayne Polee - three players who attack offensively with fewer miscues.
The other changes come from a better attack and more minutes to the offensively talented players. Justin Brownlee (60% on twos) and Dwight Hardy (57% on twos) have responded positively to more time on the court, increasing their percentages of made shots on 2-pointers. DJ Kennedy, as well, is scoring upwards of 50% inside the arc. But it's early, still, and the competition will get stiffer. But the team is doing a good job getting off good shots and drawing fouls to get to the free throw line.
Team Stats: The Bad
Opponents are shooting 38.8% from outside the arc. That's 297th in the country right now.
Opponents are taking 42% of their shots from outside of the arc. That 333rd in the country right now.
Opponents have assists on 68.8 of their made baskets right now. That's 344th in the country.
That's pretty bad. And it's improved with a good performance against the Northwestern Wildcats, where the Johnnies decided to press a little less and play man defense instead of their matchup zone and some press. Manning up paid dividends... but will the Red Storm be playing man, or will they play a zone where they may restrict inside scoring, but give up scads of three-point jumpers?
Free throw shooting
Justin Burrell and Paris Horne have contributed a lot to the team. but the former Bridgeton Academy teammates seem to have both fallen to the disease of Shaq-itis, where getting every free throw into the hoop is a struggle. They haven't taken a lot of them - though for Justin, he's punting half of his scoring value considering how active he is and how often he draws fouls. Perhaps both players are out of rhythm with the free throws. That said, DJ Kennedy is around 65% on his free throws, Malik Stith is under 67%, Boothe is around 64%, and Brownlee's 71% isn't the most inspiring number... and it's second best on the team.
The Red Storm are allowing too many second chances. The only player who is clearing (more than) his share of rebounds is Justin Burrell, who has been a man possessed on the glass. Hopefully he can keep it up; he has some help from DJ Kennedy and Dwayne Polee, but he needs more from Brownlee and Dele Coker.