"We've come together really fast, especially everyone that was here in the summer. We've grown together really fast. Nobody has an attitude and everybody is here to win. That's our main goal... everyone wants to win." - Sir`Dominic Pointer
This season, the Lavin era truly begins at St. John's. Despite his absence, the young Red Storm are molded in Steve Lavin's preferred image - long, versatile, quick, and fast. All but one of the players (Malik Stith) was recruited in last year's nationwide search for top-tier talent to compete in the Big East.
Unlike many of their peers, this recruiting class won't be battling with upperclassmen to make their mark. They get the ball, the time, and the chance to win from the opening tip.
For better... and for worse.
A look at what the preseason stats may say about the Red Storm before we publish our Rumble in the Garden preseason predictions (by tomorrow afternoon), below the fold.
St. John's basketball enters the season with a completely new, very athletic look. With Nurideen Lindsey as the pilot, the Red Storm intend to use an extended press and matchup zone to bother opponents and respond with transition offense from God`sgift Achiuwa and Maurice Harkless.
In the preseason, that transition scoring hasn’t been a problem for the Storm.
But in two preseason games, the team has shot poorly from the free throw line, hitting 50% of their 52 free throw attempts and - except for Phil Greene’s hot shooting off of the catch against CW Post - poorly from the perimeter as well. But only two players actually looked to shoot from the perimeter - Phil Greene (8 attempts, 4 made) and D`Angelo Harrison (14 attempts, 3 made).
Still, the Storm can score in the paint with good ball movement and athletic moves around the rim. But will St. John's be able to be as effective in the paint against Division I competition?
The one strong positive has been the Red Storm’s ability to hang on to the ball.
The two players who create off the dribble - Lindsey and Harkless - have had some turnovers, giving the ball up on 24.1% and 22% of their possessions, respectively. But everyone else has done their job - get to the right spot and make a play. And even Lindsey's and Harkless' turnovers haven't been egregious - they are both creating shot attempts with their athleticism.
The effect of those turnovers also hasn't hurt the team. Overall, the team turned the ball over 23 times in two fast-paced games, or on 14.5% of their possessions - far better than last year's 18.7% turnover rate. That percentage won’t remain that low, but it’s a sign that the team is willing to move the ball intelligently.
On defense, the Johnnies have defended without getting into foul trouble so far, a real help for their 7-man roster. Overall, the three-point shooting defense hasn’t been terrible, even though St. Mary’s burned the Storm with 37% outside shooting. And the defense has forced turnovers on 21% of opponent possessions, which is solid.
But these numbers are against lower level opponents; what will these numbers look like against Division I scholarship players? It could be similar. Or the numbers could be worse.
The Red Storm defense, even last year, was predicated on flurries of turnovers forced and key stops, not the constant defensive frustration that teams like Pittsburgh bring. The idea is to control the other team's shots and make them hurry, not to lead the league in field goal defense. As a result, sometimes the defensive numbers don't look great - like last year's 37.2% shooting allowed from outside of the arc - 312th in the NCAA.
In the first two games, God`sGift has been a rock in the paint, running with a smoothness that belies his size. D`Angelo Harrison has shown a propensity to pull the trigger from anywhere.
Meanwhile, Nuri Lindsey will probe in transition every single time. He's looked for his shot, but has a solid passing numbers, with 11 assists in two games (assisting on 22% of his teammates' made shots). Those turnovers are a source of curiosity; will his turnover rate increase? Can he hit shots if he can't snake his way to the rim? Lindsey has to be the dynamic playmaker to make the Red Storm attack effective.
But Moe Harkless has looked like the emerging star. And his outside shot hasn't even started falling yet. His rebounding has been impressive, especially on the defensive end, where he's grabbed 33% of the other teams' misses. But Harkless' usage rate is somewhere around 15%, and with his talent, he has to be a bigger part of the offense.
Will Lindsey be able to put up big scoring numbers? Will Moe Harkless get the ball more? And will that be enough for a winning record?
Obviously, all of these first year players will be better players with training, practice, and familarity. But how much better will they be? With a roster of 7 (and two walk-ons), will the young Storm wear down? Will Harrison's shooting improve? Will Moe, Gift, and Nuri carry the team? Will Pointer's defense emerge as a force in the Big East?
Only the games will tell.