Dry and warm inside a gym, probably smells a bit sweaty. Shoes squeaking. I remember Maples always smelled like burned popcorn until we refurbished it. But it’s raining, and I am not in a gym, so let’s talk guard play after whipping the weenies in their den. Again!
10 games into conference and where are we from a guard play perspective? To state the obvious, our starting guards are playing very well. They struggled against Arizona offensively. They had poor games at UCLA on both ends. Lots of folks in this conference are going to finish games against Arizona having struggled offensively, with the exception of Justin Cobbs. But, overall, if you aren’t satisfied with the way Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown are playing right now, you had better complain about Anthony’s shooting and leave it at that.
Anthony is averaging 11 a game in conference, he is our best perimeter defender, and he is quietly one of the best rebounding guards in this league—a league full of good rebounding guards. He is getting about five rebounds a game in conference, but against ASU he had nine. In a game in which he struggled from the field and the free throw line, he went to glass effectively and dished out four assists. While his production on offense scoring the ball is inconsistent, the average is good, and he is learning how to be a complete high-level player as an excellent defender and also a consistent shooter.
What I really like though is that several times this season, including the weenie game we just won, Anthony has finished the game as a finisher, making shots, getting to the line and really going to the rack with aplomb. Down the stretch against cal, he was not surveying the floor and making a move or deferring. Instead, he was catching on the move, going to the rack, and using his long strides and height to finish quickly over the top of the weenies. Everyone expects Randle and Powell to go to the rack, but when Brown plays with this intensity on offense, completely engaged on both ends, we are a really good offensive team. Anthony, fully engaged on offense, is a tough guard for anyone in the conference as he shoots threes at 6-foot-7, has a nice pull-up jumper and can attack the rim. (He can get a lot better at attacking as he learns to be a bit more compact with his handle, get his vision higher so he sees the weakside earlier, and sinks his hips just a bit more so he has more wiggle in his stride.) His attacking the rim was also a byproduct of the team maintaining spacing as cal pushed farther out on the floor defensively, trying to apply pressure and deny the three-point line. Anthony was taking what the defensive was giving.
Aesthetically, which doesn’t have much to do with being a player, Anthony is just a pleasure to watch. His “smooth” is wonderful.
Chasson Randle is starting to figure this point guard thing out. He is getting better at controlling his one-on-one urges, and he is letting the offense run its course more. Not coincidentally, Dwight Powell just had two great games in a row. Chasson is also getting his head up against pressure a bit better and he is catching outlet passes to him with his hips sideways in the court more, which allows him to see the floor better, and in particular, see the initial defender better. Hand in hand with catching outlet passes with better body positioning is catching the ball in better locations on the floor from which to read the floor and stay out of trouble. This helps the whole team keep the turnovers down by avoiding those chain-reaction sequences where a ball in a bad position on the floor gets passed around in a bad position and oftentimes the team never gets into offense or never gets any rhythm to a possession. And of course Chasson has proven to folks (see: Washington Huskies) that if you want to get out and apply half-baked pressure, he is too quick to stay in front of.
In the last three games, Chasson has played the best point guards in the conference that aren’t him. Cobbs, Jahii Carson and T.J. McConnell are really diverse talent-wise and in their style of play. McConnell really didn’t guard Chasson much, as that fell to the conference’s best defensive player, Nick Johnson. Randle (21 points) played Cobbs (24 points) nearly to a standstill, which means we won the battle. But I felt like Randle’s outstanding shot selection, higher shooting percentage, and 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio were a bit superior to Carson’s game. And for as much as Randle struggled against Zona -- and he really struggled offensively -- he was really good on defense, he was patient, and his team played at a high enough level defensively to beat a great team. What I really liked about Chasson’s games against Sparky and the weenies was that he was in control of the tempo, and his team, consequently, played in control of the games as well.
Nineteen points a game right now in conference, 46 percent shooting, reduced three-point attempts, 70 free throws taken, four rebounds a game. I am excited to watch his progress at the point through the second time around.
Just to emphasize the control issue further, against cal, Chasson shot 6-of-10 from the floor, and against ASU 8-of-14. I’ll go one step further, way back against the Washingtons, Chasson took only six shots against wazzou, which was really the first time I have seen him be so mature as to let his teammates do the damage. That was leadership. And then the next game he goes for 33 points on UW while taking only 15 shots, which is brutally efficient. Poor Huskies. I sat courtside for that one and it was just predatory.
We are for the most part down to a three-guard rotation now, with Robbie Lemons getting the vast amount of those extra minutes, often times when we do go zone and we drop Anthony down into the baseline corner. What we are getting from Robbie this conference season is tremendous effort. Frankly, Robbie is playing with Hernandez-level huevos to the walls effort. And by elevating his effort level, we are seeing increased confidence on offense. He had a huge offensive rebound putback against ASU that was based on relentlessness. Against the weenies, it was a corner three and a steal in another 20 minutes without a turnover. Robbie’s a 6-to-1 assist to turnover guy, folks, a ratio that has actually grown as he plays more. His teammates have confidence in him now, as evidenced by Powell passing up a shot in the paint against cal to fire it out to Robbie for the three ball.
Marcus Allen continues to get spot minutes in the first half of games. I continue to see nothing that doesn’t portend a very good future for Marcus. Although he gets scant few scoring opportunities, he continues to show the ability to finish at the rim with quickness and surprising lift. He sticks his nose in there, as he did against ASU, and gets through contact. In fact, he seems to like contact. When he did get extended minutes against the horrible Cougies, he went for 11 points in 13 minutes on a variety of pull-ups in the paint, a three, and some rim attacks. In fact, it was great to see the talent disparity of the benches in that game at the guard spots. Both Allens were very quick compared to their competition, and Malcolm (although he has a horrible hitch in his shooting motion for which his parents should be punished) in particular displayed some seriously nasty lift.
Final Thought: We started the conference season 0-2, and since then we are 6-2, with losses to Zona and at UCLA. Losing on the road at OSU seemed worse than it is, as they have proven to be a brutal out in Corvallistanabad—ask UCLA. In fact, the only conference loss that makes me cringe was the home loss to cal. That is the one we want back.
Final, Final Thought: Now we rest and go to UW, with whom we match up really well. You love to play UW first on this roadie. Win the UW game and suddenly you are staring right in the bright eyes of being 8-4 in conference.
Final, Final, Final Thought: Rumor has it that Mrs. Gage is bringing a broom to Pullman in the gun rack of her truck.
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