Coaches Covering Ground in Search of Prospects

Jalen PoyserIt’s been almost a week since UNLV wrapped up its preseason exhibition trip to the Bahamas, and while the games were mostly played in the dark—no online streaming was allowed by the coaching staff, and only one local reporter (Mark Anderson of the Review-Journal) was present—there were still some noteworthy developments.

Keeping in mind that we’re being comically over-reliant on box scores here, let’s run through the good and the bad of the Bahamas trip:

What went right

Clyburn healthy
Sophomore swingman Kris Clyburn had surgery to repair his meniscus early in the summer, and though his rehab timetable had him set to return before the Bahamas, Marvin Menzies didn’t sound so optimistic when talking to the media in the days leading up to the trip.

So it was a relief when the box scores came back and it turned out Clyburn logged the second-most playing time of any Rebel, appearing in all three games and averaging 28.2 minutes per contest. The 6-foot-6 guard/forward is projected to be a starter on the perimeter in 2016-17, so it was also good to see him post 16.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, both second on the squad. But the fact that he was healthy enough to play big minutes was the best news to come from the trip.

Jones goes big
Senior grad transfer Christian Jones only measures 6-foot-7, but due to the Rebels’ roster composition it’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll have to play extensively at center and power forward this season. Though he’s a capable defender, his rebounding rate last year (11.0 percent) was worrisome and may indicate that he’s not suited to be an anchor in the middle.

In the Bahamas, however, Jones flourished as the lone big man on the floor. Nominal starting power forward Dwayne Morgan didn’t play due to a hip injury, and freshman center Cheickna Dembele had to sit due to eligibility issues, so Jones was left to cover the interior mostly by himself. He responded by posting three double-doubles and leading the team with 13.0 rebounds per game. Without putting too much stock in the numbers, Jones’ performance at least showed that he’s willing to take on the challenge of being an undersized center in and undersized frontcourt and accept the responsibility that comes with it.

Poyser pours it on
Jalen Poyser showed intermittent flashes of his natural scoring ability last year as a freshman, but he was inconsistent enough that relying on him to be the centerpiece of the offense in 2016-17 is a bit of a risk. The 6-foot-4 guard definitely calmed some of those concerns in the Bahamas, however, as he led the Rebels with 18.3 points per game.

Points are probably going to be hard to come by for UNLV next year, so it’s important that Poyser brings that kind of production to the team every night. Consistency will be the metric by which Poyser will be judged, so scoring in double figures in every game in the Bahamas was a good sign. He also did it efficiently, shooting 63.6 percent (21-of-33) from the floor while making seven of his 14 3-point attempts.

Backcourt backups
Menzies said before the trip that evaluating the point guard position was going to be one of his priorities, so while he was probably perturbed by the team’s turnover problems (24.0 per game, at least 20 in every contest), the play of true freshman Zion Morgan was a pleasant surprise.

The 6-foot-2 Chicago product got a lot of run, logging 18.5 minutes per game (sixth-most on the team), and while he didn’t score much (5.0 points), he led the Rebels with 3.3 assists while posting an encouraging assist-to-turnover ratio of 2-to-1 (10 assists, five giveaways). It’s too early to crown Morgan as the No. 2 point guard just yet, but it appears he’s making his case to be the top backup.

What went wrong

Poyser (4.7 per game) and Clyburn (3.3) were the biggest conspirators in UNLV’s turnover epidemic, but it’s only a minor concern at this point. The sophomores were the main ball-handlers and playmakers, so some turnovers are to be expected. Also, the increased pace of the games (due to the use of a 24-second shot clock) and the up-and-down, exhibition-y style of play contributed to the sloppiness. A preseason’s worth of hard coaching should help the Rebels clean this up.

Dwayne Morgan is set to play a big role this season, so it’s not ideal that he sat out the trip due to a hip injury. But the third-year forward now qualifies as a cagey veteran (by today’s college standards, anyway), and he should be able to get back up to speed fairly quickly once he’s back on the court.

The more concerning absence was that of freshman center Cheickna Dembele, who was held out due to eligibility issues. It sounds precautionary at this point—Anthony Bennett was similarly held out of UNLV’s preseason exhibition trip to Canada in 2012 and was still able to play the whole regular season—but it’s a situation worth monitoring. The 6-foot-11 Dembele is the team’s lone rim protector and the centerpiece of the 2016 recruiting class, so the sooner he gains eligibility, the better.

Vegas Seven


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