UNLV added 10 new scholarship players in the offseason, and they’ll be playing in Marvin Menzies’ system for the first time, so it’s impossible to predict exactly what the Rebels are going to look like on the court in 2016-17.
Scoring will be one of the biggest keys for UNLV this season, as there are few proven offensive weapons on the roster, and the more talented options are too inexperienced to be counted on for consistent production. The uncertainty surrounding the personnel should leave a lot of room for experimentation.
Is there enough firepower on the team to cobble together a winning offense? It’s a tricky question, as offensive cohesion depends on so many intangible factors—chemistry, ball movement, anticipation, timing, etc.—that predicting which players will perform best with each other is almost impossible.
But that’s not going to stop us from speculating. With all that in mind, let’s take a run through the roster and see if we can determine which lineup combination will be UNLV’s best offensive unit this season.
Kris Clyburn, sophomore
Swingman with good 3-point numbers from junior college. (Scouting report)
Zion Morgan, freshman
Quick with the ball in his hands, skills are raw. (Scouting report)
Jovan Mooring, junior
Combo guard can create his own shot. (Scouting report)
Jalen Poyser, sophomore
Sub-par offensive rating of 95.4 last year, but inside-out talent. (2015-16 report card)
Uche Ofoegbu, senior
Solid shooter (43.5 3FG% last year) and ball mover, surprisingly good finisher. (Scouting report)
The best offensive player in this group is Poyser. His numbers weren’t spectacular as a freshman, as he posted 0.805 points per possession, but his talent was obvious. With another year of development he should be a focal point of the offense in 2016-17, consistently scoring off the dribble and from beyond the 3-point line. Menzies has said he’s considering playing Poyser off the ball full-time this season in order to use him as a scorer.
The rest of the backcourt group is comprised of players with offensive strengths, weaknesses and other uncertainties. Clyburn may not be a strong creator with the ball, but he can shoot and finish. Ofoegbu is a dependable spotting up. Morgan is a speedy attacker. Mooring can get his own shot against halfcourt defenses. It will take a while to determine how they can be mixed and matched for optimal offensive production, with only Poyser looking like a sure thing from Day 1.
Troy Baxter, freshman
Super athletic pogo stick can score in a number of ways. (Scouting report)
Ben Coupet, freshman
Defense-first player with limited offensive capabilities. (Scouting report)
Cheickna Dembele, freshman
Athletic center who needs to develop touch around the basket. (Scouting report)
Tyrell Green, senior
Deadeye shooter who hasn’t shown much else. (2015-16 report card)
Christian Jones, senior
Effective in mid-range area (not just shooting, but off the dribble against bigger interior defenders). (Scouting report)
Dwayne Morgan, junior
Can contribute hustle points, but high turnover numbers (5.0 per 100 possessions) are an issue. (2015-16 report card)
Djordjije Sljivancanin, freshman
Moves well for 6-foot-10, and supposedly can shoot it a little bit.
The frontcourt is a little more crowded, but Coupet, Dembele and Morgan have defense-first skill sets and probably won’t factor into offensive lineups. Baxter is by far the most talented offensive forward, but his inexperience works against him, as he joined the team just weeks ago. Jones is capable when he’s in his sweet spots. Green could bring a floor-stretching dimension. Sljivancanin is an unknown, though the scouting report says he can make shots.
So how to get the best offensive lineup on the floor? In my opinion, Poyser is the sure thing and the rest of the pieces have to fit around him. There are four potential “plus” shooters available to fill the rest of the slots—Clyburn, Ofoegbu, Baxter and Green—and three of those guys have to be on the court with Poyser in order to give the best spacing possible.
Clyburn and Ofoegbu can team up alongside Poyser to form a three-guard backcourt, with Poyser taking over lead ball-handling responsibilities. That leaves two forward spots open. Now, this is going to be a small lineup, because we’re talking offense here. Rim protection is not the priority, so Dembele and Sljivancanin take a backseat to Christian Jones, who at 6-foot-7 is more mobile and possesses better shooting touch.
So who plays the power forward position in this lineup? I’d love to get a third long-range shooter on the court to open things up for Poyser, and that rules out Dwayne Morgan (career 40.1 FG%). If it comes down to choosing between Green and Baxter, I’m giving the nod to Baxter. Green may be a better pure shooter, but Baxter is capable from 3-point range and also brings an added dimension with his dribble-drive ability and above-the-rim finishing.
Here’s how we’re looking:
PG: Jalen Poyser
SG: Uche Ofoegbu
SF: Kris Clyburn
PF: Troy Baxter
C: Christian Jones
That appears to be UNLV’s best offensive lineup, but that’s just my opinion—it’s based more on scouting than on statistics or any type of legitimate projection model. The scary thing for UNLV fans is that two of the five players have never participated in a single Division I contest (Clyburn and Baxter), while the other three posted negative offensive box plus/minus scores last season (Poyser at -2.3, Jones at -2.6 and Ofoegbu at -0.2). That means that statistically, no one in this hypothetical lineup has ever proven that they can help a DI team offensively. That’s slightly frightening.
There are other options, and I expect Menzies to do a fair bit of mixing and matching early in the season while he tweaks his rotations. If Mooring proves to be a good enough ball handler, for instance, he may be able to bump Ofoegbu or Clyburn to the bench while allowing Poyser to move off the ball. But that would be a minor modification. To me, this looks like the core of UNLV’s scoring lineup. It remains to be seen if this fivesome ever gets playing time together, and if so, how well they actually produce.