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Small Ball Time: Baylor Hoops 2017

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Baylor’s depth at the guard spots should leave the Bears playing a lot of three guard lineups

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Baylor Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2013, the Bears may once again play a majority of minutes with three guards. The lineup gives Baylor a better three point offense, a quicker defense, and a chance to keep its big men on the court while playing an aggressive defense.

The Bears expected staring lineup will feature Manu Lecomte at point guard, Al Freeman at shooting guard, Ish Wainright at the three or the four, and Johnathan Motley at the four or the five. The last spot is less clear entering the season.

Baylor’s small ball lineups revolve around playing Ish Wainright at the four. Wainright is a skilled 6’6 Swiss Army Knife. With a 7’2 wingspan and strong frame, Wainright can battle for boards against bigger players. Wainright can also helps the Bears switch potential one-four pick and rolls because he’s fast enough to stay with guards. Last season, Wainright improved his three point shooting to 40% on two attempts per game.

The Bears have three small ball options. First, they could play Jake Lindsey at the three as a small ball small forward. Second, the Bears could play King McClure at the two or the three as another sharpshooter. Finally, the Bears can play Wendell (Chuck) Mitchell at one of the guard spots.

Three Point Offense

Michael Nichols has a good primer on Baylor’s history of three point shooting and what position group Baylor relies upon. The three guard lineup would leave Terry Maston or Jo Acuil, two players who may have some range, on the bench for a player with good to excellent range.

The advantage of the three guard offense, and especially with Ish Wainright as a three point threat at the four, is that the defense is unable to offer more than tepid help. In this GIF against Kansas in 2013 with the Bears using a three guard lineup, Pierre Jackson forces his way into the lane and Wayne Selden has to offer at least limited respect to Deuce Bello at the three, which allows Heslip to hit a wide open three:

This season, the Bears would rely on Lecomte or a number of guards to force their way into the lane, and then leave a host of good options available. Last season, McClure shot 38% from three. Freeman shot 38%, and Jake Lindsey made some timely three point shots, like this one in the Big 12 tournament:

And this one against Texas:

Chuck Mitchell’s three point offense may be the biggest reason the Bears play Wainright primarily at the four. Mitchell shot five of six from three in the secret scrimmage against Vanderbilt, and Mitchell may be too valuable to leave on the bench throughout the season.

A Quicker Defense:

Another strength with the small ball lineups is the increased quickness it provides for Baylor. The quicker lineup presents the hope that the Bears can rotate and provide tough on ball defense, as A.J. Walton did in a three guard lineup in 2013 against Kansas:

The concern for the Bears with the smaller lineups is how well they can get out and contest three point shots. While the Bears beat the Wildcats at Rupp Arena, 5’10 Pierre Jackson demonstrated how tough a late recovery is for a small guard:

Despite the difficulty the smaller lineups present with providing late contests on shooters, the Bears ended the 2012-2013 season—a small ball season throughout—holding opponents to 32% from three and also limiting opponents three point opportunities in the top 60 nationally, according to KenPom.

Big Men Foul Trouble

The other benefit of playing small is that it helps Acuil and Maston play aggressively. Motley and Maston both averaged over five fouls per forty minutes last season. Motley will need to play 30 plus minutes a game because he is too talented to take out of the lineup.

Maston playing 15 minutes aggressively on defense instead of 25 at a moderate pace means he can worry a little less about his foul rate. Maston is a skilled shooter, and in clips against Vanderbilt, appeared to have some new post moves.

Acuil is also a vital piece. His excellent shot blocking provides needed help if the Bears decide to trap more up top. If the Bears do this, then Acuil can provide a last option to stop easy layup opportunities for the Big 12’s skilled guards. Acuil—who has skills that can allow him to venture outside of the paint—can also play more aggressively away from the hoop and go for some steals if he finds himself on the perimeter.

Conclusion

The Bears biggest strength in 2017 is that it has a deep roster of guards. The Bears might elect to shrink their bench by conference play and leave someone playing fewer minutes on the perimeter. But the Bears look like they have a skilled enough group of guards that they might roll with three guard lineups. If they do, the Bears will provide a tough look for opponents throughout the season.