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Is Manu Lecomte Baylor’s Next Small Star?

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The transfer guard has speed and shooting, but does he have the game to push Baylor to the next level?

ACC Basketball Tournament - Virginia Tech v Miami Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It certainly seems like a listed height below 6-0 is the part of the scouting report that Scott Drew looks for first. There are other characteristics, however, that would seem to qualify a player to be Baylor’s lead guard. It’s not hard to identify them, either.

You can pretty much draw a straight line all the way from Tweety Carter to Manu Lecomte. Drew has had a penchant for a particular type of point guard for nearly a decade. If you’re not undersized, quick, and capable from range, you’re not what Baylor’s coach is looking for. Oh, you should probably transfer into the program, too, just to be safe.

On the face of things, Lecomte is the quintessential Baylor point guard. Listed at 5-11, he is a career 43% 3-point shooter who has a little shake in his dribble that he can use to get into the paint or create space for his jumper. He can recognize the dumpoff pass to the big when the defense rotates. He pushes in transition and pulls up for the three when his defender tries to close off the lane. In fact, nearly 50% of Lecomte’s shots in transition came beyond the arc during his second season at Miami, per Hoop-math. If you were worried about Baylor lacking a gunner now that Taurean Prince is in the NBA, fear not. Lecomte has no qualms about taking the J.

But does the senior from Belgium have the ability to cure what has ailed Baylor’s offense practically since Pierre Jackson graduated in 2013? That answer is less clear.

First, a brief aside: Yes, the Bears have rolled out top-20 Kenpom rated offenses in each of the three seasons since Jackson’s departure. Baylor has also been top-4 in offensive rebounding percentage in that same stretch. Rico Gathers masked many of the team’s offensive struggles with his bullying presence on the glass. With the glass monster now gone, Baylor has lost its safety net when the offense breaks down and starts clanking contested jumpers off the rim. Something will need to change in Baylor’s offensive approach to correct for that loss.

What immediately sets Jackson apart from his heirs Kenny Chery and Lester Medford was his ability to get to the rim. Over 30% of Jackson’s shots came at the rim in his two seasons at Baylor, and he converted 60% of such attempts. His ability to score inside at 5-10 was truly special. A dude that small should not shoot that well once he’s surrounded by defenders nearly a foot taller than he is.

Highlighting just how special Jackson’s inside scoring was, Chery and Medford took an average of 24% of their shots at the rim over the last three seasons. They made 45% of those attempts. Those numbers confirm what Baylor basketball fans see in their nightmares: the shot clock dwindling, a pick and roll starting 28 feet from the basket ends with a contested 20-foot pull-up bouncing harmlessly off the rim. Neither Chery nor Medford could get to the rim when the team needed them to, and neither ever learned to be a true threat if they happened to get there.

Lecomte is much closer to what the Bears have seen in the last three years. In fact, he might be worse. Only 20% of Lecomte’s shots have come at the rim, a dismally low number for a guard about to enter Drew’s ball-screen heavy system. On the plus side, he’s converted 49% of shots close in, although that number belies his 41% FG% at the rim the last time he played competitive college basketball. He only attempted 39 of his 214 shots at the rim in the 2014-15 season. Sixteen went in. Lecomte, thus far in his career, has almost exclusively used his speed and dexterity to open space for his jumper.

Either that will need to change in the coming season, or the Bears will need to look to someone else to attack off the dribble and make plays for teammates. Lecomte’s shot totals at the rim aren’t low because he gives it up to the open big all the time. His assist rate of 17.1% in 2014-15 was nearly half of what Medford’s was last season.

Lecomte’s game can grow, and playing with different teammates in a different system can radically change a player’s style and production. Unless Drew can awaken the playmaker hidden within his new undersized jitterbug, someone else will have to step up as the go-to player when the offense breaks down. Either that, or Lecomte will have to climb to Steph Curry levels of long bombing.

Not that any of this should really matter. Lecomte has already embarrassed Duke on their home floor. He’s already fulfilled everything Baylor fans could ask of him.