What’s the Fit?
With all the changes to the roster coming into 2023, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out how these Baylor Bears will fit together.
On the one hand, this is actually one of the most talented rosters that Baylor has had up and down the roster, from JaKobe Walter, Miro Little, and Langston Love to Jalen Bridges and Ives Missi. Yet, it’s difficult to identify who exactly will be “the man.” Will it be the talented shotmaker Walter, or perhaps the veteran playmaker RayJ Dennis? Could Langston Love step into the lead role? Is Jalen Bridges ready to play more with the ball in his hands?
Or can the sum be greater than the individual parts?
For some answers, I went into the way back machine to 2017, a time when ESPN ran promos for Clippers vs Bulls with Chris Paul and Jimmy Butler on the graphic, Shaka Smart shaved his head and lost with talented teams, Baylor played a zone defense, and Scott Drew wore oversized suits.
A lot’s changed since then, but if you look closely — particularly at the guard play when “the man” of the season, Manu Lecomte, was out with injury— there’s something that I think could foreshadow what we’re going to see next season.
The Dennis - Lindsey Connection
The son of former Utah Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey is the first key to the connection. Jake Lindsey was a 6-5 point guard who had a knack for surveying the floor and making subtle movements to get shots for his teammates. Dennis, while a couple of inches shorter and a much higher volume player than Lindsey, does some similar things.
Consider these two plays:
The first clip is of the Bears’ scrimmage against the Paris All Stars on August 8th during Baylor’s foreign tour of France. Notice that Dennis keeps his head up in transition and finds Walter on the opposite wing for a three, dribbling in just far enough that the defenders have to account for either a drive or a drop-off to a rolling big. Walter nails the three.
In the second clip, Lindsey also keeps his head up in transition. He uses his dribble to probe just inside the arc, then uses his body to shield a defender off of King McClure. The defense has to prepare for Lindsey to pitch to McClure, and when they do, Lindsey hits Nuni Omot with the bounce pass for a wide open corner three.
Now imagine Dennis in the Lindsey role, Walter standing at the wing where McClure is stationed, and Jalen Bridges spotting in the corner. Not too tough to imagine, right?
So let’s look at another play from that 2017 squad and look into the possible future.
First, let’s map the roster over to help us envision this new roster at work together.
Lindsey | Dennis
McClure | Walter
Ish Wainright | Langston Love
Nuni Emot | Bridges
Jo Acuil | Missi
With those swaps in mind, watch this play:
Lindsey twice gives up the ball for the trio of McClure, Wainright, and Omot to run some screening action. But Lindsey doesn’t stay still. First he cuts through the middle and gets a pin down from Omot while McClure and Wainright run an empty-side ball screen. When Lindsey pops back up, he has a decent look from three but passes it up, instead reversing the ball back. He then drifts away to create spacing. When the ball comes back, Acuil has the space to pitch it to Lindsey, who catches on the run and now has plenty of room for the three.
It’s a play with a lot of options, and every player touches the ball. That makes everyone a threat and spreads out the defense.
That is exactly the kind of play you run when you’ve got a talented team without a dominant one-on-one player. Dennis is a generous passer, much like Lindsey, and he shouldn’t have a problem operating without the ball on plays like this one, and this team won’t be at its best when he tries to take over. It will be at its best when the whole team is engaged in the play, and that’s something I think the 2023-2024 Bears roster is fully set up to do.
And lest you think I’ve dipped into waters not worth drawing: that 2017 team made it to the Sweet Sixteen and finished third in the Big 12 (27-8, 12-6) using plays just like this one. If the coming season had similar results, a lot of Baylor fans would be well pleased.