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On the Front Line: How Good are Baylor's 2015-16 Big Men?

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As Baylor's head coach, Scott Drew has put together impressive combinations of big men on an annual basis. Could this season be Drew's best front line yet?

Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor's front court situation has changed quite a bit from where it was a year ago. Last season, Baylor's best big man combination featured a ground-bound power forward in Rico Gathers playing center and Taurean Prince sliding up a position to power forward. Now Scott Drew's rotation has pushed Prince back down to the small forward spot in favor of lineups with two true bigs thanks to the emergence of sophomores Johnathan Motley and Terry Maston, who have caught fire since the start of Big XII play.

With four competent big men, Baylor's front court is arguably the best in the Big XII and among the best in the country. Each player brings his own unique skill set that works in tandem with any of the others. Prince can drive the ball and shoot from the outside. Gathers can dominate the glass and create second chance opportunities at a near historic rate. Motley can attack in the face-up game and draw in the defense rolling down the lane. Maston can facilitate from the high post and scores with smooth decisiveness from either block.

Here's a table that breaks down their season thus far:

2015-16 Class G MP FG% 2P% 3P% FT% MP ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
T.J. Maston SO 17 239 0.59 0.59 0.833 14.1 0.9 2.4 3.3 0.6 0.4 0.5 0.9 1.6 7.5
Johnathan Motley SO 17 313 0.606 0.616 0 0.583 18.4 2 2.9 4.9 1.2 0.4 0.8 1.4 2.9 10.7
Rico Gathers SR 17 463 0.556 0.556 0.658 27.2 4.6 6.2 10.8 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.4 2 12.9
Taurean Prince SR 17 483 0.428 0.456 0.369 0.833 28.4 2.6 2.9 5.6 3 1.7 0.6 2.6 2.4 14.8
Average 374.50 0.55 0.55 0.18 0.73 22.03 2.53 3.60 6.15 1.38 0.83 0.70 1.58 2.23 11.48

The numbers of Maston and Motley, in particular, are even more impressive since the beginning of conference play:

Class G MP FG% 2P% 3P% FT% MP ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
T.J. Maston SO 5 99 0.61 0.61 0.778 19.8 0.8 2.6 3.4 0.8 0.6 0.2 1 1.6 11.4
Johnathan Motley SO 5 113 0.622 0.639 0 0.6 22.6 2.6 3.4 6 1 0.6 1 1.2 3.6 11

At the start of the year, Drew looked to have gone all in on the small ball pairing of Prince and Gathers by replacing Motley in the starting lineup with Prince. Last season, Drew brought Prince off the bench to play power forward. The move created space for guards Kenny Chery and Lester Medford to drive into the lane, sucking defenders towards them and away from shooters dotting the perimeter. With the departure of Chery and Royce O'Neale, however, that small ball lineup was having a harder time defending and creating quality shots.

Since the turn of the calendar, Drew has moved towards lineups featuring two true bigs, particularly when closing games. This shift towards the more regular use of traditional lineups is thanks to Maston's recent emergence as a true offensive threat. Against Kansas, Baylor's biggest competition for best front court in the Big XII, Maston scored 7 points on 3-4 shooting in a meager 8 minutes. Two games later against Iowa State, a team that is relatively weak defensively on the interior, Maston logged 27 minutes and scored 13 points. He closed the game alongside Prince and Motley, a demonstration of Drew's confidence in the sophomore big who had totaled only 36 minutes in his freshman season. In the two games since, Maston has played 21 and 26 minutes while scoring at a remarkably efficient clip. Against TCU he scored on his first 4 attempts and finished 8-11 for 17 points, his career high.

Maston's rise to prominence has allowed Drew to go big without sacrificing on the offensive end, reminiscent of Baylor's greatest front court to date, the 2009-10 team. In fact, here's how the two squads stack up:

2009-10 Class G MP FG% 2P% 3P% FT% MP FG FGA 2P 2PA 3P 3PA FT FTA ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Anthony Jones SO 36 958 0.415 0.456 0.333 0.638 26.6 2.4 5.7 1.7 3.8 0.6 1.9 0.8 1.3 1.3 3.5 4.8 1.1 0.5 0.4 1.3 0.9 6.2
Josh Lomers SR 36 623 0.697 0.697 0.711 17.3 2.6 3.7 2.6 3.7 0 0 1.5 2.1 1.8 2 3.7 0.3 0.6 1.1 1.3 3.1 6.6
Quincy Acy SO 36 840 0.697 0.697 0.716 23.3 3.8 5.4 3.8 5.4 0 0 1.8 2.4 1.8 3.3 5.1 0.3 0.5 0.8 1.3 2.3 9.3
Ekpe Udoh JR 36 1264 0.49 0.505 0.269 0.685 35.1 5.3 10.8 5.1 10.1 0.2 0.7 3.1 4.5 3.6 6.2 9.8 2.7 0.8 3.7 2.4 2.4 13.9
Average 921.25 0.57475 0.58875 0.301 0.6875 25.575 3.525 6.4 3.3 5.75 0.2 0.65 1.8 2.575 2.125 3.75 5.85 1.1 0.6 1.5 1.575 2.175 9
2015-16 Class G MP FG% 2P% 3P% FT% MP FG FGA 2P 2PA 3P 3PA FT FTA ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
T.J. Maston SO 17 239 0.59 0.59 0.833 14.1 2.7 4.6 2.7 4.6 0 0 2.1 2.5 0.9 2.4 3.3 0.6 0.4 0.5 0.9 1.6 7.5
Johnathan Motley SO 17 313 0.606 0.616 0 0.583 18.4 4.5 7.5 4.5 7.4 0 0.1 1.6 2.8 2 2.9 4.9 1.2 0.4 0.8 1.4 2.9 10.7
Rico Gathers SR 17 463 0.556 0.556 0.658 27.2 5 9 5 9 0 0 2.9 4.5 4.6 6.2 10.8 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.4 2 12.9
Taurean Prince SR 17 483 0.428 0.456 0.369 0.833 28.4 5.1 11.8 3.6 8 1.4 3.8 3.2 3.9 2.6 2.9 5.6 3 1.7 0.6 2.6 2.4 14.8
Average 374.5 0.545 0.5545 0.1845 0.72675 22.025 4.325 8.225 3.95 7.25 0.35 0.975 2.45 3.425 2.525 3.6 6.15 1.375 0.825 0.7 1.575 2.225 11.475

Positionally, the comparison is rather uncanny.

2009-10 2015-16
Small forward/Stretch four Jones Prince
High/Mid-post Udoh Maston
Undersized energy Acy Gathers
Low-post Lomers Motley

The likenesses are certainly not absolute. Prince and Gathers are both improvements over the 2009-10 versions of Jones and Acy. Udoh and Lomers were far better defenders than either Maston or Motley are at the moment. On the whole, the 2009-10 squad was lightyears ahead of 2015-16 on defense, but this year's front court might be a touch more skilled offensively, although the 2009-10 front court was part of Baylor's most efficient offense on record. Considering the utility of each player, however, this season's unit might be the closest Drew has come to recreating the front court that led to his first Elite Eight appearance.

Of course, Drew has been known for building teams around strong, skilled front courts for a six year period now. In that stretch, five players have been drafted into the NBA -- Ekpe Udoh (6th), Perry Jones (28th), Quincy Acy (37th), Quincy Miller (38th), and Cory Jefferson (60th). Additionally, Baylor has had several bigs who performed excellently at the college level but went undrafted for whatever reason -- Lomers, Anthony Jones, and Isaiah Austin.

Presently, Drew has one forward who is a near lock for the draft (Prince) and one with the potential to go late (Gathers), with two sophomores in Motley and Maston who are coming into their own in Big XII conference play and could grow into NBA players in the way of Acy and Jefferson. Talent is at no shortage for the Bears.

The difference between this year's front court and those of years past, though, is that not one of the current four big men came in as a heralded recruit. Perry Jones, Miller, and Austin were all consensus top 5 recruits out of high school, and Udoh came to the program after transferring from a frequently excellent program in Michigan. This year's players have all developed in house -- Maston and Motley at a seemingly accelerated rate.

This season's big men might not be Drew's best, but it might be Baylor's most complete front line in a while.