A couple of weeks ago, I outlined the general reasons why this year’s Bears won’t be so different than in years past. Year after year we think that Drew will mix things up and change how his team plays, and he never does. So I’m done predicting things will be different. I expect Baylor to be what it has been for the past five years: an inside-out team that relies on outside shooting and a high spread pick-and-roll to generate something when the offense stalls out, backed by a sometimes effective, maddeningly conservative zone defense that doesn’t force many turnovers but does force lots of long jump shots. Baylor gonna Baylor.
Think of this roster preview as the extrapolation of that position. The details of how Baylor will execute the above sketch are important, and there are some questions that will need to be answered. Sure, all five starters should be returning players with tons of experience, but what about the bench? Last season Drew had two experienced, reliable backups in Jake Lindsey and Terry Maston. Now that those two will move into the starting lineup in place of Ish Wainright and Johnathan Motley, who can Drew turn to, especially in the back court? Al Freeman and Wendell Mitchell, the only guards who had playing experience besides the incumbent starters Manu Lecomte and King McClure, are gone after transferring, leaving redshirt freshman Tyson Jolly as the only other guard on the roster. Jolly has promise, to be sure, but he’s an unproven commodity. Likewise for Mark Vital, another redshirt freshman. His most likely roll is as a slashing small forward, but Drew might be forced to play him at shooting guard out of necessity. Will he be willing to do that, or will he find other ways to finagle the rotations? Some other questions: Is Nuni Omot a wing or a big? Where do Tristan Clark and Leonard Allen fit into the front court? Can Lindsey play all forty minutes? Will Jo Lual-Acuil block all the shots or just every shot?
For now, let’s look into the guards. We’ll consider the wings and bigs later.
Manu Lecomte (sr.)
Let us never forget that it is only because Angel Rodriguez transferred to Miami that Baylor fans can now enjoy the fine talents of this Belgian sharpshooter.
Lecomte crushed it last season. He led the team with an outstanding 40% year from deep, and he felt reliable in crunch time when he had the opportunity to ice the game from the line. He assisted on 24% of Baylor’s field goals when he was on the floor, and he turned the ball over less than 20% of the time, somewhat remarkable for a Baylor backcourt that has struggled with turnovers for years. He’s quick, steady, and the go-to guy when the Bears need a basket. With Motley gone, expect Lecomte to shoulder more of the scoring load. He averaged just over 12 points per game last year. Baylor will need him up around 15 or 16, even if it means his efficiency takes a dip.
Of course, Lecomte doesn’t necessarily need to ball in order to score. He excels as a spot up shooter scooting around screens like JJ Reddick did for years as a Los Angeles Clipper. His versatility to play on and off ball will be key to Baylor’s offense. He will be the threat that keeps opposing guards from diggibg down on Maston and Acuil in the paint when they have the ball, and he will help create space for Lindsey when he’s handling point guard duties.
Lecomte was also pleasantly capable as a defender. Sometimes you worry about small guards at the top of the zone, but he did an admirable job challenging shooters and staying in front. Taller players will still shoot over him, though, and he limits the amount of time Drew can mix in man-to-man defense.
In past seasons, Baylor has had success with steady floor generals at the helm. Lecomte is about as close to Tweety Carter as they come.
King McClure (jr.)
McClure had to compete with Freeman for the starting shooting guard spot for his first two years, but he will have no such competition this season. On the contrary, McClure’s domination of his position will be extraordinarily important for Drew’s rotation, if only because he has no clear backup if Jolly’s health condition should resurface. Should McClure have a bad night, the only answer will be to move Lindsey to point and play Lecomte off ball with one of Omot or Vital at small forward. That puts a ton of pressure on McClure to play well every game or risk exhausting Lecomte and Lindsey.
The past two seasons, McClure has had trouble with consistency. He can be streaky from outside, despite possessing excellent form on his jump shot. His three-point percentage was almost exactly the same his first two seasons: as a freshman he was 29 of 77, and 28 of 77 as a sophomore. His attempts will have to go up this season, as will his minutes. McClure averaged only 14 minutes per game last year. That number should jump up dramatically. Can he continue to make 35%+ from deep with an increased workload and maintain his defensive effort? He’s been reliable on defense so far with a knack for big steals, and that will have to continue.
McClure won’t be the Bears’ best player this year, and he doesn’t even have to be a star. He does have to be consistent, though, or the entire back court could get thrown out of whack.
Jake Lindsey (jr.)
Lindsey will be the nominal starting small forward, but in reality he will be a third guard. Now that Wainright is gone, Lindsey will take over the mantle as the most creative passer on the team, possessing both long arms and vision to get the ball past defenders as teammates roll to the rim or spot up across the floor.
As mentioned already, Lindsey will see plenty of time as the primary ball handler, with or without Lecomte on the floor. Of the three starting guards, Lindsey by far has the weakest outside shot. Sure, he hit 40% from three last season, but he can’t shoot off the dribble like Lecomte, and he takes a lot longer to get the ball out than McClure. Lindsey has to pick his spots in order to be effective as a scorer. His talents lie in handling the ball and creating for his teammates through intelligent probing off of screens.
I mentioned in my piece about Mitchell’s transfer that Lindsey will probably be the backup point guard. Drew will have to employ some crafty rotations to preserve the energies of his back court. The likeliest path would be to alternate Lecomte and Lindsey. Start them both, sub out Lecomte for Omot or Vital 6-7 minutes into the game, then alternate Lindsey and Lecomte except for the start of the second half and the end of the game.
Maintaining that balance will be tricky, and it means Lindsey will have to play for extended stretches, testing his conditioning and focus. He has the acumen to do it, though, and his improvement from year one to year two portends good things from the junior Son of a General Manager.
Tyson Jolly (rs fr.)
Jolly holds a lot of promise. He has great height at 6-4 and was a good scorer and rebounder in high school, averaging 17-7-2 his junior season before being diagnosed with pulmonary embolism and seven blood clots in his lungs. That doesn’t suggest he will be an excellent passer at the college level, but it does show aggression in going after the ball from the perimeter. It takes effort to grab 7 rebounds a game as a guard. He also tallied a career high of 41 points, so he can certainly put the ball in the basket.
That health scare is a bit worrisome. Blood clots can come back, as in Chris Bosh’s situation that lead to his retirement. Jolly seemed to have made a recovery, although his health is a question again as the season nears.
Baylor extremely thin. Tyson Jolly (medical) out indefinitely, Leonard Allen (medical leave of absence), Tristan Clark (shoulder) day-to-day
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) https://twitter.com/GoodmanESPN/status/922481425340878853?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">October 23, 2017
I’m not sure what his condition is or whether it’s related to his previous condition or not, but Baylor will need him healthy fast.
Jolly is McClure’s only backup unless Drew decides to play a bulldog in Vital as a shooting guard. Jolly will immediately be asked to play 10-15 minutes per game and perhaps more, something his red shirt season hopefully prepared him for.
Baylor’s back court will be thin this season. Any injury could derail everything.
That thinness is another argument for Baylor keeping the pace slow this season. They don’t have the bodies to run up and down the floor. Much better for them to slow down the pace and rely on their three starting guards to score efficiently in the half court. There is a lot of talent in Lecomte, McClure, and Lindsey. When those three share the court, Baylor will be a very effective team. Keeping all three fresh and healthy will be Drew’s biggest challenge of the season.