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The Bounce: A Front Court Shake-up

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With Clark out, Mayer and JTT will need to elevate beyond what was already expected

NCAA Basketball: Central Arkansas at Baylor Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Tristan Clark has medically retired from basketball. We wish him all the best. Kendall correctly pointed out Clark’s great run in 2018-2019, and I don’t have too much to add. In my column about Baylor’s defense, I highlighted his presence at the rim and as a rebounder as a potential key to Baylor’s continued success on that end. His scoring prowess I took as a given. If he could have returned with a semblance of his former athleticism, he was certainly going to be a plus player, whatever his role.

Now that he is no longer available, Scott Drew will have to find scoring, defense, and rebounds elsewhere.

If Drew prizes the second two categories over the first, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua will fill the starting center roll to provide the rebounding and rim protection. As a freshman at UNLV, his Per 40 rates (it’s a flawed measure, but there in my favor for the moment so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ) at UNLV 10.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks speak to his motor and potential. Now, having undergone the Cory Jefferson Redshirt Program, I expect him to have turned that true freshman motor into a redshirt sophomore muscle car. If he earns 25-30 minutes per game, it will be because he’s averaging nearly a double-double with a block and just under one steal per game. If he’s even averaging only 6 points per game, that would still be worth 20-25 minutes if the rebounding is there. Honestly, JTT had the chance to be the starter even with Clark on the roster. I see him as a virtual lock for the spot now, unless something radical happened with Flo Thamba this offseason. We can only hope JTT will be sporting the two sleeves on opening night.

As for the points, Matthew Mayer was going to come in as the big minutes sixth man. He’s a natural scorer who will see his share of time at the end of close games. At a spindly 6-9, he doesn’t quite have the strength to be a big presence on the boards, but he is a great fit as a stretch four next to players like Mark Vital and JTT, who can occupy opposing rebounders and muck things up inside. Mayer’s strength is his outside shot (37.8 3PT%), and he has the ability to put it on the deck when he gets some space. His handle has been loose (despite what that baseline spin move might suggest), which limits his ability as a creator. Baylor’s bevy of guards should be able to maintain playmaking duties whether Mayer is on the court with he starters or with the second unit. His aggression, shot-making ability, and floppy hair put him in prime position to be a 15+ point per game scorer of the bench. I see that as a ceiling for him this season. In all likelihood, he will be in the 8-11 point range on 37% 3PT in 20 minutes per game with the potential to go off for 23 on the right night.

Those were my thoughts before Clark retired. Now that more minutes have opened up, Mayer could find himself in an even larger role. Baylor will need him to fill 25-28 minutes per game now, and nearly all of those minutes will come at the four. If a couple of the guards get into foul trouble, Mayer could slide down to the three with two of Dain Dainja, Vital, and JTT as the bigs. That would make for a pretty cramped floor, so I wouldn’t expect Drew to go to that alignment except in a pinch.

There’s a scenario in which I could even envision Mayer as the starting power forward in the mythic Fival lineup. For the dream to come true, Mayer will have to have become a fringe NBA prospect, at the least. His rebounding, passing, and decision making last season were not at the level of a true starter in the Big XII. To make the Fival lineup work as more than a small-minutes gambit, Mayer needs to elevate his game to something approaching a 15-5-3 on 40% 3PT while showing off a tighter, lower dribble. That’s possible, just not the likely outcome.

With Mayer and JTT on the roster, Baylor should be able to move forward without too much of a back step from Clarks departure. It will likely take a combination of their strengths to achieve it.

Pickup Game

  • Remember how everyone went crazy over Freddie Gillespie’s freakish wingspan of 7-4 as a 6-9 guy? Dain Dainja is also 6-9, but his wingspan is a mind-blowing 7-7, per Baylor’s site. That’s a +10” difference, which would be among the top 10 wingspan to height differences measured at the NBA draft combine. Who knows how fudged those numbers might be, but holy cow that dude has long arms.
  • Some may have noticed I spent precious little time discussing how the change would impact Vital’s role. Well, that’s because I don’t think it will affect him hardly at all. He’s going to be the likely starting power forward and the situational backup center for this team, just like with Clark on the roster. I think he’s too important for Drew to bruise him up at the center position for too many minutes (not that he’d take more punishment than he gave). Drew’s preference will almost certainly be to turn to other possibilities at the five (JTT, Thamba, Dainja) before committing whole hog to Vital at center. Expect Twitter to express much consternation at Thamba’s 12+ minutes per game this season.
  • I never mentioned Mayer’s potential as a back-up center, either, despite his being the third tallest player on the team tied with Dainja. Here’s the reason: Mayer, very much unlike Dainja, has a negative wingspan. His height is 1” longer than his wingspan. As a player who is already light, it’s tough to make an impact inside when your arms are also below expected length. Mayer has the potential to be an excellent wing scorer, but he might never become the rebounder that his 6-9 height suggests.