Last week, Baylor fans got a sneak preview at the coming 22-23 Baylor Bears. It was an unusual look in several ways, with players missing, competition that was a blend of collegiate and international professions, and an intense schedule in which the Bears played five games in six days.
Nevertheless, the first annual Globl [sic] Jam — in which Baylor represented the United State’s Under 23 team — provided us with a snapshot of where the team is at in its current developmental stage. No fan should take what happened in this international tournament as prophetic, particularly where the guard rotation is concerned. Scott Drew was without Adam Flagler, LJ Cryer, and Langston Love. Two of those players will figure heavily into the rotation come November, while Love has the potential to make an impact. To what degree he can break into the rotation remains a mystery.
Which brings us to our first observation.
Baylor’s Guard Rotation is Absolutely Stacked with Scoring
When Baylor won the NCAA Tournament, it was with four guards who could absolutely fill it up from anywhere on the floor. When one had an off shooting night, it was almost a given that another guy could pick up the slack.
That’s the general idea this season. Flagler and Cryer are known commodities. They can hit from anywhere, bringing a mixture of on-ball and off-ball shooting. Dale Bonner never found his outside shot last season, which made his flash of shot-making off the dribble such a welcome sight this week. His final percentage from three isn’t much to look at (28%), but he took a number of bail-out shots when the offense failed to produce a good shot. When he was able to take a shot in rhythm, his stroke looked confident, particularly when he took one dribble in for a long two. He shot 39% inside the arc, and a good number of those were one hard dribble in past a closing defender. He also lead the team with 5.2 assists per game, a continuation of what he flashed last season when injuries forced him into heavy minutes. Bonner won’t ever be asked to do much offensively, but knowing he has growing confidence in his shot lifts the floor of the offense.
Another transfer who figures for minutes: Dantwan Grimes, a JUCO transfer from Kilgore College where he won two straight NJCAA championships, looks like he will fit perfectly into Drew’s offense. He likes to drive into the lane to create for others, playing with his head up looking for passing lanes, and he’s got the first step to reliably get past his defender. He shot nearly 35% on threes and was second on the team with 4.2 assists, and he averaged nearly 8 points per game in about 27 minutes of play. Grimes just looks the part of a reliable, winning guard.
Then there’s the freshman who averaged nearly 23 points per game in his first semi-collegiate appearance. I’ve already extolled his virtues after his premier showing against Italy, so I won’t belabor much. His averages (22.8 pts, 38/33/82 shooting, 3 asts, 1.4 stls) were fantastic for a player who was playing in high school just weeks ago. Something that really caught my eye, though: he drew 5.4 fouls per game, which far and away lead the team and almost always lead to free throws. That is a skill not many Baylor guards have every possessed, and it’s something that differentiates the good from the great at just about all levels of the game. When things get tough, the ability to draw fouls and get to the line can make the difference between winning and losing.
Drew will be spoiled for choices this fall.
Bridges and Lohner Fill the Right Gaps
Jalen Bridges and Jacob Lohner will play key roles for the Bears this season. Bridges brings lethal shooting. He was 45.4% from three in five games, and it absolutely looked repeatable as he feasted on open looks generated by drives into the lane by the guards. Lohner, though a bit plodding as a defender, led the team in rebounds with 6.6 per game. Bridges contributed 5.2 in that department, as well. And while Lohner didn’t show off an outside shot (20% 3PT), he did flash plus ability to dive to the basket as a finishing and lob threat. He shot 52.4% from inside the arc and by far had the greatest number of dunks by a Bear in the event. Aside from Bridges ability to sink it from deep, it’s unlikely that either will ever take over a game. Their ability to defend the wing and offer different styles of passing outlets for the guards will undoubtedly show once the season is underway.
Ojianwuna Has Something
Josh Ojianwuna arrived late to Globl [sic] Jam, but he made an immediate impact. Only 4 hours after walking of the plane, he contributed 6 points on 3-4 shooting and 4 rebounds in 14 minutes. His minute total only climbed with each game, and by the end he was splitting even time with super senior Flo Thamba. Ojianwuna flashed both athleticism and motor that may very well be valuable as he continues to develop. It’s unclear how much he will play once the competition ramps up, but the energy he showed against much more experienced front court players could make it hard to keep him off the floor when the competition is a 19 or 20 year old collegiate center.
George Has True Dog in Him
I know, more praise for George. Shoot me, I’m excited.
There was a fascinating duel that went on between George and Marcus Carr, the University of Texas senior who was the lead guard for team Canada. In their first matchup, Carr defended George well, frustrating him to a 6-21 night with three turnovers, 14 attempted threes, many of which were not good looks, and just 4 free throw attempts. Carr did a great job of containment, preventing George from driving inside when the shot wasn’t falling. Sure, George scored 19 points, but they are horribly inefficient in a game that Baylor lost by just 3 points thanks for a back breaking three from Carr in the final minute and 6 of Canada’s final 8 points.
Fast forward three days, and George gave a definitive response: 37 points, 12-21 FG, 4-8 3PT, 9-11 FT. George also added 4 steals, three more than the previous matchup, and recorded 3 rebounds when he had 0 in the first game against Canada. The United States won 93-87.
It was a fun preview of a matchup that will resurface at least twice more when Baylor faces the Texas Longhorns in conference play. It showed quite a bit of how George handles adversity, and how he responds after getting punked. That spirit will be something to channel this season, and it could be the element that lifts Baylor to success this coming season.