The odd situation is that even though unproven newcomers will dominate the makeup of San Jose State's frontcourt, it is the Spartan backcourt upon which the 2010-2011 season is predicated.
That may read counter-intuitive to most so let us explain.
It's backcourt time in 2010-2011 for SJSU basketball, specifically Adrian Oliver and Justin Graham at the fore.
One self-report has Oliver working on his ballhandling plus quickness, speed and strength in order to become a better defender and more of an all-around player. He will be situated at the point come NBA time so these specific self-improvement tasks are right on target.
Overall, what Oliver needs to display in his final collegiate go-around is greater efficiency -- that is, making positives happen a vast majority of the time with each possession of the ball. However, he can't do this on his own.
Oliver can lead the WAC in scoring and probably will -- it's very close to a given -- even with less shots attempted than in 2009-2010.
What we sense will really demonstrate a 'clicking on all cylinders' is Oliver's fellow teammates putting themselves into better offensive position more often and then finishing upon receiving the ball -- performing in a less watching, greater movement mode. Plus, having teammates who can create themselves will force opponents into amid-action choosing between multiple threats. That leads to easy buckets.
Again overall, It is a tremendous asset to have Oliver on your side when seven or so seconds remain on the shot clock but the less situations like that taking place the better. Like Mikey on the old Life cereal commercial, a 'let Adrian try it' is fine, but dropping that number will translate into greater overall productivity. .
With Graham, it boils down to enjoying a full health season, minus any wrist limitations of the past couple of years. Remember the numbers from his freshman year? (52% overall shooting, 50% on treys in league play, 43% overall on three-pointers) We see Graham as being the second-leading scorer in the upcoming go-around, at 15 points or so per contest and that's what will be needed. We fully expect him to again lead the squad in assists but less unselfishness from Graham will only be beneficial overall. Plus, his trademark fierce drives into the paint will only be more effective if he is stopping and popping a few times a game or nailing a trey or two -- each nourishes the other.
With Oliver and Graham in full contribution mode, the Spartan frontline will also enjoy less guarded shooting and greater putback opportunities.
Plus, both seniors need solid assist-to-turnover ratios -- accomplishable tasks.
Finally, in the Oliver/Graham in-box is leading the way defensively on the perimeter. Our projection is that the SJSU frontcourt will be more active and aggressive in getting and maintaining defensive position -- via improved mobility and intensity. But outside the paint is also a critical defensive action area in need of improvement. Fighting through screens, greater talking among themselves and a better sense of 'seeing/knowing what is coming' and trying to prevent it are areas needing a team upgrade. The fifth-year seniors need to both physically demonstrate and verbally captain the Spartan defensive mindset.
Another situation that fascinates us is the question of who will play predominate minutes on the wing? Calvin Douglas, the transfer from City College of San Francisco, is one candidate. He was the best defender on the Ram squad last season and demonstrated the ability to knock down the open jumper when the opportunity was presented. Douglas was a scorer in high school but shifted into a different role upon entering community college ball. Douglas has the capability of facing off against the one, two or three spots on the opposing team and his forcing his opposing number to work harder than usual for shots will be critical to San Jose State's defensive success.
We had high expectations for Chris Jones last season and still see him as the foremost Spartan possessing all-WAC level defensive potential. For another season at least, we see him as more an opportunity scorer.
Anthony Dixon returns and we envision this season as a make-or-break one for him. That may come off as an overly dramatic statement but he needs to show up with added strength and some bulk -- elements that would allow him to both get to and also remain where he wants to be on the court. Minus those additions and opponents simply knock a player off balance and out of position.
Aalim Moor also comes back as a sophomore and we see him being one of the bricks in the hopefully budding defensive wall. His development at the point would be a tremendous asset due to his physicality.
It's obviously early but Keith Shamburger appears to be cut in the mold of a tough-minded points producer. We're overusing the word but that is a critical need-to-step-up component since Oliver and Graham depart after this season.
Derek Brown is a crafty ballhandler, with a solid shot and he and Shamburger are not lacking in court confidence. We do want to see the level of his defensive capabilities though.
So who on the team, if anyone, will work into the role/earn the identity of a defensive stopper? This Spartan squad will score points but we want to see a team identity emerge that also is fixated on pressuring opponents defensively. Shooting ebbs and flows, defending is an element that can become a constant.
Can the lead players on the team bring about positive answers to the various questionmarks?
Garrett Ton and Jerry Casey also returns as walk-ons. We're unsure of Kyle Thomas' status at this point.