I previously broke down the post players , and now it's time to tackle the guards and wings. The duo of Jarkel Joiner and Terquavion Smith was one of the best backcourts in the country last year, and that isn't easy to replace. There are 3 returning guys, and a plethora of new guys who are going to have to step up and make plays for the Wolfpack. The staff did a good job in the portal, but they have some very large shoes to fill. Someone is going to stand out, but the question is, who will it be? I think there is a lot of potential with this group, and it's going to be interesting to see how it shakes out.
The Returning Guys
Casey Morsell took a huge step forward last year, and he certainly lived up to expectations last season. I will be honest, I was very critical of Casey 2 years ago, but he made a believer out of me. He was the best defender on the team last year, and he is truly comfortable playing the 3 position in this system. He averaged 11.8 points per game last year, and he shot 41.1 percent from 3 point land, which is remarkable. He also rebounds well at 4.4 per game, and he is a very smart player who rarely turns the ball over. He can play the 2 slot, but most of the time he will be a 3. I think he is very comfortable in the Kevin Keatts system, and he really wasn't at Virginia which is where he was before transferring. I think the fast pace suits him. He never really got into the rotation at Virginia, who's deliberate style of play makes turtles look like Greyhounds . He is going to be hugely important this season. He is a veteran and he should be a steadying force.
Breon Pass is back for his 3rd season, and he has played sparingly, although he did start to show some promise as last year unfolded. I don't know if we can really go by his shooting percentages last year because it's a very small sample size. I think Pass will give the Wolfpack valuable minutes this year, and I think he will be much more poised, which is going to be key when he is playing the point. If he takes care of the ball and makes good decisions, he will be an asset at point guard.
LJ Thomas returns for his second season, and I am very excited to see what he can do this season. He played valuable minutes last year, and it was often remarked that he didn't play like a freshman, and I would have to agree. He is a very good shooter who isn't shy about taking open shots. I know he didn't shoot a bunch, but he did shoot 47 percent from behind the arc. He is also a good rebounder who is very strong for his size. He didn't make many mistakes, and his poise under pressure was refreshing to see from a true freshman. He only averaged 2.4 points per game, and 2.1 rebounds , but he didn't get a lot of playing time. He can play the 2, 3, or 4, and personally , I think he is going to get a lot more playing time, and to my way of thinking, is going to suprise a lot of people.
The New Guys
DJ Horne comes to NC State by way of Arizona State. He is from the area, and he wanted to play close to home. Before ASU , he was at Illinois State. He was probably the sun devils best player, especially down the stretch. He is a combo guard, but he has a scorers mentality, and he won't be shy about putting the ball in the air. He will play point at times, of which he is quite capable. He averaged 12.5 points and 3.4 rebounds last year while shooting 36.9 percent from the field. From downtown he shot 35.5 percent, and that needs to be a little higher. He will be a key contributor this year and he is probably the best of the backcourt newcomers. He is going to have to score, and I'm sure he will do that. He is a 81 percent free throw shooter which is pretty good but not Jarkel Joiner good. From watching game footage, he looks very active, and he is very quick on defense. The Wolfpack needs him to be a go to guy.
Michael O'Connell is a transfer from Stanford and he is a true point guard. He is more of a pass first player, but he is going to have to look to score more. He averaged 5.2 points and 2.5 rebounds last year to go along with 3.1 assists. It will be interesting to see how he fits in to the Keatts system. The game footage that I watched shows a poised ball handler. He only averaged 1.6 turnovers, so he takes care of the basketball, and he is a good passer. Avoiding turnovers makes life so much easier and it means you get more shots than the opponent. It's actually part of the Keatts' strategy. Get deflections and steals and take care of the ball, and you will have significantly more shots than your opponent. NC State was really good at taking care of the ball last year, and hopefully O'Connell helps keep it that way. He shot 37.8 percent from the field, and only 29.7 percent from behind the arc. Those numbers need to improve for him to be a credible scoring threat. He needs to keep his man on the perimeter which will help open up the middle. His experience should be very valuable.
Jayden Taylor comes to NC state from Butler, where he was a teammate of Manny Bates last year. He is a 2 guard who can also play the point. He only averaged 1.3 assists a game, so he is definitely a scorer first. He averaged 12.9 points and 3.8 rebounds last year. He shot 40.8 percent from the field, which is not an eye popping stat, but he is 6'4 so he has some size. He has the ability to play the 3 position as well, and he is going to have to look to score in order to try and replace some of the lost production of Joiner and Smith . We already know he can score, and with the Wolfpack's tempo, my hope is that he will be able to reach his full potential.
MJ Rice has the potential to be a very special player. He was a McDonald's all American coming out of high school and ultimately chose to attend Kansas. His freshman season was a disappointment as he battled injuries which kept his playing time very limited. He only averaged about 7 minutes a game. You don't get to be a McDonald's all American without being a really good basketball player, and he has a very high ceiling. He is a true wing who can score and rebound, and he will play the 3 position as well as the 4 at times. I would expect him to get significant minutes and show why he was such a heralded recruit. He only averaged 2.2 points and 1 rebound per game while shooting 40.8 percent from the floor, but it's hard to put a lot of stock into those numbers with his injuries and limited playing time. He has a chance to become not only a great player for the Wolfpack, but also an elite ACC player. It will be interesting to see how he develops, but I have a lot of optimism.
Dennis Parker Jr.
Dennis Parker Jr. is the lone freshman to join the backcourt. He was a 4 star recruit who has impressed the coaches so far according to reports I have read. He wants to play now, and he is showing that he can contribute. He is a wing who has good size at 6'6 so he will play the 3 and the 4 positions. He is very athletic and active and he can score from outside as well as aggressively attack the basket. He averaged almost 20 points a game last year and led his team to a state championship in Virginia. He has a lot of potential, and I think he is going to be a really good player who should get quality minutes this year. He rebounds well, but his liability at this point is defense at this level, but with his athleticism should improve quickly. I'm interested to see how much time he gets, and to see how he fits in.
Kam Woods was a late pickup for Kevin Keatts and staff, and looking at his numbers it's easy to see why. Last season at North Carolina A&T, he averaged 17.3 points and 4.2 rebounds a game, and he was second team all CAA. He led the team in points and assists, and while that was at a different level, I can think of a few others that came here and exceeded expectations. DJ Burns is one and , this is going to show my age, Nate McMillan, and a guy by the name of Spud Webb. The bottom line is he can score and he has a nice shot , and he rebounds well. He shot 38 percent from the field, and 33 percent from long range. That was much improved from the previous year however . He will need a waiver to play this season, and I'm skeptical about his chances. If by some chance he does get to play this year, he definitely could be a scoring option.
There are a lot of new faces here, but I think that there are enough guys to keep everyone fresh and rested. We are going to see multiple combinations in the backcourt, and we should be able to play the up tempo style that Kevin Keatts loves. There is a lot of talent in this group, but it's going to take some time to figure out the rotation, which will come with time. I think Casey Morsell will continue to be a big time player, and I think that DJ Horne and LJ Thomas are going to surprise some people. Scoring is going to be important for the backcourt, especially from 3 point land because it helps the post game by keeping the defense extended. Quickness will be important, and I don't think there is much to worry about with this group. It's going to be fun to watch. The experts don't think the Wolfpack is going to be a high level team, but I think that if the pieces fall into place, it could be a very exciting season, and an opportunity for Kevin Keatts and company to show the basketball world what this team is capable of.