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NC State Searches for New Ball-Dominant Guards

NC State says goodbye to Jarkel Joiner and Terquavion Smith. Neither was a true point guard, but both were very effective at scoring out of the high ball screen, and the Pack went into the portal for some new offensive initiators this season.

Stanford transfer Michael O’Connell would be a very different kind of lead guard than what State has had in recent years. He is a pass-first guard who was a low-volume shooter at Stanford, and he’s actually a true point guard who sees the floor well and can create that almighty ball movement.

He knows how to operate a pick and roll, but he’s not the most explosive guard, and it’s tough to be a lead guard in this offense if you can’t create rim pressure. O’Connell has good length for a point guard and he’s capable of finishing over defenders. He has decent touch around the rim too, but he doesn’t bring the burst and quick first step that State has had with Joiner, Smith, Seabron, and Markell Johnson, and he’s not super inclined to score. He also isn’t a shooter, hitting under 30% from three both of the last two years. He did get it going a little toward the end of last season, though, finishing 8-18 after starting the year 3-19 from deep. O’Connell needs to pose more of a scoring threat if he’s going to spend a lot of time operating the offense.

State also added Jayden Taylor and DJ Horne, two much more score-first guards. Taylor is not the most explosive guard either, but he’s a crafty finisher at the rim, capable of hitting in the mid range against drop coverage, and he shot a respectable enough 32.6% from beyond the arc. Taylor isn’t much of a distributor. His assist-to-turnover ratio was below 1:1 both of his two years in Indianapolis. I’d expect to see a good bit of Taylor off the ball in lineups with Horne and Morsell. Taylor is a good on-ball defender, and that lineup gives you floor spacing and defense.

I have a suspicion that Horne will be State’s best guard this year. He is the quickest of any of the possible ball-dominant guards the Pack will have, and he’s definitely the best shooter. State will obviously run their ball screen sets through different guys, but Horne is likely your most well-rounded player to run through the offense. He’s a better distributor than Taylor and a much better scorer than O’Connell. His burst is better than both those guys and he’s going to force you to stay up defensively because of his jumper. You have to have that versatility to be a ball-screen operator, and Horne at least appears to be the most versatile ball handler. I really like his game, and I think it translates well to what State wants to do.

The bad news for the Pack is that it probably does not have the creators as ball-dominant guards that it had last year. The good news is that it has DJ Burns, and will likely play more inside-out than it typically has under Keatts. You’ll probably see some small lineups this year to surround Burns with shooters, as State will want to empty out the lane and play through Burns as much as anything. The hangup there is that the big man is a huge defensive liability and prone to foul trouble. He is not going to play 40 minutes a game, and State will need its new offensive catalysts to be effective on the ball as well.


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