Oregon Men’s Basketball: The Non-Conference Grades

How good is this current Duck basketball team? Here is one fan’s assessment of the Oregon’s 2017-18 team roster through the non-conference games. Full disclosure: I have no basketball coaching background, nor did I have much of a competitive playing career. However, I have been an avid fan long enough to have attended NBA doubleheaders and to have observed Dick Harter wearing out his pant knees before he ever landed in Eugene.

Players are listed in the order of their uniform numbers, which (I know) makes little sense. Omitted are those who have played zero meaningful minutes. Commentary and grades are based solely on performance in the 13 non-conference games through December 20, and I invite your feedback from what you are observed as well.

Troy Brown

Strengths: Along with Payton Pritchard, Oregon’s most consistent player to date. Double-figure scorer in 10 of 12 games. Team leading eight rebounds per game. Excellent passer; not a ball stopper. Avoids foul problems despite being a solid defender. Fundamentally sound.

Weaknesses: Nearly three turnovers per game on a team that has seldom been pressed. Difficulty creating his own shot. Reticent to assert himself offensively. Perimeter shooting somewhat unimpressive but should improve.

Overall: Consummate team player with no glaring weaknesses. Will need to become more aggressive offensively and improve outside shooting to raise his NBA stock. Despite the preseason hype, doesn’t appear to be an automatic, one-and-done first rounder. Probably the best UO freshman since Ron Lee.

Grade: B+

Eugene Johnson

Kenny Wooten’s hops are already legendary…

Kenny Wooten

Strengths: Shot-blocking reminiscent of Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher. Likely one of the best in the Pac-12, if not the entire country. Quick leaper who moves extremely well. Very high field goal percentage. Generally avoids fouling despite defensive aggressiveness.

Weaknesses: Averages fewer than four defensive rebounds per game. Indiscriminate shot-blocking attempts sometimes leave him out of position. Limited offensive repertoire. Needs to develop reliable mid-range jumper if not a few post-up moves.

Overall: A rapidly rising star and impending crowd favorite. Would be well-served to stick around long enough to polish his offensive game and gain enough strength to rebound consistently. He and Bol Bol could obliterate the Bell & Boucher records for blocks next season.

Grade: A-

Payton Pritchard

Strengths: Oregon’s most dependable scoring threat. Shooting 50% on the season with an effective shooting percentage of 56. High basketball IQ. Sees the floor. Pushes the ball. Gets into the lane and consistently finishes. Much improved defensively and in shooting from distance. Rebounds well for his size. Doesn’t rattle.

Weaknesses: Occasionally turnover-prone. Sometimes dribbles too much causing half-court offense to stagnate. Assist-to-turnover ratio is a very pedestrian 1.5.

Overall: The only returning starter and obvious team leader, Pritchard has lived up to, if not exceeded expectations. He will be challenged by the quicker Pac-12 point guards, but his non-conference numbers are likely to hold. Pritchard going down would be like losing Justin Herbert.

Grade: B+

M.J. Cage

Strengths: Rebounding, shot-blocking and defensive positioning. Runs very well. Good hands. Pretty good form on his three-pointer in warmups. Appears to have worthy skills and instincts.

Weaknesses: Strength, aggressiveness and who knows what else. Minutes reflect his disdain for physicality. Intensity of Pac-12 and NCAA games might be overwhelming.

Overall: A disappointing rookie season for the redshirt freshman. Few minutes and little impact during his brief stints. Looks uninspired, although this could be due more to low-key personality than actual effort. A transfer (if not a heart transplant) candidate. First signs of life vs. Central Arkansas.

Grade: D

Elijah Brown

Eugene Johnson

Elijah is the X-factor

Strengths: Scoring, especially from the perimeter. Free-throw shooting is Pac-12’s best.  Better assist-to-turnover ratio than Pritchard’s. High energy guy who flourishes in transition. Very good vision for a shoot-first player. Best Duck at creating his own shot. Seems to be improving on defense.

Weaknesses: Shooting is wildly inconsistent despite nine double-digit performances. Expected improvement on this dimension given the burden he carried at New Mexico. Not so. Inefficiency remains a concern. Sometimes lackluster defense, especially when struggling to score.

Overall: When Elijah is shooting well, then Oregon is a tough out. In the Ducks three losses, he hit only 5 of 20 threes. To be competitive in the Pac-12, he will need to deliver 12-15 points per game with an effective shooting percentage of at least 50. Right now, his FG% is about 47%.

Grade: C+

Victor Bailey Jr.

Strengths: Quickness, speed, energy. A high flyer who typically asserts himself offensively. Appears to be more of a scorer than a shooter despite his affinity for the three-pointer. More aware of positioning at the defensive end than he was a month ago. Excellent free-throw shooter.

Weaknesses: Surprisingly few rebounds and steals for such a good athlete. Jumper is inconsistent and somewhat flat. Shot selection is a concern, albeit improving. Asleep at the switch on defense early on. Poor court vision. Struggles in the half court.

Overall: Minutes have declined, probably due to defensive and rebounding deficiencies. Were Bailey shooting better, then these might be tolerated. Victor looks like someone with lots of potential who is playing like a typical freshman.

Grade: C

Keith Smith

Craig Strobeck

Keith Smith

Strengths: Defensive effort, lateral movement, wingspan and positioning. Effective when team is pressing. Solid rebounder. Willing to mix it up inside. Decent court vision. Keeps the ball moving.

Weaknesses: Poor shooter. Lacks three-point range. Cannot finish near basket despite ability to slash and rebound. May have developed a case of the yips.

Overall: Altman must like his contributions at the defensive end because he is truly a liability on offense. Shooting has not improved since his freshman year. Possible transfer since minutes will likely drop further in conference games. A major disappointment.

Grade: D+

Paul White

Strengths: Dependable and efficient double-digit scorer. Has three-point range. Can put the ball on the floor, but seldom does. A tough matchup on the perimeter. Moves well for his size and plays solid positional defense. A steadying influence. Although plus-minus figures were not available, the team is noticeably more fluid with White on the court.

Weaknesses: Reticent to attack the basket. Lacks toughness to rebound consistently. Not much of a shot blocker. Silly fouls tend to limit his minutes.

Overall: A reliable contributor at both ends who lacks the drive and toughness to take over a game. The consummate complementary player. Has the athleticism and handle to assert himself more, but looks like a poor man’s Rasheed Wallace, preferring to drift outside rather than mix it up.

Grade: B

MiKyle McIntosh

Eugene Johnson

McIntosh’s fouling drives Altman nuts

Strengths: Very strong, relatively mobile, power player with a nice shooting touch. At home in the paint on both ends. Oregon’s only dependable inside presence. Effective defensive rebounder and half-court defender. Willing to do the dirty work.

Weaknesses: Turnover and foul prone. Frustrating the coach, fans and himself, MiKyle can’t stay on the court. Aside from Pritchard, probably the player the Ducks can least afford to lose. Averaging only 23 minutes per game; should be at 30. Not a shot blocker.

Overall: McIntosh has been effective when he is actually playing. He can score, rebound and defend. But, his frequent mental lapses and poor judgment have really disrupted Altman’s rotation and, at times, killed momentum. Style and presence reminiscent of Elgin Cook.

Grade: C

Abu Kigab

Strengths: Athleticism and toughness. A wing player with a long wingspan who can run, rebound and finish at the basket. Decent passer with good court vision. Appears very coachable. Plays hard at both ends.

Weaknesses: A relatively poor shooter who lacks three-point range. Ball handling is suspect. Has the physical tools to be a solid defender, but mental lapses may have cut into his playing time in recent weeks.

Overall: Like Bailey, Kigab has the potential to be a significant contributor in time. Unlike Wooten and T. Brown, his adjustment to the college game has been erratic. His minutes have declined to the point where he has not had much impact.

Gary Breedlove

Roman Sorkin

Grade: Incomplete

Roman Sorkin

Strengths: Three-point shooting (based on past performance). Works hard at both ends. Accepts coaching. Unselfish. Improved toughness.

Weaknesses: Despite his workman-like attitude, Sorkin’s lack of quickness, strength and jumping ability render him a significant defensive liability. Foul prone. Limited offensive repertoire. Restricted rebounding range. His shooting since the first game has been atrocious.

Overall: Unless Sorkin is hitting his threes or scoring in the post — which he clearly is not — there are too many deficiencies to warrant regular playing time. UO’s front court foul trouble is his only salvation.

Grade: F

Many of the television analysts who have extensive coaching or playing experience state that Oregon will be a good team and in the middle of the conference race by mid-February. Based on what you have seen of this team and Dana Altman’s background–do you agree?

Mark Weinrott
Eugene, OR

Top photo credit: Eugene Johnson

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