The paint won't be a pleasant place for opposing teams in Memorial Gym this year. Thanks to a diverse roster of big men, the 2011 Commodores are dynamic enough to deal with multiple frontcourt threats without shaking up their playbook.
We continue our journey into Vanderbilt's deepest positions this week as we examine the team's power forwards. Much like the other forward slot, Vandy's depth here makes this a team strength, even with a couple of potential redshirts along the way. The Commodores have veteran talent and young prospects at a position stocked with strong role players who all bring different skills to the table.
Most of the minutes at the 4 will be divided amongst a triumvirate of players who can throw very different looks at opposing teams on both offense and defense. Andre Walker, Steve Tchiengang, and Lance Goulbourne will be the primaries, and each has a different specialty that gives the Commodores a dynamic attack to prey on opponents' weaknesses. Tchiengang is a bruiser underneath and a prototypical big man around the rim, with the ability to defend in the paint and finish at the basket. Goulbourne, who is more naturally a small forward, has the size and speed to cover faster power forwards, chase them out to the three-point line, and shoot the ball from downtown. Walker, the projected starter, combines aspects of both games along with unselfish leadership to be one of Vanderbilt's most consistent players.
Added together, this cerberus of power forwards creates a match-up nightmare for opposing coaches. Along with Festus Ezeli, this rotation will give the 'Dores one of the best defensive frontcourts in the SEC and the flexibility to over bruisers like Demarcus Cousins or finesse guys like Patrick Patterson. The best news? All of these guys, despite being veterans at this point, will be returning in 2012.
Andre Walker - Walker rebounded nicely from a 2008 ACL tear to start 31 games for the Commodores in 2009-2010. Though a bit undersized at 6'7", 220, his unselfishness and high basketball IQ make Vanderbilt a better team when he is on the court. The redshirt junior proved he could play both inside and out, showing off a shooting range out to 20 feet and pulling down double-digit rebounds in games against Missouri, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Walker has turned into the team's glue guy, and its his steady hand that kept the 'Dores from falling apart in upset bids - the most notable instance being his huge step-back three pointer with 27 seconds left against Georgia in 2010. He's got a smooth jumper and great basketball instincts that influence his game on both offense and defense. As a result, his passing is above-average for a forward and defensively he's able to read plays and disrupt passing lanes, which results in lots of steals and tipped balls.
On any given night, "Bruce-Lucius" is a threat to fill up the box score in Kirilenko-esque fashion, recording a handful of points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. While he's not an immediate threat to most SEC teams, he can chip away at opposing defenses and occasionally break out (17 points in the aforementioned UGA game) if not held in check. Defensively, Walker is strong and quick enough to be a disruptor in the paint, and does much better than expected against some of the SEC's bigger power forwards. However, he can still get beaten inside and often ends up fouling when going up against the league's elite players (nearly 3 fouls per game in 2010).
Andre Walker is an important player on this squad, but he'll be pushed to hold on to his starting spot thanks to the wealth of talent behind him. However, in his three years at Vanderbilt, he's proven to be an incredible team player with the willingness to do whatever it takes to make this team better. Regardless of his spot on the totem pole, look for him to get 20-25 minutes a game as a forward thanks to his ability to keep this team running smoothly.
Steve Tchiengang - Tchiengang, also known as "Stevie Thunder," is the team's muscle at power forward. Vanderbilt fans will remember him for grinning like a maniac after picking up fouls and for his god-given ability to yell at referees in the 2010 season, but he brings much more to the table. Unlike many Vandy big men before him, Tchiengang thrives in the paint, and is responsible for more violent collisions in a game than Elijah Price in all of Unbreakable. As a result, he's one of the most fun players to watch on this team.
After two plus years at Vanderbilt, coaches and fans alike are hoping that Stevie Thunder will have polished his game a bit more and be ready for a 20+ mpg role in the rotation. Foul trouble has been the bane of his career so far, but a few of those calls, admittedly, appeared to have more to do with the refs picking on a less established player than Tchiengang playing completely out of control. At 6'9" and a muscle-bound 245 pounds, the junior has the body and athleticism to put in work in the paint, and has shown that he can finish around the rim. He can also take it out to the three-point line and connect with some accuracy, draining 17 threes over his two years so far.
Tchiengang doesn't have great post moves, but he is relentless on the glass and is often the solution for the times when Vandy is giving up too many second chance points. However, his foul trouble has limited this effectiveness. Defensively he's not great laterally, and he doesn't have the hops to be a big shot blocker, but his strength and size often keep opposing bigs from doing much damage against him in the paint. Paired with Festus Ezeli, the two make an imposing presence around the basket, as Tchiengang can body up opponents and occupy them long enough for Ezeli to come over and make a big-time block.
Stevie Thunder has the chance to jump from simply being a crowd favorite to becoming an impact player if he can stay on the court and add a few moves to his offensive repertoire as a junior. Even if he can't, he'll still remain a tough rebounder and legitimate big man, and the 'Dores have enough talent to pick up the scoring load if he can't get it going. Tchiengang is slotted to play an important role in 2010-2011 as the team's bruiser and their heart in the paint. Fortunately, if there's anyone on this team that can fit in that role, it's the big Cameroonian.
Darshawn McClellan - It looks like bad news for DMac fans in 2011, as the senior big man has asked for a redshirt this year to expand his time at Vanderbilt and get back to full strength in 2012. McClellan is big and versatile, able to play and defend anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, but need has mostly pressed him into action at the 4 during his tenure in Nashville. He's been a solid role player throughout his career, but has been frustrating to watch at times, as he always seems to follow up a good play with a bad one, as if to keep some kind of cosmic balance in order.
McClellan's contributions have mostly been as a live body who can defend and keep things together on the court, so his absence in 2011 probably won't hit the team too hard, especially if he's still available in practice as the season progresses. Though he's probably close to his ceiling as a basketball player, he does offer decent rebounding and depth to a team that has needed both in years past. He'll have the opportunity to be a leader and mentor to the young guys this season.
James Siakam - "Bamba" is an undersized bulldog of a combo forward who appears likely to redshirt this season thanks to the depth at both forward positions. At 6'6", 210 lbs, a year in the weight room will be a major benefit for the young man, who would also grow from an additional year of seasoning on the court as well. Siakam's offense is still very raw and he doesn't have much of a shooting range, but he's got a non-stop motor and is an explosive jumper with long arms. As a result, he's been pegged as a tenacious rebounder and shot-blocker who can fill a major role at the next level.
Once he adds 15-20 pounds of muscle and a consistent shot in the paint, Siakam could help address some of the frontcourt issues this team has had in the past when it comes to clearing the defensive glass. Reports suggest that he's got a great knack for positioning and a nose for the ball, and ESPN even compared his game to Dennis Rodman's in their scouting report. In the meantime, he'll be counted on to bring some intensity to practice while developing his game until he can contribute at a SEC level.