After losing six players to either graduation or the NBA Draft, there's one huge question looming over Kevin Stallings's Commodores. What's next?
Vanderbilt will barrel head first into a rebuilding year in 2012-2013. The 'Dores will have to promote players from the bench to starting roles at every position in order to replace a senior-laden class that ultimately delivered a SEC title. That's over 161 total minutes per game that the team will need to find new players for.
Here's what Vandy's depth chart currently looks like. While the guard spots seem to be pretty well set, there's a lot of volatility amongst the forwards. Will Rod Odom take the bulk of his minutes as a power forward or a small forward? Will Shelby Moats and Josh Henderson be able to protect the rim well enough to earn big minutes? How will the incoming class of Jeter, Bright, and Astroth adjust to the NCAA game?
With these questions in mind, we put together a speculative depth chart for the 2012-2013 Vanderbilt Commodores.
PG: Kedren Johnson/Kyle Fuller/Eric McClellan
The 'Dores have some nice, but inexperienced depth at the point. Johnson showed flashes of brilliance in big games last season, while Fuller brings two years of playing time to the position. The biggest questions will be whether or not Johnson can continue his upward trajectory, and if Fuller can overcome a difficult sophomore season. McClellan, a transfer from Tulsa, will sit out the 2012-2013 season thanks to NCAA regulations.
SG: Dai-Jon Parker/A.J. Astroth
Things aren't as bright here as at the other guard spot, but Parker has the athleticism and defense to be a legit starter as a sophomore. He'll have to make better decisions on the court, but an extra year of NCAA seasoning should make a world of difference with the young player. Astroth is a high-level shooter who should be able to fit well into Kevin Stallings's system, but he is likely to struggle with the adjustment to SEC play in his freshman year.
SF: Sheldon Jeter/James Siakam/Kevin Bright
Here's where things get more complicated. Rod Odom would be the de facto starting 3, but his length and this team's dearth of big men may mean that he'll start at PF as a stretch presence for the 'Dores. That leaves three inexperienced players in line to fill the void left behind by Jeffery Taylor. Siakam is the elder statesman, but he's also an undersized power forward who played limited minutes in 2011-12 as he adjusted to the college game and his status as a bonafide tweener.
Fortunately, Vanderbilt has two more small forwards coming to Nashville who can fill out the team's depth chart at the position. Sheldon Jeter was the final member of this year's recruiting class, and he may get the chance to make an immediate impact if he can continue to improve his game. He cut his teeth as a guard before growing to 6'7" in high school, giving him a solid handle and quick moves at the 3. Unfortunately, he's still a raw prospect who may not be able to keep up at the wing just year.
Bright is the team's latest international project, and he'll come to the SEC from Germany to fill out his game. He was an under-the-radar recruit but still garnered interest from schools like Maryland and NC State. He's quick enough to become a high-level defender and he can shoot from outside, but he's also more of a finesse player who may not be able to handle the physicality of SEC play. He's also small for the position (6'5") and may be better suited to play shooting guard.
There are plenty of three-guard sets that Stallings can operate with in 2013, so don't be surprised to see Bright, Astroth, Jeter, Fuller, and Siakam working through a lot of different rotations early in the fall. With so many question marks, it's clear that small forward will be a volatile position for Vanderbilt when the winter rolls around.
PF: Rod Odom/Shelby Moats/Siakam
Another possible answer to Vandy's forward problem depends on the development of sophomore Shelby Moats. If Moats can become a rebounding and defensive presence at the four, he could play alongside Odom since the two have complementary games. That would allow Odom more freedom to work along the perimeter and defend at his more natural position while Moats handles the dirty work in the paint. The Minnesotan looked good in mop-up duty last season, proving that he can block shots and rebound against other team's second units. However, using that evidence to suggest that he could start in 2013 may be a stretch.
If Moats struggles, the team are likely to see Odom filling that 4 spot in a modified small-ball lineup for Vanderbilt. Odom has the length (6'9"), but not the bulk, to handle opposing players in the paint. He'll be able to stretch defenses with his shooting and he has the quickness to get to the rim, but he'll still have to add muscle to max out his effectiveness.
It's a tough situation for Vanderbilt to plan around. The team has plenty of wings but few true big men. Their most tenacious rebounder and defender is barely 6'6" and their tallest forward is better suited to play on the wing than around the basket. Here's a plan - why don't we perfect the technology to switch Siakam and Odom's bodies. That's a win/win, right?
Henderson, at 6'11" and 230 pounds, is the team's only true center in 2012-2013. Even if he can stay healthy and handle starter's minutes, Vanderbilt will still have to plan on plenty of guard-heavy sets to handle the stretches when he is on the bench. Hendo showed off strong instincts on the court as a freshman and could develop into a scoring big with a soft touch, but he'll still need to add muscle and bulk to defend in the NCAA. After injuries cut his redshirt freshman season short, he will have a chance to break out in November.
So that's what the Commodores will be up against in 2012-2013. While Vanderbilt will have plenty of talent on board, their lack of size will present a major challenge for Stallings and his staff to plan for. Barring a curveball, this team looks set to be a classic smallball squad, and three-guard sets could become the norm at Memorial Gym for the next few seasons. Still, there's plenty of time before the season begins, and that means that guys like Odom, Moats, and Henderson have loads of opportunities to turn heads in the paint and continue Vandy's recent tradition of solid play around the rim.