Remember how I said that point guard was shallow this season? Shooting guard is even worse, essentially making junior Dai-Jon Parker a one man show at the 2.
That's the biggest consequence for a team that only has nine scholarship players for 2013-2014. The Commodores have just three reliable guards to turn to after losing four young wing players from last season's 16-17 team. All four - shooting specialist A.J. Astroth, leading scorer Kedren Johnson, athletic slasher Sheldon Jeter, and Swiss Army knife Kevin Bright - could have seen minutes at shooting guard this winter. Instead, it will be Parker and walk-on Nathan Watkins playing alongside the point guard platoon of Kyle Fuller and Eric McClellan in the Vanderbilt backcourt.
That situation might seem dire, but it also creates a huge opportunity for Parker, a former four-star recruit who has yet to fulfill his potential as a college basketball player. The shooting guard was limited by a full depth chart in 2011 and by an undisclosed disciplinary problem in 2012, but he'll hit the 2013-2014 season with few hurdles in his path towards playing time. Now, the athlete who was once the 33rd ranked high school basketball player in his class will be primed for a breakout season in the second year of Vanderbilt's rebuilding program.
He'll have to build off of an underrated sophomore year to get there. Parker may have earned more press for his eight-game suspension to kick off the season than his contributions, but the explosive guard showed tremendous improvement on the court as 2013 wore on. In fact, he developed into one of the Commodores' most consistent players on both sides of the ball. He posted a better AST:TO ratio than either Kyle Fuller or Kedren Johnson. He had a higher three-point percentage than anyone on the team not named Kevin Bright. In the SEC Tournament - the culmination of Vanderbilt's 2012-2013 season - he averaged 10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.3 assists while shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range.
That doesn't even cover the work he did on the defensive side of the ball, either. Starting guards from opposing tournament teams shot just 29.7 percent from the floor thanks to a Vandy D that was anchored by Parker, Johnson, and Fuller in the backcourt. If he can carry that kind of performance over to this season, he'll be a huge factor for a Commodore team that needs contributors in every aspect of the game. Let's take a closer look at the junior who is ready for a breakout year at Memorial Gym.
Dai-Jon Parker: Parker has all the skills a player needs to excel at shooting guard in the SEC. The ultra-athletic junior has great lateral quickness and the leaping ability to make up for his relative lack of height (6'3") at the SG position. His hallmark for the Commodores so far has been his defense. Parker is an energetic defender that is quick enough to press opponents on the perimeter and stay in front of his man to keep ballhandlers from getting into the paint and setting up drives. Despite not being a bulky guy, he's still very strong for the position and can prevent others from backing him down near the basket.
Offensively, Parker showed off improved range in 2012-2013 by hitting nearly 40 percent of his three-point attempts. He's a streaky shooter who can run hot and cold, but he's got a smooth stroke that should give coach Kevin Stallings the scoring threat he needs behind the arc. Parker has the ability to shift gears and get into the lane as well, but he needs to do a better job of creating his own shot and exercising control once he hits the paint. Vanderbilt's offense tended to stagnate last year thanks to an inability to move the ball past the perimeter and force opposing defenses to shift and respond to that threat. If the 'Dores are going to be successful without their two best dribble-drive players (Johnson and Jeter) in 2014, that means that Parker will have to step up.
The junior isn't suited to handle the point for long stretches, but his ballhandling and passing have both improved significantly since arriving in Nashville. He was second on the team with 2.4 assists per game last season, and he's shown that he can get the ball inside when his forwards create space near the rim. He can help this team in beat full court pressure, but he still has to prove that he can move the ball up the court with a defender in his face on a consistent basis.
Overall: Parker has all the tools to be a great player in the SEC. He has the opportunity to announce his arrival as a top-tier shooting guard with a big season in 2013-2014. Without many other options in the backcourt, he'll have plenty of playing time, and his finish to 2012-2013 showed that he's growing as a NCAA athlete. Parker will have to prove that his SEC Tournament performance was just the starting point for his ascent, but the junior is primed for a breakout year in Nashville under Kevin Stallings.