Who was Vanderbilt's most important player in 2014-15? The statistics say it was James Siakam.
The undersized power forward led the team in PER, True Shooting, rebounding rate, and win shares. Those numbers fail to quantify his biggest impact on the Commodores; his veteran leadership on a team loaded with underclassmen. Siakam's steady play helped the team shake off a midseason lull and finish the season on a 10-4 run.
Sadly, "Bamba" is gone after graduating last spring. Siakam was a short guy who thrived playing on the inside. His role in the Vanderbilt will be assumed by a tall guy who thrives playing on the outside - Luke Kornet. Kornet gives the Commodores a rare weapon that few teams can match up with; he's a 7'1" forward who doesn't just stretch the floor - he made 40 percent of his three-point attempts as a sophomore last year. Despite slowing down after a hot start, he's been impressive enough in his limited time on the court to emerge as a potential NBA Draft pick, according to Draft Express's Jonathan Givony.
Vanderbilt will be relying on him to provide a soft touch alongside Damian Jones's shotgun blast offense. He's not alone at the position - here's how the Commodores' power forwards shake out in 2015-16.
Note: Jeff Roberson will be handling several minutes at the four this season during Vandy's three-guard small-ball lineups, but he's more of a natural small forward. As a result, he was covered earlier with the team's wings.
The Incumbent: Luke Kornet
Kornet, now approximately eight feet tall after clocking in at 6'3" as a high school junior, will slide into a bigger role for the Commodores after playing 21.6 minutes per game last season. His impact grew considerably in 2014-15 as he caught up to the speed and physicality of the NCAA game as a sophomore. His true shooting percentage rose by more than 200 points (from .431 to .633) and his rebounding and block rates rose as he got more comfortable playing near the basket. The final result was a seven-foot monster who could spring for 20+ points on any given night...or finish the game with two points or fewer.
There's still plenty of room for improvement in Kornet's game. Despite being 7'1", he fails to grab many rebounds (3.4 per game last season) or stand up to bigger forwards who could back him down in the paint. He's not a traditional power forward that is going to crash the boards with authority, but he doesn't have to be when Damian Jones is near the rim. Another year of added muscle should help keep him where he needs to be on the court, and a big year clearing the glass, using his long arms to deflect shots, and shooting threes wouldn't just make him a probable first round draft pick - it could propel the Commodores to their first Final Four.
The New Guy: Samir Sehic
Sehic has the skillset to follow in the footsteps of a recent fan favorite at Memorial Gym: Steve Tchiengang. Like Tchiengang, he's a wide-bodied power forward who is mobile enough to chase big men out to the perimeter and then make three-pointers of his own thanks to a solid shooting stroke. At 6'9" and 250 pounds, he has the bulk to lock down the paint and box out opposing big men, but that midrange game will add value when he's operating away from the rim as well.
There are still some questions about how Sehic's game will translate to NCAA play. He's not especially quick or explosive, so he may struggle to create his own shot. Though he worked well to establish position in the post as a high school player, he'll have to refine his game to be successful for the Commodores. Fortunately, he's working against athletic big men who can test him on the block every day in practice, and he's an intelligent player who seems like a quick learner.