Before we begin our position previews, I want to point you to a tweet by John Gasaway that pretty well sums up my thoughts on the matter.
Positions in hoops are like Golden Globe categories. Problem began when someone thought what works in baseball and football would translate.— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) October 20, 2016
While I don’t exactly get the Golden Globe reference, I think that gets at the crux of a lot of the problem of trying to put basketball players in their proper positions. Unlike football or baseball, where there are well-defined positions, basketball just doesn’t have well-defined positions (honestly, can you tell me the difference between a small forward and a shooting guard? Or between a power forward and a small forward? I bet you can’t.)
Which brings us to today’s topic: who is Vanderbilt’s point guard in 2016-17? Does it matter?
Riley LaChance had one of the strangest sophomore seasons I’ve seen. His scoring average dropped from 12.3 ppg to 6.9 ppg, and while a decent chunk of that had to do with him shooting less, his shooting percentages dropped like a rock... but even that was weird. His two-point percentage dropped from 49.4 percent to 34.6 percent... but his three-point percentage only dropped from 38.2 percent to 36.1 percent. The former could easily be explained by shot selection; if he went from shooting a lot of layups to shooting a lot of jump shots, that could tank your percentages. But that doesn’t explain how you actually shoot the ball worse on two-pointers than three-pointers. Doesn’t make sense. And that wasn’t all of it: LaChance went from averaging 1.6 fouls per 40 minutes as a freshman to 3.0 fouls per 40 as a sophomore. Huh? Were refs applying the same rules to him that they did to Damian Jones, I didn’t notice.
The other, weird part is that his game got progressively worse as the season went on. Do you think making 34 percent of your two-pointers is bad? In SEC play, Riley made 25.5 percent of his twos. (He still made 34.4 percent of his threes.) Something was just horribly wrong here, but here’s one thing I will say: if you’re looking for him to be a point guard, that aspect of his game didn’t fall off from 2015 to 2016. LaChance averaged 3.5 assists per 40 minutes as a freshman, and 4.0 as a sophomore. His turnover rate did creep up slightly, but it’s nothing alarming. LaChance may be the starting point guard, if only because of a dearth of other options, but that may not be the worst thing in the world. And if he regains his freshman-year shooting stroke, this could be a very good thing.
A while back, or specifically when Saben Lee committed, I wrote that Lee represented a departure in terms of the types of point guards that Vanderbilt was recruiting. Payton Willis is kind of the archetype of a Kevin Stallings point guard: 6’4” and probably better described as a “combo guard.” That literally describes Jermaine Beal and probably describes Wade Baldwin IV as well. I mean, the guy’s Twitter handle is literally “unlimited range.”
Which, well, that’s the first thing that jumps out at you about Willis on the highlight tape. He’s a good shooter. But as far as his ability to do what we think of as traditional point guard stuff? He has good vision and he can finish at the rim, but his quickness doesn’t seem to be exceptional. He’s got the length to be a good defender. Actually, I’m seeing enough similarities between him and Baldwin that I want to talk myself into this, but for right now LaChance is probably the starter -- and the fact that Drew is bringing in Lee and Maxwell Evans next year doesn’t really suggest that he thinks the Commodores have a long-term solution at the point.
But, well, somebody has to play the point this year.
Also, I’ll leave the floor open in the comments for anyone to come up with a good nickname for Willis.