On the wings is where you’ll find Vanderbilt basketball’s most experience entering the 2019-20 season. But that doesn’t mean there are no questions here.
Here, though, the questions have more to do with who plays. Saben Lee is probably going to be the team’s starting point guard (unless Scotty Pippen Jr. is ready), but Vanderbilt could decide to go small or big. And that will be decided by who plays on the wings.
Aaron Nesmith is Vanderbilt’s best player
It didn’t happen right away after Darius Garland was lost for the season. By the end of the 2018-19 season, though, it was obvious that Aaron Nesmith was the team’s best player — and none of the newcomers seem likely to claim that title from him.
Nesmith was one of Bryce Drew’s best recruiting finds. Ranked toward the back end of the top 100 when he signed, Nesmith finished his senior season ranked in the top 50, and eventually played better than that. The 6’6”, 213-pound Nesmith averaged a team-leading 13.5 ppg and 5.4 rpg in SEC play last season. He shot just 34.2 percent on threes, but his 83 percent shooting from the foul line suggests that he’s capable of better than that. (The one negative is that this probably makes him the team’s best shooter. The lack of shooters on last year’s team was an eyesore.)
Nesmith is a natural fit at the three, though Vanderbilt may elect to play him at the two depending on who else is on the floor.
Matthew Moyer will start... somewhere
Figuring out Vanderbilt’s starting five this season is difficult because the roster has a lot of moving parts and few proven commodities. That Matthew Moyer is likely to start on this team should probably tell you something.
Moyer averaged 3.6 ppg in SEC play — which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s the third-highest among returnees from last season. Thanks to the postseason exodus (Simi Shittu declared for the NBA Draft, Matt Ryan and Yanni Wetzell transferred, and Joe Toye graduated), Moyer is one of the most experienced players on this roster. The 6’8”, 217-pound Moyer was a top 50 recruit coming out of high school, but his offensive game — specifically shooting 34 percent from the floor — left a lot to be desired. On the other hand, he could be a key defensive player.
Now, here’s where I point out that while Moyer could play the three, Vanderbilt’s more likely option is to play more of a small-ball lineup with three guards. But who will be the third guard?
Maxwell Evans can play both guard spots
Should Vanderbilt play small ball, one option is to have Pippen play the point with Lee and Nesmith off the ball. Or Vanderbilt could play Lee at the point and have Evans at the two.
Maxwell Evans figured to have a minor role last year with Darius Garland and Saben Lee on the team, but of course, everything changed when Garland went down with injury. At 6’2” and 192 pounds with good length for that size, Evans is capable of handling the point in stretches but is really better suited to playing off the ball. But his jump shot hasn’t come along (noticing a pattern?) Last season he shot just 30.8 percent from three.
Jordan Wright is depth
The 6’5”, 226-pound freshman from Baton Rouge was, officially, Jerry Stackhouse’s first recruit as Vanderbilt’s head coach. (Technically, Scotty Pippen didn’t sign until after Stackhouse was named the head coach, but he was a Bryce Drew recruit.)
Jn theory, playing time shouldn’t be difficult to find on this team — but right now, Wright is in a position where most of the things he can do can also be done better by Aaron Nesmith. Wright will likely come off the bench for Vanderbilt this season.