Duquesne Post Combinations

Just recently brought to my attention, there was an excellent interview of Jim Ferry by a pair of student writers from The Duke, Pat Higgins and Saúl Berríos - Thomas. In it, Higgins and Berríos - Thomas ask Ferry a number of questions ranging from the how important he thinks this off season is to his NCAA Championship viewing ritual. However, one question and answer about the teams' short term prospects in the front court answer stood out for me.

SBT: That’s key too – the personnel. What do envision the starting lineup being? For this team to be competitive in the Atlantic 10, Darius Lewis needs to be the shutdown center that he can be, but at the power forward you have different options with TySean Powell, L.G. Gill, and Jordan Robinson.

JF: That’s the whole process. Each one of those guys have to get better. Those guys that you mentioned all have the ability to be in the starting frontcourt, but it all has to play out. I’m not going to pre-determine that by any means. But we have more length, we have athleticism with Ty, shooting with L.G. If Darius can get consistent, you called him a low post stopper. He was that one every four games. He’s has to get more consistent. Jordan Robinson is going to play a huge factor. They were young in the frontcourt. Now those guys aren’t young anymore – they have experience.
The question grabbed me because Beríos - Thomas seems higher than average on Lewis right now while including Robinson as a power forward option. The answer grabbed me because Ferry didn't anoint anyone as his go to guys despite Gill and Lewis' favorable place in the minutes distribution down the stretch in March. I had been hoping for a little more clarity heading into the off season, but apparently the post is up in the air. For some fun, here are my thoughts on some of the different potential combination.

Combo #1 PF - Gill C - Lewis

Superlatives: Best Defense, Most Experience, Safest 

A lot of people might be surprised to hear me label this tandem the best defense. Lewis showed flashes of being a defensive beast  and Gill started limiting his mistakes.  Sadly, flashes and modest improvement are all it takes to be tops in this defense starved program.  Still, we know what we're going to get with them. The ceiling might be limited, but they offer lowest chance for growing pains.

Combo #2 PF - Robinson C - Lewis

Superlatives: Best Size, Best Rebounding

While Ferry didn't outright dismiss the idea of playing Robinson at the four, I find this scenario very unlikely especially if the team makes the 2-3 zone an important part of their defense which the coach hinted at in another answer. That said, the combination of the size here is something to dream on. 

Combo #3 PF - Powell C - Robinson 

Superlatives: Best Offense, Best Finishing, Best Upside

 At the beginning of last season, I'd wager that quite a few fans expected this to be the go to combination in the post - Dominique McKoy post. Problem is, both played like they were freshmen as freshmen and I still have questions as to whether or not either is ready for prime time. Still, the talent is there. The Dukes would have two players capable of hitting 55% or better of their field goals even if a 3 - point shot is out of the question. While these two could help the Dukes achieve more success, they likely both still have more growing pains to get through especially with Powell converting full time to PF. This could lead to some early season struggles again if Ferry decides to trudge ahead with it.

Combo #4 PF - Gill  C- Robinson

Superlatives: Best Shooting

Not a lot to say about this combination other than it gives the Dukes their best shooting tandem with Gill's 3 point jumper and Robinson's mid - range game. In an offense heavily dependent on ball screens, this one might also set the best picks.

Combo #5 PF - Powell C - Lewis

Superlatives: Most Athletic, Longest

I love the length of this combination and the potential for diverted shots inside. I'm not sure I have strong feelings for it in the long run.


Ferry was  non - committal to his preferred lineup choice. I will unabashedly support Gill and Lewis because for me, "safe" is the route I'd like to take in November. While there is always room for experimentation early, I have no issues making a gradual transition from the low up side / low floor Combo #1 to the more flashy but risky Combo #3. I'd love to see the either #4 or 5 in the middle though as either Robinson or Powell prove that they're ready to lead. Regardless of who plays the most, all four will need to play important roles either as a primary weapon or as a primary backup. As Ferry said, they're going to need more from all of them, but while they are more experienced, there could still be some question marks and discomfort until the staff and players sort it out for sure.


Early Look At Playing Time Distribution

While we aren't even certain of how the roster will be composed next season, I thought it'd be interesting look ahead to how the minutes could be distributed in 2015-16. Let me get a couple of assumptions out of the way. First, I'm assuming that Ferry will lean heavily on the same four guys who started for the team down the stretch and sixth man LG Gill. Those five seemed to be his most trusted players and I don't expect anyone further down the depth chart to pass them, at least not initially. Second, I'm also guessing they'll head into next year playing a similar style to the one they ended last year with, with some modifications coming at the four to accommodate Gill's expanded role.


The Potential Impact of LG Gill

The Dukes have but one major lineup transition heading into the 2015-16 season as LG Gill will  replace Dominique McKoy at the power forward position. Neither player is or was a perfect fit for the role the way Ovie Soko was the year before last and both have the look of positional tweeners. McKoy wasn't quite a four but wasn't quite a five either while Gill is somewhere between a three and four.

Having watched Ferry's offensive system in action the last few years, I think a player leaning small forward could be a slightly better fit overall. McKoy struggled to adjust from his more preferred center position for the first two-thirds of the season and found his minutes dramatically cut early. Outside of summer league warmups, he lacked three point range to force opponents to defend him 20 feet from the basket.

Gill has experience backing up the position and could make for a smoother transition. The extra 4 - 5 feet on his jump shot could result in a more open offense. He'd give the Dukes three reliable three point shooters and four players with mid range jump shots off the dribble in the starting lineup. His perimeter shooting should force opponents to spread out on defense and create space inside for cutters and post players. Darius Lewis and Jordan Robinson willl see more one on one matchups giving them more time to find decent shots. Ty'sean Powell could be deadly, but ideally, he'll be transitioning to the four in a key reserve role. 

Gill also gives the Dukes more options off the screen and in sets where the four is in the high post. Pick and pops for three join the pick and roll as off the ball movement from the double high screen. When McKoy stayed high, it was more of a dummy run to put it in soccer terms. They'll have to respect Gill. Shooting also becomes an option for plays run with the four starting the action at the top of the key. If the defender is playing off him, he could elect to turn and hoist one rather than execute the play. With the defender tight in the same set, the Dukes could force more switches on the hand off. The Dukes won't need to reinvent the wheel to plug Gill in, but what they do run could be more efficient.

McKoy and Gill are a virtual push defensively. Both came a long way by the end of the season to the point where opponents were going after Jeremiah Jones' wing in the 2-3. Gill looked comfortable and showed the ability to read when to help and when to close on a potential shooter after looking lost early. The biggest difference between the two is in the defensive rebounding department. Gill is still not as strong, physical or explosive on the glass as McKoy. In the end, rebounding could derail the Dukes chances of taking steps unless a couple guys really improve.

For the first time under Ferry, the Dukes have a veteran squad where they can tweak the offense rather than try to reinvent it. There won't be any point guard experiments, position changes, or philosophy shifts. As a result, I hope to see the Dukes ready to play in November with their slightly modified offense featuring LG Gill at the four.