Over the past week or so, we've spend some time vetting out some of the various lineups that head coach Jamie Dixon may experiment with in the wake of losing senior guard Cameron Wright for the first 10 weeks of the season. There really isn't a lot of room to add anything more in my opinion. While the absence of Wright is going to be felt, especially defensively, I believe the season rests on the shoulders of sophomore forward Michael Young.
If I were you, I'd get on the Young bandwagon now because it's going to be standing room only in the very near future. For those of you who've read a majority of my articles on the basketball team, let me first say thank you. By now, you've probably noticed that I tend to steer clear of making bold statements, especially when they can't be quantified. But please, trust me on this one.
The Pittsburgh Panthers have quietly and successfully groomed frontcourt players into valuable rotation players in the NBA that have enjoyed sustained careers. That doesn't sound very glamorous, and none of those players are stars at the moment, but they're all in the NBA.
Aaron Gray is entering his eighth season in the league. An unfortunate cardiac issue has temporarily put a hold on his professional career. But prior to that diagnosis, he was primed to make the Detroit Piston's roster ahead of former Connecticut Husky Hasheem Thabeet. DeJuan Blair will be entering his sixth season in the NBA; this year he'll suit up for the Washington Wizards. While Blair hasn't been the force he was in the league as he was for Pitt, he has started at least 10 games every single season, including a combined 143 starts for the San Antonio Spurs, the most well respected organization in the NBA.
Steven Adams is primed to replace Kendrick Perkins in the starting lineup for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season. He had a very promising rookie campaign and is on track to enjoy a lengthy professional career. Heck, even Gary McGhee consistently makes summer league rosters, and former Panther Khem Birch will enter training camp with the Miami Heat. Pitt's recruiting and coaching staff have a nose for big men, clearly. I'd argue Young has more upside than any of the aforementioned players, sans Adams.
Again, that's a pretty loud endorsement for a guy that averaged just six points per game and a hair over four rebounds per game. The bandwagon will come to a screeching halt if those numbers don't trend upwards, but it's impossible for them not to, barring something unforeseen. The scoring numbers will increase by proxy because of the departure of Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. Combined, the duo attempted 37.6% of the Panthers attempts last season, that's a pretty sizeable amount. The loss of Wright is only going to increase the need for Young to score, especially early in the season.
The rebounding numbers are more of a concern. In an interview I conducted with Young over the summer, he revealed that he was tasked with defending the opposing teams best post player last season. That's not an easy task for any true freshman and it's physically taxing. Young has grown an inch, lost some weight, and added some explosiveness while gaining strength since the season ended. While I don't see him as a 10 rebound per game player yet, I think something in the seven to eight range seems about right.
It seems obvious that Young will produce more given injuries (Wright and Johnson) and opportunity (Patterson and Zanna), but it's really how he'll go about it that makes me excited. I expect Young to take more attempts from beyond the arc. I think we'll see him involved in a lot of side pick-and-rolls and perhaps as the primary ball handler on rare occasions. His ability to beat his man down the floor will lead to layups on one end, and the denial of deep post position on the other. I think we'll see a player who is comfortable playing on either block, and one that is decisive with the ball in his hands.
I don't think we'll see a guy who morphs into a rim protector, but a player who makes everyone finish over him. If there was one thing I took away from watching Young play during the summer, it was that he was a man among boys and still a teenager (he's since turned 20). Like I said, get on board the bandwagon now. Pay attention to the subtle things he does so well defensively - a big reason he started as a freshman - and enjoy the full display of his skills on the offensive end. Young was already playing with a chip on his shoulder. The injury to Wright may have turned it into a lump.