Recently, an article written by fellow Cardiac Hill contributor, Aron Minkoff, got me thinking a lot more about the potential starting lineup(s) for the Pittsburgh Panthers this upcoming season. I am not going to spend too much time speculating about it here. I think the comments section did a good job of that in Aron's article.
Instead, I am going to make a case for a player who might not be seen as a 'lock' but I think he should be - sophomore forward Sheldon Jeter. Now, no one is truly a lock to start as a lot can happen between now and the when the season starts. But, I think most people know what I mean when I say that.
Most know that Pitt will leave for the Bahamas this week to play four games while in the Caribbean. I fully expect the former Vanderbilt transfer and native of the Beaver Falls area to emerge as the leading candidate to start at either forward spot come the fall.
This Panthers team potentially has more versatility than any other team that I can remember. Their top-9 players can all play multiple positions depending on the situation, and Jeter may be able to defend at least three.
Anyone that saw Jeter play at the Pro-Am or at the recent practice open to the media knows that versatility is Jeter's game. He has the ability to score around the rim with either hand, and he looks comfortable on both blocks. His ability to turn over either shoulder is pretty impressive and he's decisive with the ball. He can play through contact and uses his length effectively when looking to score around the basket.
Jeter also has a very nice stroke from beyond the arc. At 6'8", he is able to get his shot off relatively uncontested. There is a lot of pick-and-pop potential. Not only can Jeter be used as the screener in those situations, but his ability to handle the ball will allow him to initiate offense out of a screen-and-roll depending on the matchup.
Much like sophomore forward Jamel Artis, Jeter's presence alone will force his defender to play him on the perimeter. There will be ample driving lanes and room for players to cut to the basket when Jeter steps away from the basket.
He's also a very good player in transition, and has the speed to beat most other frontcourt players down the floor. His handle is adequate for a forward, and he doesn't look to needlessly pound the ball.
The defensive end of the court is why I think Jeter will get the nod to start this fall. In my recent interview with Michael Young, the sophomore forward talked about defending the opponents best post player last season. It was Young's ability to defend that warranted him a starting position as a true freshman, I believe. Along those same lines, it was one of the reasons why some of the other young players didn't see as much time as their talent suggested.
Jeter can defend in the post and on the perimeter. He stays pretty low when guarding ball handlers, and is disciplined when closing out. HIs length and lateral quickness will benefit him when he defends the pick-and-roll, so long as he also communicates.
Stronger players are going to be able to overpower him in the post, at times. However, his length will still allow him to bother and contest a lot of shots. Quicker perimeter players may be able to beat him off the dribble if he closes out too high or doesn't leverage his length to give himself a little bit of a cushion.
Jeter has certainly exhibited effort on the defensive end in the summer league and in practices. Obviously, playing defense is where effort meets intelligence and understanding. We won't know that until the fall, but nothing suggests that he'll struggle with that as of right now. Still, the summer league and practices don't compare to playing in the ACC, especially on the road.
Again, I don't think there are truly any 'locks', but some guys are pretty close. Most believe that junior point guard James Robinson, senior guard Cameron Wright, and Young are sure things, and it would be hard to make a grounded argument against that. With that said, I think Jeter should be the next guy in, so to speak. After this team returns from the Bahamas, I fully expect Jeter to be mentioned in the same breath as those three when talking about starters.