Up next in the 2011 LSU Basketball Preview Series is the forwards. The 2011/2012 season will depend mostly on these forwards and whether or not they can produce and stay healthy. They struggled in both of those categories for most of last season, and it showed in the loss column. Now, with an infusion of new talent along with the experience of old talent, Trent Johnson might have a team ready to compete for a postseason spot.
Johnny O'Bryant III
6'9" 262 lbs
It would be foolish for me to begin the evaluation of the forwards and start with someone other than Johnny O'Bryant. He's the McDonald's All-American. He's the "savior". It's certainly exciting that Coach Trent Johnson could bring in a highly rated player that has the talent that "JOB" has. I think the most exciting part is that he has some very good experienced players ahead of him that can teach him the skills necessary to play in D-1 basketball and get him ready to play at a high level.
What I saw from O'Bryant on the highlights was very encouraging. He has a tenacity that will work very well in the SEC. He swings his elbows to create room down low. Judging by the 262 pounds put out by LSU, he's certainly got the bulk to go head to head with the forwards of the SEC. I think as he gets into better shape his weight will drop and his muscle mass will increase, but for now he needs to just get accustomed to D-1. Coaches will often point out that the jump from high school to college is the toughest jump to make in any sport. Johnny himself says in the interview below that he's already dropped 4 pounds and is looking to drop to 250 pounds by the start of the season.
Another skill that I liked to see was that most of his highlights take place about one or two feet from the basket. He simply finds a way to put the ball in the basket. Another player that was very good at doing so was Tyler Hansbrough. I'm not ready to proclaim him the next Tyler Hansbrough, but I was excited to see that he played a very similar type of basketball. It wasn't flashy; it was hard working layups. That type of play might not get you five stars by Dave Telep, but it will help LSU win games. What made Hansbrough great was his ability to get to the foul line. If O'Bryant can do that as well as put the ball into the basket, we've got a really bright future.
I think it's unlikely that Johnny starts games. It won't because he isn't a good player; it will be because he has two seniors ahead of him that have proven they can compete in the SEC. I exclude predictions for the freshman, mostly because it's hard to tell the playing time they will get as well as how their play will translate over a long season. What I will say is that I'm anxious to see his breakout game. It's coming, and it will be a joy to watch. I'm thinking he has a 20 point 10 rebound game and really fires up the LSU fan base.
7'0" 260 lbs
Transfer - Junior
The next, next big thing for the LSU basketball team might be Justin Hamilton. It's not often that I find someone that took a longer road to LSU than I did from New York to Florida to LSU. Justin beat me though, coming all the way from Utah to Iowa State University to LSU. As a transfer, he sat out last season, but has two seasons of experience from ISU. He has experience as a starter from his sophomore season with the Cyclones. Hamilton started 31 games.
Landing Justin Hamilton was big for Trent Johnson. He's our future starter, but even without seeing him play, he will be a key component off the bench for us. Judging by his sophomore statistics, he's a very hard working player as evident by his average of 7 rebounds in Big 12 play. What also stands out is his very high shooting percentage of nearly 62%. It's very encouraging because the point I tried to beat into submission was the fact that the guards need to find ways to score easy buckets. With Hamilton, there are no excuses. If you get him the ball in a position to score, he will do so.
One of my favorite "rules" is the 60-40 rule. If you make 60% of your two point field goals, it is the same as making 40% of your three point field goals. That's what Trent needs to have his team recognize. Since the guards are all well under 40%, the goal should always be to get the ball inside to our forwards and let them shoot it at a rate closer to 60%. It will result in more points as well as the possibility of forcing teams into foul trouble.
The last trait that I really like is that Hamilton is a good offensive rebounder. He led the Big 12 during conference play in that category, which is quite impressive. LSU's offensive rebounding last year was rated at 194 according to kenpom's formula. Sadly, that was one thing we did "good" on offense. With Hamilton on the court, expect a much better rating in 2011/2012.
The expectations are high for Justin Hamilton. Even though the increases don't look like a lot, every single stat is an addition to the team that we didn't have last year. If he can get to those numbers, we've got a great chance to do some real damage in the SEC. With the relative lack of great forwards, particularly power forwards and centers, across the SEC, our collection will be tough to match up with.
6'7" 230 lbs
Before I really begin the preview of Storm, I think it's interesting to note his size, 6'7". With the team this year, the other main players, Hamilton, O'Byrant, and White, all being taller, it's unlikely that Trent starts Warren at the power forward position. In what could be an interesting scenario, we might have Storm starting at the small forward position. He's clearly a power forward by style of play, as evident by his zero three point attempts career. However, the lack of a true small forward may "force" Storm into that position. It's also just as possible at this point that Isaac or Hickey could start and Ralston Turner could be moved to the small forward position. Turner is listed at 6'6", but tends to have a style of play of a guard.
Anything can really happen. I think Warren is our best forward, which is why he will get a starting spot. Malcolm White was our starting center last year, and I have to assume it will stay like that for his senior season. Either way, Trent now has depth, something that was clearly lacking last year. I don't remember which game it was, but there was a point when we only had 8 players on the bench. We will now have 12 suited up and ready to go.
Now back to the first team all SEC name team member and senior Storm Warren. Storm might be the player that LSU fans are most familiar with, because he's the only senior on the team that will have played all four years at LSU. Once Storm plays his last game here, it will have been 2 years since we've had a player do the same thing, that player being Tasmin Mitchell.
I really missed out on Storm's big sophomore season in which he averaged nearly 12 points a game and over 7 rebounds a game. If he could have improved on that during his junior season, we probably would've seen his name on the all SEC team. Injuries plagued his junior year, and his production dropped. Now in his senior season, he has a big opportunity to bounce back and lead his team to the post season.
Once again, I'm expecting a big year out of Warren. He's got the experience. He's got the drive. He's got the size. He's also got help down low. I was impressed last year with the way he finally produced a lot of points from the Florida game onward. When he was healthy, he proved he was capable of putting up numbers like I have above. I think he gets there again this year and maintains it throughout the season.
6'9" 220 lbs
Malcolm White was very similar to Andre Stringer in his knack for finding ways to aggravate me. The reason that he aggravated me was because he took so many jump shots and shots that were falling away from the basket. White, I often pointed out, needed to find ways to use his size inside to fight for points. It was frustrating because I know he has the talent to be able to be a factor for us on offense, but he takes away that talent by trying to be a small forward when he isn't one.
On the other side of the ball, it's evident in both his statistics and on the film that White was also finding himself in foul trouble. Often times he would try to block a shot and would leave his feet. With the experience of many of the SEC forwards like Trey Thompkins and Festus Ezeli, they simply pump faked and took White out of the game. Garrett Green often times wasn't able to defend the inside himself, especially when Warren was out of the game completely or too ineffective because of his injury. White needs to find the balance on defense to not go for the block that sends the ball into the student section and instead let his long arms create bad angle shots from the opposing team.
Overall, I expect very little change from White. The reason for that is because of the poor finish during the same timeframe as Storm Warren's return. White never finished with more than 6 points or 6 rebounds in any of those 6 games. Storm came back and dominated both on offense and defense, and White couldn't find a way to be effective. Now with increased competition from Justin Hamilton, I expect his minutes to remain around the same. Thus, I expect his contributions to remain about the same. The kicker will be whether or not White can have his contributions be consistent over the entire season, and whether he can do so against SEC opponents rather than Centenary, Southern, and McNeese.
6'9" 210 lbs
Eddie Ludwig's play over the last season, I thought, really improved. I came to LSU having watched him just a little bit at the end of the 2010 season, and he looked so limited. I wondered why LSU would put him on the floor. After watching last year, I know it is because of his hustle play. Hustle is something that very few players truly have. Most players can give that 110% in the final minutes, or during a big comeback. Few give that same 110% every time they step onto the floor.
The proof is in the increased production that we got from Eddie from his freshman to his sophomore years. He didn't receive very many more minutes over the season, but still increased all of his production. The most important increase was improving his shooting percentage 10%. The rest of the increases were pretty much in line with the increase of playing time, which was only about 3.4 minutes a game.
I expect Eddie to just keep on with what he is doing. Continue to provide a spark off the bench. Whether it is one of his jump shots from the baseline, an inbounds steal, or a big rebound when we need it, that's what Eddie's specialty is. He makes that small, but decisive play that can turn a game around. His defense is also very solid and I expect that to continue. That's what a hustle player will always provide, tough defense.
6'8" 228 lbs
I was really disappointed that I couldn't find a picture of Jalen in an LSU jersey to put up there. Truth be told, that pretty much sums up his first year with LSU. He averaged very little game time, partially perhaps because he was a raw freshman, and partially because he had lingering injury problems with his knee. As of right now, the assumption is that he is ready to go for this season, but I'm not quite sure we will see too many significant minutes from him. With forwards in front of him for minutes, it's unlikely that he will be able to get them this season.
As of right now, it's too early to pass judgment on what Jalen will get this year in terms of statistics, but I expect them to be quite low all around. Still, having Jalen healthy on the bench is better than last year when he wasn't healthy and wasn't available on the bench. There's many stories of players that play very little over their first two years and still have productive careers. We will have to hope that Jalen has that drive to make sure he isn't forgotten once the next recruiting class gets here.
Andrew Del Piero
7'2" 257 lbs
Last but not least, the tuba player! There's not really any film on the big man to judge with. It will be interesting to see if he gets on the court this year in meaningful minutes, but it's doubtful. Playing D-1 basketball is hard enough. I imagine it's even harder for someone that never played before and is a former member of the Golden Band from Tigerland. It doesn't mean that he isn't an asset for the team though. I'm sorry but I have to say it. You can't teach size. Going up against a big player in practice will prepare the other forwards for other players that can simply lift their arms and block your shot. It would be nice if he was able to take a massive step forward as he does normally and contribute for the team, but one year isn't enough time to get a player ready.