One of the key reasons the LSU basketball team was so successful in the 2018-19 season was rebounding. The Tigers had an obscene amount of length in the front court and LSU finished 31st in total rebounding and 10th overall in offensive rebounding. Thanks to the long wingspans of Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams, the Tiger guards could feel confident that any missed attempt would end up in the arms of LSU’s two forwards.
But the Reid and Bigby-Williams duo would last for only a year. Reid, a one-and-done freshman, and Bigby-Williams, a graduate senior, both left the program after the clock ran out on the Tigers in Washington D.C. and LSU head into 2020 without its security blanket.
Though LSU loses Reid and Bigby-Williams, Will Wade has a pair of returners that got significant minutes last year in sophomores Darius Days and Emmitt Williams. And Will Wade was able to bring in another five-star freshman big in Alabama native Trendon Watford. Let’s look more closely at all the front court position players suiting up for LSU this season.
Sophomore, 6-6, 240
2018-19: 35 games played, 3 starts, 14 minutes per game; 5.3 points per game, 4.0 rebounds per game, 0.4 assists per game, 11 blocks and 26 steals; 48.5/38.2/74.3 shooting splits
Sophomore, 6-6, 230
2018-19: 34 games played, 8 starts, 20 minutes per game; 7.0 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game, 0.4 assists per game, 22 blocks and 11 steals; 61.4/16.7/68.6 shooting splits
I’m grouping Days and Williams together because whichever one doesn’t start would, in my opinion at least, be the first one off the bench for LSU. If I had to guess, the starting lineup would look like Smart-Mays-Taylor-Watford and Days/Williams. My guess is that Days starts because he’s a better floor spacer and Williams comes in for Trendon Watford at the first clock stoppage.
Days is more of a small forward that can play on the wing and leak out and hit threes whereas Williams plays closer to the basket. Williams attempted all of six three pointers last season; Days attempted 68. They may play the same position and be the same height, but Days is a small forward while Williams is a power forward, maybe even a center for as much as he plays near the rim.
Make no mistake though, both will play this season and have more elevated roles than last year. Both provided sparks off the bench in different big games for LSU. Days scored 10 big points in the Round of 32 game against Maryland; Williams scored 12 points at Kentucky while Reid and Days got in foul trouble. He’d also score 13 points and grab 14 rebounds against his home state Florida Gators in Gainesville. The two can score in different, but complimentary ways. They can rebound. The question is can they defend the rim as well as Reid and Bigby-Williams could? Blocks aren’t the be-all end all-stat, can they influence a shot, can they make a driving guard kick the ball out to the perimeter, can they go straight up without fouling? That’s where Will Wade will need one or both of them to elevate their game.
Freshman, 6-9, 235
2018-19 (High School) 23.7 points per game, 11.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.5 blocks
No. 16 prospect according to Rivals, No. 19 according to 247 and ESPN
LSU loses one five-star freshman in Naz Reid and brings in another to fill the void in Watford. Watford will be tasked with replacing Reid’s post presence and, because of his height, might have to pick up some of Bigby-Williams shot blocking.
I’m confident that Watford will contribute positively to LSU and that he’ll be on the court in crunch time. And because the core of last season’s Sweet 16 team is returning I’d bet that Watford gets eased into the flow of things.
But maybe Watford is prime to take the mantle as LSU’s best player. Watford led the Tigers in scoring when LSU traveled to Spain with 18 points a game; in LSU’s exhibition against Louisiana Tech he had a 10-point, 10-rebound effort. He’s earned rave reviews from his teammates and draws comparisons to Reid.
“He has shown me a lot, being able to guard better forwards,” Days said. “He can dribble, he can shoot it, and really do a lot of stuff. We haven’t really seen too many guys that can do all of that at his size other than Naz last year but he’s even more versatile than Naz.”
Sophomore, 6-9, 220
Redshirted in 2018-19
2017-18 (Junior College): 36 games, 35 starts; 10.1 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, 2.9 blocks per game
Junior, 6-9, 250
2018-19 (Junior College): 6.9 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game; 65 percent shooting in two seasons at Florida Southwestern
Like Days and Williams, I’m lumping Cooper and Thomas together but for different reasons. While Days and Williams will get significant minutes, Cooper and Thomas will more than likely be end of the bench guys that won’t play unless Days, Williams and Watford are in foul trouble or the game’s in hand. But I can also see scenarios where one of the two, probably Thomas, gets a fair share of minutes because of their size. Thomas and Cooper are both three inches taller than Days and Williams. If against a team like, say Arkansas, where LSU has a size advantage up front, Wade could go to Thomas or Cooper and use their bigger frames to box out smaller defenders and create second chance opportunities for teammates.