Men’s basketball preview: Backcourt

Nov. 3, 2017, 5:31 a.m.

In a nutshell:

The backcourt, unlike the frontcourt, has an air of uncertainty on who will start or how the rotations will look. Senior guard Dorian Pickens appears to be the mainstay, unless head coach Jerod Haase decides to put him at the small forward position but his main position will be at shooting guard.

Guards Malcolm Allen and Christian Sanders both started a large share of games last year but both are now gone, so returning players and even freshmen will see a wealth of minutes to be spread around.

The players taking Allen’s and Sanders’ minutes will need to be able to space the floor more effectively than their predecessors. Stanford was last in the Pac-12 shooting with a 32 percent three-point percentage.

Senior guard Robert Cartwright took over Sanders in the point guard role for 12 starts last year. Cartwright looked good – at times – last season after suffering a compound fracture the year before. His great vision allowed him to lead the team in assists (3.5 per game) while only playing 24.7 minutes per game.

Pickens shot the lights out from downtown as his 39.6 percentage on three-pointers led the team. However, the rest of the guards couldn’t match up last season in regards to outside shooting.

“[Pickens] obviously is one of the best shooters in the conference,” Cartwright said. “It’s our job as guards to work on our shooting.”

Junior guard Marcus Sheffield shot 32.4 percent from the three-point line and was streaky at times.

This was a problem with for the bigs as the Stanford offense was focused on getting the ball to the post.

Bad spacing hurt the Cardinal and one telling example was the ending against Oregon on senior night. Current-senior forward Reid Travis was fed the ball in the low block with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. Two points here would have send the game into overtime. However, the Ducks only needed to faceguard Pickens as he was the only threat from outside. All the other Oregon players swarmed Travis causing a turnover and sealing the loss for the Cardinal.

Coach Haase realized his team needed shooting, and when he was on the recruiting trail, he found it.

Australian freshman guard Isaac White is known for his prolific three-point shot. White would consistently shoot over 50 percent from deep in leagues in Australia and in international play.

The other freshman guard and Top-50 recruit Daejon Davis is no slouch from distance either as he shot 41 percent in his career at Garfield High School.

The only question is whether their shooting will translate to collegiate basketball, and if it does, then the frontcourt will be very happy with how much space there will be.

On top of shooting better, Coach Haase has emphasized for his players to push the pace on the offensive end. Production from the guards could see a boost this season because last season only Allen attacked the paint often while the other guards tried to feed the post and tried to get open.

“I think it’s going to be beneficial for everyone,” Pickens said of the new offense. “We are a team that likes to get up and down, and especially now, we have some new guys who are long and athletic.”

With a higher-paced offense, the guards will have more of the scoring load which could pay dividends for players like Pickens and Sheffield.


Who’s returning?

Dorian Pickens (shooting guard): The senior was terrific at times last season, as he was named to the All-Tournament team for the Advocare Invitational during the Thanksgiving break. He improved on his points per game, field goal, three-point and free-throw percentage from the previous season.

Given the change in the offense, Pickens could see similar improvements this year. Shooting an even higher volume from the three-point line (5.45 attempts last year) could be in the cards for Pickens as his elite three-point shooting can be used more effectively.

Even with his ability to shoot the ball, Pickens understands he has to work on the other aspects of his game.

“As for putting the ball on the deck, our offense is kind of suited to getting into the paint a lot and make plays from there,” Pickens said. “[I’m] kind of working on both sides of the court.”

Marcus Sheffield (shooting guard): After a successful freshman season, many people believed the 6-foot-5 junior would take his game to the next level. He was able to increase his points per game (6.0 to 6.7) but his field-goal and three-point percentage dropped as did his rebounds per game.

Sheffield flashed his potential a couple of times last season. Against Arizona State in the Cardinal’s conference opener, he put up 35 points on 11-of-15 shooting.

With the emphasis on pace and more available playing time, Sheffield can find his shooting stroke and have more games like he had against the Sun Devils. Coach Haase may also use him and Pickens as part of a big three guard lineup.

Robert Cartwright (point guard): Senior guard Cartwright brings great passing to this team. He ranked 10th in assists per game in the Pac-12, which is solid, giving all the talented point guards in the conference, and he also came off the bench in most games for the Cardinal.

His shooting came in and went in bunches. Against Washington State, Cartwright scored a career-high 21 points and made 5-of-7 three point shots. However, for the full season, he shot 26.9 percent from the three point line.

The streakiness may have came about as he was getting used to playing collegiate basketball after missing his sophomore season due to injury. Cartwright will have to be more consistent from three to play bigger minutes for the Cardinal.

“Coming off my nasty injury from the year prior … it was just all about getting a lot of experience,” Cartwright said of his rapport with the team. “I feel even more comfortable. I have been working really hard… to make sure I’m ready to go.”

Rodney Herenton (point guard): As a walk-on freshman, Herenton didn’t see much game action as he only totaled five minutes of playing time. He probably won’t see much time this season, either, as the talented freshmen will take most of the remaining minutes.

Herenton definitely has the basketball pedigree as he received All-Red West Conference in his senior year and helped his high school team win the 2014 Illinois 4A State Championship.

Blake Pagon (shooting guard): Just like Herenton, Pagon was a walk-on freshman last year and totaled 10 minutes. He will have trouble finding game action as Pickens, Sheffield and Davis take up the other guard spot.


Newcomers to watch for:

Daejon Davis (point/shooting guard): A Top-50 recruit by many recruiting sources freshman Davis was originally committed to Washington. However, after a nine-win season for the Huskies, head coach Lorenzo Romar was fired and many recruits were released from their letters of intent. Davis then committed to Stanford after Coach Haase and the staff pushed their efforts to get the talented combo guard from Garfield High School.

At 6-foot-3, Davis has the versatility to play the point and the shooting guard. His quickness and height give him a defensive potential the other point guards might not have. He has shown a good ability to drive into the paint and get his own shot. He should be expected to play a large amount of minutes even as a freshman.

Isaac White (point guard): Another talented freshman, White can flat-out shoot the basketball. Against West Adelaide (Australian club), he scored 65 points on 10 made three-pointers. Of course, this performance was not against great competition, but 10 made threes in regulation is hard to do at any level.

Unlike Davis, White’s shorter stature (6-foot-1) may give him trouble guarding the bigger point guards in the conference, but his ability on offense will give him minutes at either guard spot off the bench.

Another great attribute for White? His confidence.

“My identity as a player is to shoot the ball and provide an option to stretch the floor a bit for us offensively,” White said. “I think I have a knack to get past my guy and get into the paint.”


Key Departures:

Christian Sanders (point guard): Sanders was a fifth-year senior last year and started 17 games for Stanford. At 6-foot-4, he had great size for a point guard, but taking shots was not Sanders’ forte. He only took 2.3 shots per game, and although he shot 47.8 percent from the three, he took less than one three-pointer a game. Beyond the matchup against No. 6 Oregon where he committed seven turnovers, Sanders played mistake-free basketball as his assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9) ranked eighth in the Pac-12.

Marcus Allen (shooting guard): As a senior last season, Allen didn’t start the year well, averaging 4.5 points per game in his first 15 games. Maybe it was adjusting to a new coach’s offensive schemes, or maybe he was tentative, but he didn’t play like he did as a junior. However, he ended the year playing the best basketball of his career as he averaged 12.9 points in his final 14 games. He is now playing professional basketball in Finland.


Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’

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