I know we still have the WCC and perhaps NCAA Tourney to go, but I am thinking a lot about next season. I believe the Zags could be a force to be reckoned with next year considering how much talent they will probably return (Steven Gray is the only guy we are going to lose as of now).
However, there is a logjam of talent and not a lot of spots to go around. Without a doubt, Marquise Carter and Sam Dower most likely earned their minutes for next season. However, with Elias Harris and Robert Sacre most likely manning the post down low next year, whether or not Dower will receive a significant minute spike will be determined.
The biggest loser at first glance looks to be Kelly Olynyk. Yes, he didn't live up to the hype after a solid FIBA performance with the Canadian National Team. That being said, Olynyk has shown tremendous improvement. He improved his eFG % and TS % by almost 10 points this year (he hovers around 60 percent in both categories). The biggest jump in his game though might be his rebounding. He leads the team in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate (12.3 and 21 percent, respectively). If the Zags want to bolster the strongest part of their game (the post), Olynyk will need to be a key cog to the playing rotation next season.
How is that going to happen though?
The easy solution would be to slide Harris to the small forward position.
Now a lot of naysayers will say that Harris is a natural power forward and that he needs to play in the post. Let's look at some stats to see if the numbers back up that theory:
Defensive rebounding rate: 17.6 percent (Third best on team). Offensive rebounding rate: 8.7 percent (sixth best on team). Block percentage: 1.5 percent (4th best on team).
The "post" stats don't necessarily discredit him playing in the post, but they don't necessarily argue that he "absolutely" needs to be a power forward.
Let's look at some numbers that are more important for wing players and guards:
Assist percentage: 10.4 percent (seventh best on team). eFG percentage: 53.9 percent (seventh best on team). 3 point percentage: 33.3 percent (seventh best on team).
Okay, so those numbers don't help his case to move to the wing. But then again, you have to consider a couple of things:
1.) He wasn't 100 percent this year, so a lot of the best part of his game (athleticism) was hindered. Harris made a lot of plays happen last year because of his athleticism. Without it, he became a less efficient offensive player (as evidenced by his offensive rating dropping from 114 to 111 this year).
2.) He's still a career 39.5 3 point shooter. Last year, he jacked up just as many threes (51 to 45 this year) and did so with a much better 3 point percentage (45 percent last year). Thus, Harris has the shooting touch to probably play the three, he just had a down year this season when it came to shooting (also evidenced by his drop in eFG percentage from 58.5 to 53.9 this year).
So, Zag fans may still argue that moving to Harris would be messing with the team chemistry. I ask you this: how does he compare to other players that will be competing for the small forward position next season? Right now, it seems to be Monninghoff, Keita and Arop. Monninghoff is a superior shooter (128.7 offensive rating), but he needs to have help and plays run for him to make things happen. He can't create on his own (16.6 shot percentage, 12.4 possession percentage), and I think that could be dangerous considering how limited our guards will be (especially Meech).
As for Keita and Arop, offensively, they can't compare with Harris. Both have lower offensive ratings than Harris, and don't show much touch from outside (25 and 37.2 percent 3 point percentages for Keita and Arop offensively). Both show some upside defensively, but overall, their defensive abilities don't compare to the offensive upside Harris gives the Zags.
Overall, it's a tough decision. In many ways, it is similar to the Austin Daye situation in 2008-2009. Daye was more of a natural small forward, but was put at power forward because of his size and need (they already had the wings set with Gray and Bouldin). Well, Harris has the size to play power forward, but the need is no longer there. They have help in the post and three guys who can handle the load admirably. Now, the need is on the wings, and Harris, though not a natural fit at small forward, would best help the team and perhaps his own NBA aspirations (he probably would need to switch to the 3 at the professional level) if he made the move to the wing.
If Harris makes this move, the Zags not only will be an effective team next season, but they will also have a more concrete, efficient playing rotation, something they struggled to figure out this year.