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Midseason Player Grades: Eric McClellan

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Recently improved play has helped stabilize the backcourt after early struggles

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Grade: B

The well-traveled guard came to Gonzaga last year following his dismissal from Vanderbilt after 12 games (where he transferred after one year at Tulsa), and played a minor role in the second half of the season.

Coming into this year, McClellan was tasked with stepping into the role previously filled by Gary Bell Jr.--to provide some scoring punch and serve as the team's best wing defender. In his one half-season of play with the Zags last year, McClellan never scored more than seven points. But, the hope was that with more minutes and a greatly expanded role, he would display the scoring talent he demonstrated at Vandy (14.3 ppg).

McClellan got off to an uneven start in the first seven games of the season, posting five games with an offensive rating below 100 (not a good thing), and averaging 6.9 ppg, 1.1 apg, and 87.4 Ortg. He also failed to provide a legitimate three-point threat within the offense (4-14, 28.6%). The early struggles saw McClellan play only 16 minutes against Washington State--despite not being in foul trouble--and culminated with a two-point game (in 31 minutes) against Arizona.

However, since the Arizona loss, McClellan has clearly elevated his offensive game as he's posted an offensive rating above 100 in all six games, with a high of 140 against Pepperdine. His averages of 11.5 ppg, 2.3 apg, and 114.3 Ortg over this period reflect the assertiveness and offensive impact we were hoping to get when the season kicked off. He's also hit more threes at a better rate (7-18, 38.9%), which has forced opponents to extend their defenses away from the interior.

McClellan's presence in the lineup also provides a secondary ballhandler, which allows Josh Perkins to have opportunities to play off the ball and position himself for spot-up opportunities. With his defensive capabilities and prior experience as a point guard, McClellan allows Mark Few to have lineup versatility, as any combination of Perkins, Kyle Dranginis, Silas Melson, and Bryan Alberts can be played together.

On the other end, McClellan's defensive game has been far more consistent. Usually tasked with defending the opposing team's best wing player, he's acquitted himself well against good competition. Against the Washington Huskies, McClellan held Andrew Andrews to 4-13 shooting from the field (although Andrews did damage from the free throw line). McClellan takes advantage of his length and athleticism to crowd opponents.

And, his good feel for defensive play helps him snag steals when the opportunity presents itself.

Despite his difficult defensive assignments, McClellan does a good job of staying out of foul trouble. While I wouldn't classify him as an elite shut-down defender, he does a solid job on a consistent basis.

Eric's first 13 games in a nutshell: Good (steal) with the bad (blown layup)

Eric is at his best when he's attacking the basket and forcing defenders on their heels. There are opportunities in the offense for slashers to get easy scores at the rim, as the Zags boast excellent passers in Domas, Kyle, Shem (if he returns), and Josh Perkins (when he's taking care of the ball). The Tennessee and Pepperdine games demonstrated Eric's ability to consistently take his man off the dribble and score. His jumpshot has never been great, but if he can continue to finish at the rim--a probably earlier in the season--McClellan could be a more reliable source of production from the backcourt.

My biggest point of contention with Eric is his free throw shooting, as it has been pretty woeful all season (61.5%, 16-26). His form looks good, and his Tulsa days prove he can shoot the freebies at a better rate (73.9%, 82-111), but he's been in the low 60s since that Freshman season. I would advise him to seek help from Domas (84%) and Kyle (92.7%), as whatever they're doing at the charity stripe is working very well.

McClellan gets a B since he's met expectations on the defensive end, which I would guess is Mark Few's priority for him. While his offensive game has been inconsistent, it is strongly trending in the right direction. Domas and Kyle have carried the brunt of the scoring lead since Shem went down, but E-Mac has played a large part in the Zags improved play in the last two weeks. If he can play this way consistently, we won't have to worry about many of the issues that plagued the Zags early in the season.