As a big Julian Strawther fan, I’m kind of torn. I’m happy he’ll probably returning to the team next season and think he’ll be incredible. Conversely, I’m saddened by the way his season ended and how it tarnished an outstanding year.
Since it’s MLB’s opening weekend, I’ll use a baseball analogy to describe Strawther; he’s a five-tool guy. Simply put, he excels in all aspects of basketball. Excellent outside shooter, nice floater, great finisher at the rim, strong rebounder, good defender, great leaper and can run the floor. He possesses a high elevation, quick release jumper, can handle the ball in traffic and was the only starter to average less than one turnover a game.
An X-factor to start the season, it didn’t take long for Strawther’s name to start appearing on NBA draft boards. He averaged over 15 points a game the first eight contests of the season and was solidly ensconced as the team’s second scoring option. He followed up a 12-point, 9 rebound performance against UCLA by putting up 20 points and 10 rebounds against Duke. He grabbed 12 rebounds against Tarleton State, dropped another 20 on BYU and was shooting 51.4% from the field and 38.5% from deep.
Then, Chet Holmgren exploded. Chet became a bigger part of the offense, controlled the boards and started hitting from deep. As Holmgren ascended, Strawther deferred to the outstanding freshman and his numbers suffered. He took less shots in the second half of the season (115 vs. 144), he lost 3.2 points off his per game scoring, his 3-point shooting percentage dropped four points and he didn’t have another double digit rebound game after WCC play started.
Julian’s offensive woes culminated in the last six games of the season. He had a great game in the WCC Tournament Championship going 3 for 3 from deep and scoring 16 against St. Mary’s. In the five other games, he was 2 for 20 from the three-point line.
I wish I had some great analytical insight on why Strawther struggled so mightily as season’s end. I don’t. Keeping with the baseball theme from above; Willie Mays had an 0 for 24 slump in his MVP year of 1965, Reggie Jackson went 0 for 35 in 1977 and in basketball Steph Curry was 1 for 13 from deep against Utah in January. Slumps happen.
If Julian Strawther does return next season, he may be the most talented player on the roster. I expect him to have a Kispert-like role in the offense and hope he gets the opportunity to attack the rim more often. He’s really good at it and his finishes are spectacular.
Even when slumping, Julian Strawther always seemed to have a smile on his face and played with contagious joie de vie. Next year may be the season Julian Strawther explodes.