A New Generation of NEC Point Guards Ready to Emerge

Because point guard play has been a strength for the NEC in previous seasons, it’s expected the position will take a significant step back with the graduations of Julian Norfleet, Sidney Sanders, Jr., and Jason Brickman – the latest NCAA student athlete to crack 1,000 career assists. All three all-conference first teamers will be sorely missed. We’d also be remiss failing to acknowledge the departures of Kenny Ortiz, Corey Maynard and Anthony Myers-Pate, all of whom were also solid to terrific contributors on teams in contention for an NCAA berth.

In other words, there are a lot of heady ball-handlers no longer playing in the NEC.

But with graduation, comes opportunity for young and inexperienced talent to step up. While veterans like Brent Jones, Phil Gaetano and Malcolm McMillan will boost their respective offenses in their senior seasons, there are several point guards that should see a substantial increase in minutes played, and subsequently, their production. And I expect them to improve a lot. That much is evident when I went back the past six seasons to break down a NEC point guard’s transition between his freshman and sophomore season. (Note: Only true point guards who spent their underclassmen careers in the NEC were evaluated, so you won’t find players like Norfleet and Ortiz here.)

Efficiency Rating KenPom Offensive Rating
Player/Team Freshman Sophomore Freshman Sophomore
Chris Johnson, SFU 4.4 9.2 82.4 95.1
Dave Johnson, QUIN 4.3 6.7 95.3 101.3
Velton Jones, RMU 6.2 9.9 89.0 98.1
Josh Castellanos, MSM 3.5 5.5 78.4 81.1
Jason Brickman, LIU 9.6 12.1 119.2 107.1
Phil Gaetano, SHU 6.3 9.3 90.7 93.7
Anthony Myers-Pate, RMU 6.5 7.7 89.1 108.8
Malcolm McMillan, CCSU 5.4 10.8 79.0 105.3
Brent Jones, SFNY 6.4 5.8 83.5 84.5
Shane McLaughlin, BRY 2.2 6.1 80.2 107.5

Of the group, you can make the case that nine of the ten point guards improved in their second season (Brent Jones’ stark improvement came in his third season). On average, the efficiency rating of these 10 players increased 41% while their offensive rating was bettered by more than 10% in their second season. That’s really good. It gets even better if I had included transfers such as Ortiz, Sanders, Jr. and Frankie Dobbs. This breakdown gives credence to the idea that a majority, if not all, of these soon-to-be mentioned players should progress into solid contributors, especially when you take into account all of the talent that has vacated the conference.

As a sophomore, Kavon Stewart figures to see significant minutes as Robert Morris' point guard (Photo Credit - Julia Weeks, AP)

As a sophomore, Kavon Stewart figures to see significant minutes as Robert Morris’ point guard (Photo Credit – Julia Weeks, AP)

Kavon Stewart, Robert Morris

Stewart made our top six recruits list last season, and with good reason. While his play as a rookie didn’t earn him an NEC all-rookie team selection, I still feel Stewart has the makings to be a terrific floor general, as does Craig Meyer, the Robert Morris beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The opportunity is obviously there, and so is the impressive talent. Worst case scenario: Stewart is unable to develop his outside shot and must therefore rely on his elite quickness and ball handling to excel at attacking the rim and setting up perimeter shooters like Charles Oliver and Lucky Jones. If that scenario plays out, we’d still expect the 5’10” guard to deliver an above average assist-to-turnover ratio and get to the free throw line a healthy amount, while being a constant pest on the defensive end.

Malachi Nix, Fairleigh Dickinson

If you didn’t notice, Greg Herenda has been known to elevate the play of his point guards, as Sanders, Jr. transformed from a mediocre player (efficiency rating of 5.3) as a junior into one of the best point guards in the nation (efficiency rating of 16.7) as a senior. Akeem Williams at UMass-Lowell is another example. Therefore, I believe Nix is the next in-line to benefit greatly from this arrangement. Despite coming off a disappointing freshman campaign in the shadow of Sanders, Jr., the 5’7″ guard possesses the skills to make a sizable step forward in Herenda’s rotation. His 74.3 offensive rating as a rookie was far from impressive, as he struggled with turnovers and his outside shot, yet with another offseason of work, refinement and confidence, Nix may eventually mature into one of the better point guards in the NEC.

Malik Harmon, Saint Francis University

Not to pick on Harmon, but his efficiency rating of 7.1 last season was the lowest by any NEC Rookie of the Year this century. In fairness, Rob Krimmel asked the New York City native to handle the point guard duties from day one, and all things considered, Harmon performed rather well. He logged more than three-quarters of Saint Francis’ available minutes and managed to turn it over on only 17.1% of his possessions. That rate is excellent, especially when considering that the Red Flash have turned it over on at least 20.8% of their possessions each season since 2002. Word is that Harmon has shed about 10 pounds this offseason and is better conditioned to improve upon his two-point field goal percentage of 31.6%.

Shane McLaughlin appears to have Tim O'Shea's trust heading into his junior campaign. (Photo Credit - Providence Journal)

Shane McLaughlin appears to have Tim O’Shea’s trust heading into his junior campaign. (Photo Credit – Providence Journal)

Shane McLaughlin, Bryant

Tim O’Shea isn’t a fan of deep lineups; going back to his Ohio days he never employed more than an eight-man rotation. With this caveat in mind, it’s all the more impressive that the once sparingly used McLaughlin saw a substantial increase in minutes during the second half of last season. Clearly, O’Shea trusts him. Of course, three-star recruit Hunter Ware will likely grab some minutes at the “1”, but McLauglin should do well as a 25 minute per game type of player. He’ll need to cut down his 31.1% turnover rate, but considering where he came from as a freshman (40.7% turnover rate), we’re betting on continued improvement. One underrated part of McLaughlin’s game is his shooting: last season he posted a superb effective field goal percentage of 63.0%, illustrating his ability to score the basketball anywhere on the floor.

In addition to these underclassmen and McLaughlin, the 2014-15 NEC recruiting class has its fair share of talented ball handlers coming in. The aforementioned Ware, whose brother was a starting point guard at Georgia once upon a time, has by all accounts a terrific motor and drive to succeed. Cane Broome ignored recruiting interest from bigger schools like Fordham to sign on as Anthony Latina’s point guard of the future. The diminutive, yet explosively quick Lamont “Junior” Robinson, Jr. should find some minutes given the graduation of Mount St. Mary’s big three. And finally, LIU Brooklyn and Wagner will likely use competition to bring out the best in the multiple point guards they respectively signed for this upcoming season.

Sure, the point guard position as a whole will be weaker this season, but that doesn’t mean new talent can’t excel at the newfound opportunities provided. With the underclassmen I highlighted, you may witness a few more stars emerge into the NEC elite before it’s all said and done.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

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