I’ve often said that this is my favorite piece to write each year. Once again, in 2019-20 I was able to identify the breakout players pretty well. Here is a review of last season’s list:
- Mamadi Diakite-Virginia
- Aamir Simms-Clemson
- M.J. Walker-FSU
- Jalen Carey-Syracuse
- Rechon “Leaky” Black-UNC
- Dane Goodwin-Notre Dame
- Nate Laszewski-Notre Dame
- Devin Vassell-FSU
So, overall, it was a success. Injuries derailed Jalen Carey’s season but I am not sure he would have played much given the way that Joe Girard came along last season. Leaky Black struggled mightily with his efficiency after showing tremendous efficiency in limited opportunities as a freshman. Nate Laszewski didn’t breakout but he wasn’t exactly bad either. We just didn’t see that jump from year one to year two like we normally do with high end talent.
I feel the need to remind readers that the number signifies my confidence in the selection. Devin Vassell at #8 could be seen as a “minor victory” but it is a victory nonetheless.
In creating this season’s list, I found it slightly more difficult to identify breakout candidates for a couple of reasons. One, we still don’t know what these rosters are going to look like as NBA Draft early entries now have until August to make their final decisions. Secondly, unlike in season’s past, there are a lot of guys deserving of being on this list. Let’s take a look at some guys that were on my short list that didn’t quite make it.
Anthony Polite-Florida State
What does Seminole head coach Leonard Hamilton always have? If you said a stable of seven foot centers and fantastic perimeter defenders, you are correct sir! Polite is the latter but he is also a sneaky good offensive player that people rarely talk about. He has that beautiful left handed stroke and last season he kicked his percentage up to over 35%.
CJ Felder-Boston College
I like the way Felder plays and I think that he will be the player in the Boston College front court that steps up following the departure of Nik Popovic. He plays with effort and athleticism, making up for his lack of size at 6’7. He is an energy player with some skills who should be able to earn minutes over the three incoming graduate transfer big men Coach Christian has added to the program.
Some of you may be thinking: “Who?” Well if he is able to stay healthy, you will soon be made aware. Quite frankly, the kid can shoot the hell out of the basketball. There is some competition on the wing at Clemson this season but the graduation of Tevin Mack should free up some minutes to be distributed quite evenly. Hemenway’s per 40 numbers last season were 15.7 points per game and he shot nearly 50% from behind the three-point line.
Harlond Beverly-Miami (FL)
Once upon a time this young man was thought to have an outside shot at being a one and done. Unfortunately, the shooting didn’t turn out to be what everyone expected at only 21% last season. He is way too talented for that to occur again and I expect Harlond to take a big step forward this season. The ‘Canes are loaded on the wings though and I don’t know how many minutes or shots he is going to get.
Ismael Massoud-Wake Forest
In my not so humble opinion, it was a big deal for Steve Forbes to keep Massoud in Winston-Salem. Massoud is a big (tall) wing that can really stroke it, shooting 39.8% from deep last season in 83 attempts. In the last 15 games of the regular season he averaged 15 minutes per game for Danny Manning and nearly 48% from deep while averaging close to 7 points per game.
Alright, now that all of that is out of the way, without any further delay, here is the ACC Basketball Report’s Breakout Eight for 2020-21:
#1-David Johnson-Point Guard-Louisville
Unlike seasons past, this was a difficult decision. Two years ago, Jordan Nwora was an easy selection and last year, Mamadi Diakite was almost too obvious.
Johnson could be a little bit of a reach but you have to love the way he plays the game as well as his measurables. A 6’5 point guard is always an advantage and when he is correct and healthy, he is damn good. There is a concern with consistency but that should come this season with the sophomore jump.
The positives are the per 40 numbers of 15.8 points, 7 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game. The negatives are the 4.7 turnovers per 40 and the 22% shooting from behind the arc.
There were multiple flashes of brilliance last season with Johnson, the obvious one being his 19 points, 7 assists, 4 rebound, 3 steal, and 2 block game against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. A game Louisville won. In a loss to Georgia Tech later on in the season, Johnson logged 16 points, 2 assists, and 5 rebounds. Great counting statistics, but he also committed four turnovers and fouled out of the game in just 24 minutes.
Now that both Lamar Kimble and Darius Perry have moved on, this is Johnson’s team to run and lead. If Louisville is going to continue its brilliance during the Chris Mack era, he will need to be “the man.”
#2-Isaiah Wong-Guard-Miami (FL)
One of my favorite freshmen heading into last season, Wong struggled a little bit early on. In fact, after the out of conference slate, I even said on the podcast that I may have been wrong to have such an affinity for him. Wong averaged just 3.1 points and 1.7 rebounds per game through the first 18 games of the season.
He turned it on during the conference schedule however, averaging 14.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game while shooting 39.5% from deep and 93% from the stripe over the final 13 games of the season.
Chris Lykes is still the primary point guard but once he moves on after the season Wong will take over that roll (assuming he’s still around) and that transition should be seamless. Wong is built perfectly for Coach Larranaga’s pick and roll offense and once he gets into the lane, he is very slippery and can finish from all angles.
The one downside to Wong is his defense. Of the 19 qualifiers in the ACC, he was the only freshman in the conference to average over 20 minutes per game and have a defensive rating worse than 108. Now, as we have said before, defensive rating is far from a perfect metric but it can be a solid indicator. As I have often said in the past, freshmen don’t play defense. So we will have to see if that comes along this season.
#3-Manny Bates-Center-North Carolina State
I was on the fence about including Bates in the same way that I was hesitant with including Mamadi Diakite last season. Is this a cop out? I mean, the kid led the conference in total blocks last season but he only averaged 5.1 points and 4.0 rebounds in 18 minutes per game.
So is he a breakout candidate?
It feels more and more like DJ Funderburk is going to be going pro in some capacity. Due to the fact that I am itching to write this article and players don’t have to make their intentions known for roughly two months, let’s assume that is true.
Bates led the ACC in blocks while playing just 18 minutes per game! By comparison, James Banks, who finished second in the league in blocks, played 29 minutes per game. We don’t even know if Bates was fully recovered from his shoulder injury from the previous season. Now, he should be in line to see a heavy increase in minutes as the only true ACC level big man on the roster.
If Bates is able to log 30 minutes per game (a tall order, yes pun intended) his numbers from last season would equate 8.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game. Now, if he was able to achieve that 4.7 blocks per game and play 30 games, that would be 141 for the season. That would tie him with Alvin Jones for second most in a season by an ACC player since 1985. Cedric Lewis holds the most with 143.
#4-Jalen Cone-Guard-Virginia Tech
When I watch this kid play, I see the very same things that intrigued me about Chris Lykes in 2018. He is quick as a hiccup, can shoot the shit out of the basketball, and doesn’t play a ton of defense. Again, say it with me: “Freshmen don’t play defense.”
The room for growth on the defensive end is obvious but the offensive chops showed themselves during a couple of stretches last season. From January 7th-22nd, Cone averaged over 15 points per game and shot a ridiculous 58.3% from behind the arc. For the five game stretch he averaged 26 minutes and only 0.8 turnovers per game.
He would go cold for a bit but then caught his wind from 2/15-3/1 during another five game stretch, averaging 12.2 points per game and shooting a “ho-hum” 47.2% from deep. He doesn’t give you a ton as far as counting statistics go but his per 40 scoring average of 17.3 points per game is impressive. Landers Nolley led the team at 30.2 minutes per game last season so it will be interesting to see how much run guys like Cone and Tyrece Radford receive this season.
How can you not love this kid? I am not sure if you heard this correctly in that video but he is also just 18 years old according to that broadcast from December 15th. He is still just a kid!!
Here is the thing about Jalen, when you look at him you immediately think point guard. I am not sure he is that at the college level. This guy is wired to score the ball and I think running him off screens and getting him open looks is the way to go. Of course, he has enough wiggle to get his own look at almost anytime too.
Mike Young is a coach that is not afraid to tailor an offense around a potent scorer and with Nolley gone, the time could be now for a huge jump in numbers for Jalen Cone.
There had to be some sense of relief for Morsell once the season ended in March. The young man’s freshman campaign couldn’t possibly have gone any worse. The former top 60 recruit averaged 4.0 points and 1.7 rebounds per game while shooting 17% from deep and 28% from the field in 22 minutes per game. He was the only player in the ACC to play more than 600 minutes and have a PER (player efficiency rating) of less than 5. In fact, his was a 3.
So, you may be wondering, why in the hell is he on this list? Simply put, the kid is still awesome. He didn’t forget how to play basketball. I said last season in the preseason that freshmen are not typically immediately impact players under Tony Bennett and took a ton of grief about it.
Good people of Charlottesville, hear me now! Casey Morsell is going to reward your patience this season. First of all, the kid’s jumper is too pretty for him to shoot that poorly. It was a confidence thing, not a mechanics thing. Secondly, even if his offense isn’t quite there yet, he will still be an impact on the defensive end.
Tony Bennett’s defensive scheme is intricate, it’s a lot for a freshman to grasp. Hell, Isaiah Wilkins once said that he didn’t fully understand it until his senior season. This year, I expect Morsell to meet and exceed the expectations that Cavalier fans had for him as a freshman.
Simply put, I love this kid’s game. He is a force on the offensive glass and a phenomenal athlete. Guerrier averaged 6.9 points and 5.3 rebounds last season in just 20 minutes per game for the Orange.
Hopefully the Montreal native is fully healed from offseason groin surgery by the time the season rolls around but that likely won’t be an issue. Assuming he is good to go, he should benefit a great deal from coach Jim Boeheim’s iron man rotation tendencies. Syracuse always places a few kids in the top 10 in minutes played and given the makeup of this season’s roster, I see no reason why he would deviate in 2020-21.
In 2019-20, he was one of only 11 players in the ACC to post an offensive rebounding percentage of better than 9.5% and play at least 600 minutes. Only 23 other freshman nationwide were able to do so.
I think Guerrier can be the player that everyone wanted Oshae Brissett to be which would make him a star. If he can be competent from three and maintain a positive trajectory, I believe he will form a very nice quartet with Alan Griffin, JG3, and Buddy Boeheim this season on a team that may surprise some people.
You have no idea how much I wanted to put this kid higher on the list. I just don’t really know what to make of him at time. He has a tendency to disappear. He does however, possess some incredible abilities.
Samuell Williamson was a five star, blue chip recruit coming out of the 2019 class. The first time I saw his video I immediately enjoyed watching him shoot the ball. Smooth, confident, high release point. One of those three things seemed to disappear during the season. The confidence. I watched him play in the season opener against Miami (Fl) and thought all of my expectations were correctly placed. He didn’t start but he played 24 minutes and logged 13 points and 5 rebounds.
Then something happened. Williamson attempted only 14 triples over the next 18 games, and what was even worse was the he only made four of them. Now, I don’t know if it was the inconsistency in playing time over that 18 game span (fluctuated from 23 to 7), lack of reps, or just confidence in general. Regardless of the reason, Williamson is simply too talented to be that invisible.
Now that Ryan McMahon, Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Fresh Kimble, and Darius Perry have all moved on, the opportunity for Samuell is there for the taking. The Cardinals will need someone to establish himself as a consistent perimeter scorer and I think this young man has exactly what it takes as long as he believes in himself and can maintain the correct mentality.
#8-Jahcobi Neath-Guard-Wake Forest
Jahcobi Neath comes in at the final spot, beating out Harlond Beverly by the slimmest of magins. What is really boiled down to how Jahcobi finished the 2019-20 season. Over Wake Forest’s final seven games, Neath averaged 10.1 points, 4.4 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game. In that same stretch, he averaged 28 minutes per game and only 2.3 turnovers. Just for giggles, he shot 5-8 from behind the arc during that period and 48% on the season albeit in only 25 attempts.
One thing that I really like about Neath is his ability to get to the rim and ultimately to the line. He was one of only six players to get to the free throw line at least 60 times while playing fewer than 600 minutes. The problem is that he only shot 59% once he arrived.
Neath reminds me of a less celebrated Isaiah Wong. Their games are quite similar in the manner that they can both shoot but enjoy getting to the rim and are very slippery. Neath has a larger upper body so his ability to absorb contact and finish at the rim is something I’d like to seem him utilize going forward.
Given that the Wake Forest program is currently in transition, what will be most interesting is seeing how head coach Steve Forbes deploys his troops. Daivien Williamson played for Forbes at ETSU and should receive a waiver considering he followed his coach. Will both players start? Who will initiate the offense? I guess we will find out together.
There you have it folks. My selections for the most likely breakout players in the 2020-21 season. I hope you all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Stay tuned for some upcoming articles that will include my three deep sleepers in the league which is players that averaged fewer that 8 minutes per game last season that will make big leaps this season and team by team break downs for the upcoming seasons. Of course also look out for my Top 25 returning players for the 2020-21 season and my 15 favorite freshmen in the ACC this year..