After rolling through Texas Tech 85-57 on Saturday night, the No. 8 Arizona Wildcats are sitting at 5-0 without having put together their best game.
Arizona is young. They have a front line that is made up of three freshmen and a sophomore, and while there are probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years of future NBA experience in those four players, it takes some time for those guys to develop.
There have been promising signs. Brandon Ashley went for 20 points and 10 boards against Long Beach State. Kaleb Tarczewski had 13 boards against Texas Tech. Grant Jerrett has hit five threes already this season. Angelo Chol has played well in his limited minutes.
That group will continue to improve, and calling them anything but promising at this point would be inaccurate.
The bigger concern lies in the back court.
Mark Lyons, the Xavier transfer that was brought in as a one-year stop-gap at the point between the failed Josiah Turner experiment and Duquesne transfer TJ McConnell, has struggled in the point guard role. Through five games, he has 12 assists and 15 turnovers, capped off by the four turnovers he had without the benefit of an assist against Tech’s pressuring defense. The transition has been tough for two reasons: Lyons not only has to learn how to play in Sean Miller’s system after spending the last three seasons being coached by Chris Mack, he has to learn how to be a point guard. From the Arizona Daily Star:
“I am concerned, and we’re addressing it,” UA coach Sean Miller said. “But he also brings things to the table that are very evident. He can score. I thought his baskets in the first half in particular set the tone for the game.”
[…]”He has to learn,” Miller said. “He hasn’t played point guard much. He’s played guard.”
The UA staff is “just trying to show him where to go, when not to, decisions, learning more about the system that we have,” Miller said. “With each day, he’s a willing learner. He wants to get better, and he’ll turn the ball over less.”
The good news?
It turns out that Arizona isn’t short on playmakers. Kevin Parrom has 13 assists and just three turnovers on the season. Solomon Hill has handed out 15 assists with nearly a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. The biggest surprise, however, has been Nick Johnson, who is averaging a team-high 4.2 assists while turning the ball over just four times in five games.
Maybe that’s Arizona’s answer.
Is using Johnson and Lyons together — going ‘point guard by committee’, if you will — the fix?
Long-term? I’d say no. Johnson isn’t a point guard; he’s a playmaker. There’s a difference, and the concern is that Johnson will be exposed as the competition that he plays gets more difficult.
But with Lyons ability as a natural scorer — he’s shooting 47.8% from three while leading the team in scoring (14.0 points) and shooting 50% from the floor — being able to run Johnson out there along side him is a good way to bridge Lyons’ learning curve without suffering an embarrassing loss.