January 12, 2015 by Marshall Kelner
By Marshall Kelner
It was a solid weekend for USC Basketball. After looking thoroughly outmatched against Utah and Colorado on the road, the Trojans controlled the entire game against Cal and were very competitive with a strong Stanford team that went to the Sweet 16 last season.
Non-conference play is complete and we are four games into the Pac-12 season, so it’s time to do a little evaluation on how each rotation player for Andy Enfield’s squad is trending. Here we go.
- Julian Jacobs
Jacobs has been arguably the best player for the Trojans this season, especially in conference play. He started slow, but has averaged 13.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 4 asp, and 1.5 spg in USC’s four conference games. Jacobs has also been the team’s best perimeter defender. His strongest work came this past weekend, when he put up 17 and 16 respectively against Cal and Stanford. On top of that, these performances came when he was filling in for Jordan McLaughlin as the starting point guard. McLaughlin didn’t play against Cal and came off the bench against the Cardinal. Andy Enfield will have to seriously consider playing Jacobs at the point and McLaughlin off the ball more going forward. It’s a small sample size, but the offense has been much more efficient with Jacobs at the helm. Speaking of efficient, Julian is 22-38 (58%) from the floor in conference play. One final point on Jacobs: He plays with outstanding energy. You never have to question his effort and he’s aggressive in taking the ball to the basket.
- Nikola Jovanovic
Jovanovic is another player who started slow, but the big man has really come on over the past few weeks and been remarkably consistent. Try 11 double figure scoring games in a row. Over that stretch, he’s averaging 14.6 ppg and 8.8 rpg. I would still like to see him play with more fire, but he has been more aggressive lately. He has the ability to post you up and has some creative moves and solid footwork. He’s able to get to his sweet spot pretty easily for short fade away jumpers and baby hooks. At the same time, he has the quickness to put it on the deck and drive past other bigs. The next step for Jovanovic is to develop a consistent mid-range jumper, but he’s headed in the right direction.
- Malik Martin
Martin clearly wasn’t 100% when he came back from his knee injury, but he is now and he keeps improving game by game. In Pac-12 play, the freshman is averaging 9.5 ppg and 6 rpg. Not bad. He also has seven blocks in the four conference games, and that’s where he can really make his impact, at least early on. You can’t teach size, length, and athleticism, and Martin has all three traits. He has good instincts on defense, especially when he comes over from the weak side to adjust or block shots. His long wing span makes it difficult to get shots over him and also allows him to recover when he gets beat on a play. Offensively, Martin moves well without the ball and sets himself up for easy buckets underneath. He needs to do a better job of catching the ball in the post, and going straight up rather than putting it on the deck down low. In addition, he needs to show more consistent energy, rather than just in spurts. This freshman, though, has the chance to be an impact player for years to come.
- Jordan McLaughlin
Some people are going to get on me for not putting him in the “stock up” category. After all, he is USC’s leading scorer at 12.8 ppg. I think I’m being kind by not putting him in the “stock down” category. Don’t get me wrong, I really like McLaughlin going forward, he’s very talented, and he is a critical piece in USC’s future. He just isn’t getting it done right now. The freshman from Etiwanda High School is shooting just 38.3% from the floor, 29.5% from three, and 65.2% from the foul line. The free throw shooting is what concerns me the most in the short term. McLaughlin does an excellent job at getting to the line. He’s already shot a team-leading 66 free throws on the season (made only 43) and averages nearly five free throws taken per game. That percentage has to increase in order for USC to close games down the stretch. At times, McLaughlin seems out of control and looks to do too much. It’s not so much poor shooting as much as poor shot selection. He has shot over 50% just twice all season and he’s had nine games where he’s shot under 40%. Now, as hard as I am on him, McLaughlin has done some good things. In addition to leading the Trojans in scoring, he averages 1.6 steals per game, 4.7 assists, and only 2.5 turnovers. Clearly, the talent is there. Right now, however, he’s not as efficient as he needs to be in running the show.
- Malik Marquetti
What is his game offensively? That’s the question I constantly find myself asking with the freshman Marquetti. He’s started a majority of games for USC, but just hasn’t been able to find his groove offensively. He doesn’t shoot that much, and when he does, it hasn’t been pretty to say the least. Marquetti is just 15-51 (29.4%) from the floor and an astounding 3-21 (14.3%) from three-point range. He has only shot 14 free throws (made 8). On the positive side, he’s always open from three, especially in the corners. Also, he does play very solid defense and can cause people problems because of his length. He was billed as a slasher coming into college and someone who thrives in transition. I think he’s got some talent, but he just might take a bit longer to develop than some people were expecting.
- Strahinja (Luis) Gavrilovic
Luis has gone missing on the offensive end in four of his last six games, but the reason he’s in this category and not “stock down” is his consistent effort. Gavrilovic and Jacobs clearly play harder than anyone else on the team and Luis also has a high basketball IQ. The Trojans don’t run any plays for him, but he’s still managed to put up five double digit scoring games this season. He’s also the second best free throw shooter on the team (76%) behind Katin Reinhardt, and has taken the third most free throws overall despite playing the ninth most minutes. Why has he taken so many free throws? Because of his ability on the offensive glass. He is third on the team in offensive rebounds (24) and has just one less offensive board than defensive board. As the ninth player in a nine-man rotation, Luis is a solid guy to have. You never question his effort, and that’s an underrated quality.
- Katin Reinhardt
By far the biggest disappointment on the team up to this point. Reinhardt, the redshirt sophomore who transferred from UNLV, was supposed to be “the guy.” He was USC’s highest rated prospect out of high school (94/100 by ESPN and the 47th best player in his class). He had a solid freshman season at UNLV (10.1 ppg, 35.1 3P%, 89.2 FT%) despite not shooting the ball that well from inside the three point line. However, it just hasn’t worked out at USC so far. Yes, he’s averaging over 10 points per game (no improvement from two years ago at UNLV). His efficiency, though? Terrible. Reinhardt is shooting 32.4% overall, which is actually worse than he’s shooting on threes (32.8%). His numbers are down in nearly every category from his freshman season at UNLV. That even includes his solid free throw numbers (81.6%). He has had an astonishing NINE games this season when he has had more field goal attempts than points. Reinhardt just looks uncomfortable in the offense and doesn’t play with the consistent passion necessary to succeed in the Pac-12. The shot selection is awful, most of them are forced, and he can’t finish in the lane. I will say his defense has been solid, but that’s not enough. Not for a guy who was supposed to be your lead dog. When he transferred to USC, Reinhardt said he wanted to pass more. Yet, he’s only averaging about two assists per game and his assist to turnover ratio is about even (2.1-1.7). In Pac-12 play, he’s been even worse: 8.8 ppg and shooting 31% (13-42). I give him a slight pass due to the fact that he had to sit out last season, but that excuse is wearing thin. We are 16 games into the season. It’s time for Reinhardt to step up.
- Elijah Stewart
I really like Stewart’s potential going forward, but he has hit a huge wall that forces me to put him in this category. Since going a perfect 10-10 from the floor with 22 points at Boston College, the freshman has made just 4 of 28 shots (14.3%) in his last five games. Stewart is a superb talent and maybe the best athlete on the team. He was billed, however, as an outside shooter coming out of high school and with that comes shooting slumps, especially as a freshman being asked to play a big role for a major conference team. It’s clear that he just has no confidence in his shot right now and you can see it in his body language. Despite that, however, Stewart has continued to play hard and may have shown a sign last night of busting out of his slump. Against Stanford, Stewart scored 7 points (2-5 shooting), had a season-high five rebounds, and had the energy play of the game with a thunderous put back slam as USC was mounting its comeback. That play reminded everyone why he is so highly touted and what outstanding athletic ability he has. Hopefully, that game will help Stewart turn the corner. I would like to see him put the ball on the deck more when he is struggling with his outside shot. He certainly has the ability to do so.
- Darion Clark
Clark started off strong, but has really struggled since the beginning of December. He had a 15 and 7 game against Drexel, then two games later started a string of back-to-back double doubles against Cal State Fullerton and at New Mexico (10 and 14, 12 and 11). In his first seven games, he scored 64 points (9.1 ppg) and pulled down 58 rebounds (8.3 rpg). In his nine games since? 34 points (3.8 ppg) and 50 rebounds (5.6 rpg). Now, his minutes have gone down considerably, especially in Pac-12 play, but part of that is due to the decreased production. Part is also due to Malik Martin getting healthier though, so I’ll give Clark a slight pass there. His lack of size (6-7, 220) causes him to have a tough time finishing over bigger and taller defenders. Smaller post guys can have success in this league, though. Just look at Eric Wise at USC a few years ago. Where Clark has to improve the most is in two areas: Passing and free throw shooting. Sometimes, Clark is a black hole whenever he gets the ball on offense. I’m sure the coaching staff has told him time and time again that he is permitted to pass the ball out of the post. He could get it back again or set up a teammate for a better look. His free throw shooting also has to get better. Clark is a solid rebounder, especially on the offensive end. As a result, he will have plenty of opportunities at the foul line. Right now, Clark is just 45% from there (20-44). A silver lining? He was 5-6 over the weekend against the Bay Area schools.
A BONUS STOCK WAY UP
- Team Free Throw Shooting
This has been a major area of weakness all season for the Trojans…until the last two games. Up until this past weekend, the Trojans were an abominable 61% from the foul line as a team. Against Cal (17-20) and Stanford (19-24), USC combined to go 36-44 (81.8%). Small sample size, but a remarkable turnaround. The strong weekend performance pushed USC’s season free throw percentage up to 63.8%. Now, don’t get too excited. The Trojans are still 319th in the nation (out of 351 teams) in free throw percentage, but the number is trending in the right direction. Baby steps.