Hark's Bark 8.22.2020 (Butler Mailbag)

Welcome to the Hark’s Bark!

This article series will be posted on a semi-regular basis and will either dive into my main thoughts at the time or will include a Q&A with patrons and/or other Butler fans.

This week’s (free) mailbag is available for all to read and questions were submitted over at ButlerHoops.com. To be involved in the next free mailbag, either head over there for updates or follow me on Twitter at @hardwiredsports

Now, without any further ado, though, let’s just dive right into this edition of the Hark’s Bark!

How has the staff found coaching during a pandemic? Is it hard to scout future players not being able to travel?

While I can’t speak on Butler, in particular, I can assure you that coaching staffs around the country have had to adapt due to the pandemic. First and foremost, players are arriving on campus a bit later than normal and precautions have to be in place. This makes practices a bit trickier and incoming players (transfers and freshmen alike) have less time to adjust to their new surroundings. 

Additionally, I think everyone is experiencing a general feeling of uneasiness regarding whether or not there will be a season. These are unprecedented times and that is difficult not only for college basketball coaches to adjust to but everyone else that is attempting to do their jobs (in and out of sports). As this pertains to college hoops, there are certainly going to be challenges and coaches will need to run practices a bit unconventionally.

On the recruiting front, it is more difficult to scout future players at this moment - that much I do know to be true. In-person scouting is a vital part of the recruiting process and that has been put on the shelf during the past few summers. Given how important summer events are for potential breakout candidates, it’s impossible to understate the impact that the pandemic has had on recruiting. I think we will 100% see the effects of this summer on recruiting over the next few college basketball seasons.

It is challenging even for coaching staffs that already narrowed down their list of 2021 targets heading into this summer. Not having another summer to evaluate prospects in the same gym makes it tough to judge whether or not a certain target is actually a fit for the program either on a talent level or playing style. It is even tougher for those that entered the offseason with fewer “certainties” in who they were going to look at. 

It’s also worth noting that late arrivals for this coming season can impact recruiting. Programs with lots of incoming freshmen could be less aware of what they already have on their roster and that makes it challenging to determine needs for the future. This goes in line with the idea that, despite heavy scouting, you never know quite what you have in a freshmen class until you start seeing them practice with you.

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Who do you like more out of Jayden Taylor or Pierce Thomas from the 2021 class and why? 

I will start my answer to this question by saying that I have seen a lot more of Thomas compared to Taylor at this juncture. I have already done a piece earlier this offseason diving into Thomas’ game with some video from Indy Heat events of this summer (you can find that here), and only just started to go through that process with Taylor. With that said, they are so different in their playing styles and are thus difficult to compare. Yet, I would probably lean in favor of Thomas as the more college-ready player right now.

Starting with him, I am high on his ability to be a 3-and-D wing with secondary playmaking skills. At 6-foot-5 with very long arms and plenty of bounce, Thomas oozes versatility - particularly on the defensive end of the floor where he can cover 1-through-4. Still, I have cooled a bit on his “star potential” due to inconsistency as a halfcourt scorer. He is at his best as a spot-up shooter or cutter and doesn’t create off the bounce especially well. 

I am, however, constantly impressed by his work in transition. Thomas already boasts the length and athleticism to be an elite stopper, and then turns defense into offense better than most. He tracks down rebounds at a high rate and sees the floor remarkably well with numbers. PT has no trouble finishing above the rim but his precision vision on fast-breaks is exactly that: precise. He pushes the pace off rebounds to create easy buckets for teammates so often that it is an impactful part of his game. 

Taylor is similarly strong in the open court with excellent athleticism and length but is more of a score-first guard. He appears to be mainly an off-the-dribble attacker offensively and understands how to create his basket. With his quick first step, he can break down his defender en route to finishing at the rim (he has a nice left hand) and has greatly improved his perimeter shooting. Most importantly, he is a versatile 3-point shooter that can pull-up on a dime in transition, shoot off DHOs, or be a catch-and-shoot guy. That allows him to be offensively utilized in many different ways.

I will have more on Taylor in the next few weeks, though, when I finish going through more of his film. Stay tuned for more on that front. My first major observation centered around his smooth offensive play - he stays under control and doesn’t force the issue too much.

On the whole, I think that PT’s defensive play gives him a slight edge of JT right now. I do expect that both will blossom into role players (at the least) during their times with Butler. Versatility is the name of the game in this modern era, and Butler’s class is filled with that. The three-man class - as it stands - might not rank especially high, but it does fit how Coach Jordan is looking to mold the program. 

Both Taylor and Thomas have developed reputations as hard-workers and it doesn’t come as a surprise that they already started working with Joey Burton (per Instagram). It is great to see them working out together as well, as they will be a big part of the future.

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Do you truly consider LaVall already to be the best recruiter Butler has seen?

I wouldn’t say that he is *already* the best recruiter that Butler has seen but I do think that he is trending in that direction given the likelihood that he is with the program for the long-term. To me, the most important part of recruiting is not the landing of highly-rated players but specifically targeting those that fit the future of the program and excel in the system.

While I certainly believe that LJ and his staff are great at talent evaluation and relationship-building, it is too early in his tenure with the program to see how that translates to wins. I am very confident that Butler’s future is in great hands right now, but it’s still just a bit too early to crown him as the best recruiter in program history. 

Butler is finally recruiting at a Big East level, and Coach Jordan is the driving force behind that. The Dawgs are now able to consistently secure commitments from fringe Top 150 players, and that is not something I was not able to say a few years ago. Additionally, the program’s momentum on the recruiting trail over the past year is not dying out anytime soon. 

The Dawgs have landed 10+ commits in the last year and a half (including transfers) and I have high hopes for the 2022 class given the early targets on the program’s radar. I don’t think that Butler fans should anticipate any five-star commitments, but there could be more Top 100-caliber players could be making the decision to take the court in Hinkle Fieldhouse in the next few years.

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The Big East has canceled fall sports, will winter sports be next?

I’m not the person to speculate on this. In general, though, the NCAA does seem to be fairly confident about making this season happen, even if it starts later than expected.

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Assuming the Big East goes to conference-only play starting in the new year, does the extended practice time help with the team's chemistry as much as non-conference games for a team with so many new pieces like Butler?

Butler is adding six new pieces to the program this offseason and it isn’t unreasonable to think that at least four of them will immediately crack the rotation during Year 1 with the program. Graduate transfer Jair Bolden is at the forefront of this group as a prospective starter, but the freshmen will have their chances to impress in the preseason to find regular-season playing time. As a result, developing team chemistry could take some time for this unit.

I don’t think extended practice time helps with this *more* than playing non-conference games would, but a delay to the start of the year would benefit Butler anyhow. This is due to the idea that the team could bypass some of the early-season struggles that would be associated with having so many newcomers. With two extra months of practice under their belts, the team would be more used to playing alongside each other even if they have yet to take the court for a regular-season game.

While every team in the country will benefit from having more time to practice before the season, there will be varying degrees to that. For example, teams like Wisconsin or Iowa with an abundance of returning talent will not gain as much as squads with far more newcomers. Everyone will want to be able to start the season on time, but Butler would likely be one of the bigger “winners” in the country if the campaign does get delayed.

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If (big if) the season starts on time, is the expectation for Christian David to be available?

I have inquired about Christian David’s recovery in the past, but I’m not entirely sure what his timeline is moving forward. He has been on campus for a while for his rehab and does seem to be progressing. During this past week, Ralph Reiff posted a couple of tweets (here and here) that indicate his “return to high-performance participation.” 


Photo via Ralph Reiff.

Although I don’t have a perfect answer to his timetable, I will use this question as an excuse to discuss just how important David could be for this coming season. While it is unlikely that he returns from injury “better” than he was before, simply supplying the same elite-level defense that he was able to do pre-ACL would be a big boost to rotation. Due to his offensive limitations, I still expect that he will fill a reserve role when he returns to the court but his experience and versatility as a defender make him an incredibly impactful part of the roster.

Looking back on this past season, David’s advanced stats were unbelievably good for Butler:


Statistics via Evan Miyakawa.

These numbers can go hand-in-hand with the fact that Butler was at its healthiest (with AT on the court) during non-conference play, but it’s hard to argue that David wasn’t impactful. Butler will need to pride itself on being a potentially elite defense this season if it plans on making the NCAA Tournament. Thompson, Nze, and Golden received a lot of (well-deserved) defensive credit last season, but David was similarly excellent on that end when healthy.

Even when he is off the court this year, David is the type of intelligent stopper that can aid in the development of the young wings on the roster. Most notably, I wouldn’t be shocked if the likes of Scooby Johnson, Markeese Hastings, and/or John-Michael Mulloy not only exceed defensive expectations this season but also cite David’s attitude and teachings as a reason for those jumps. Injuries have hindered David’s star potential in college, but the remodeling of his game into becoming a “motorman” off the bench embodies what Butler fans appreciate most.

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That concludes this week’s (free) mailbag! Thanks to everyone who either submitted questions or read (or both!). There is no pressure to subscribe, but I appreciate everyone that does and I have a couple of new pieces in the works at the moment. I hope that everybody is staying safe and healthy this summer.

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