Gael guard Emmett Naar made 63% of his three-point attempts during the 2014-15 West Coast Conference season. Admittedly, it was a small sample, 26 of 41 attempts. He usually attempted only two or three three-pointers, occasionally daring to try 6, occasionally trying none.
Extended to the entire season, Naar’s three-point percentage shrank to 45%, again on a relatively small sample — 78 attempts, of which he sank 35. A good three-point shooter is defined as one who makes better than 33% of his shots, which equates roughly to a 50% overall success rate (do the math). Nirvana for a three-point shooter is usually defined as anything more than 40%.
Again, Naar shot 63% in WCC action in his freshman season, a major factor in his selection to the all-conference team. Notwithstanding this somewhat startling statistic, Naar was not looked upon by outsiders as one of the Gaels’ potential leaders this season. More interest was generated by the eligibility of transfer guard Joe Rahon, freed from NCAA-required bench time after transferring from Boston College. Three promising freshmen guards, Tanner Krebs, Stefan Gonzalez and Franklin Porter, also elicited excitement.
In this space last week, I opined that the Gael leaders for 2015-16 would most likely be Jock Landale, Rahon and Calvin Hermanson. Naar outscored all of them in the Gaels’ opening season 80-56 win over D2 rival San Francisco State. The final tally in that game was Naar 27 points, the Big Three 21. Naar made 7-11 of his three-point attempts.
Naar eased up against Manhattan in the Gaels’ second game, settling for 15 points on 3-4 three-point shooting in an 89-63 shellacking of a team with NCAA aspirations. I say eased up because it looked as if he could have easily replicated his SF State performance if necessary. Over the two games, Naar shot 10-15 on three-pointers, a smooth 67%.
Both Gael opponents this season have employed zone defenses, reflecting the conventional wisdom that more stringent enforcement of hand-checking rules is going to cause an avalanche of penalties in college hoops. Naar is ideally suited to destroying zone defenses, and he can only hope that most Gael opponents subscribe to conventional wisdom.
Not physically dominating at 6-1 or so, not interested in (or capable of) playing “above the rim” as the ESPN commentators tout incessantly, Naar has feasted on finding holes in the zones. He finds the holes and backcourt teammate Rahon finds him.
Rahon, who has taken over and stabilized a Gael offense which sputtered last year under indifferent leadership, has racked up 18 assists against three turnovers in the two games. That’s a 6-1 assist-to-turnover record that statisticians rarely encounter.
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Naar’s emergence is not the only surprising development in the early going. Although most have been pleasant, a few are concerning. Landale, the 6-11 center who showed so much promise in his freshman year, has not dominated in the paint despite facing opponents much smaller than he. In fact, Gael coach Randy Bennett has started redshirt freshman Evan Fitzner in place of Landale. Although Fitzner has demonstrated some low post chops, most observers think he will prosper more as a stretch 4, where his three-point shot will be put to most advantage. This development probably falls in the early-season tinkering category, and the ultimate configuration remains to be determined.
On the plus side, Gael fans have been pleased with the play of Gonzalez and another freshman, Kyle Clark. Gonzalez seems to have answered the question of who will back up starting guards Rahon and Naar, although Bennett seems loathe to pull Rahon off the court. See the careers of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova as examples of this tendency.
Gonzalez is a supremely confident 6-2 combo guard, who earned Player of the Year honors in Pocatello, ID last year. He has seemingly never seen a three-point opportunity he doesn’t like, hoisting 12 in the first two games. Since he has made six of them, Bennett is not complaining and seems confident in his ability. Interestingly, Gonzalez has reversed conventional wisdom about who, if anyone, the Gaels might redshirt this year.
Gonzalez suffered a serious injury shortly after arriving in Moraga last summer, variously described as a broken leg or an ankle injury (the Gael staff is tight-lipped about injuries). But he has bounced back and it now seems the coaching staff is considering hot-shot Aussie guard Krebs for possible redshirt status. Although both games have been bench-clearing breezes, Krebs has not made it to the floor. Even a single appearance would render the redshirt possibility moot, so it appears that possibility is on the coaches’ minds.
Clark is another pleasant surprise. A rugged 6-7, Clark is mobile and active on the floor. He led all Gael scorers against Manhattan with 16 points in 31 minutes, and seems ideally suited to foiling zone defenses. He flashes to the top of the key as the Gaels rotate the ball, and has shown he can pass effectively from that position or put the ball on the floor and attack the basket.
So far, so good, with Stanford on the horizon this Sunday (Nov. 22). Whether the Gaels celebrate Thanksgiving early or lick their wounds instead of their fingers will rest on how early-season trends hold up.