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Gilchrist Scoring Masking Problems

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff


January 19, 2004 COLLEGE PARK — In most cases, there is something fundamentally wrong when a team's point guard routinely leads his team in scoring. It usually means that either the point guard is shooting too much or the players in more traditional scoring positions are not producing. There are rare exceptions, as when a player (see former Duke great Jason Williams) is both a dynamic playmaker and an efficient scorer, but normally the point guard's job is to run the offense and distribute the ball. That traditionally has been the case in Maryland's flex offense, which features sets designed to set up the wings and post players for high-percentage opportunities. That's why coach Gary Williams rightfully grew concerned recently, when he saw point guard John Gilchrist assuming more and more of the team's scoring chores. Coming off a career-best 27-point performance against Georgia Tech, Gilchrist was Maryland's second-leading scorer. The 6-1 sophomore was averaging 15 points per game, the highest mark of any point guard in Williams' 15-year tenure in College Park. Former Maryland point guards Duane Simpkins and Steve Blake were capable scorers, good shooters who also could take the ball to the basket. Yet neither Simpkins nor Blake ever ranked higher than the third-leading scorer on his team, and then only as seniors. Blake was Maryland's fifth-leading scorer for three of his four seasons as the starter. Simpkins was the fourth- then fifth-leading scorer for two of his three seasons as the starter. Heck, even an unabashed gunner such as Sarunas Jasikevicius scored only 12.4 points per game — fourth-best on the team — in his lone season as the Terps' starting point guard. That's because Williams wants his point guard to make sure the flex offense is running smoothly and distributing the ball around to the other four players on the court. Simpkins and Blake easily could have averaged 15 points per game, but prior to their senior seasons they shot the ball only when it was a natural product of the system. In the case of Gilchrist, he's not jacking up ill-advised shots. In fact, he leads the team in field goal percentage, he's come up big in key games, and he's playing better overall than anyone would have expected at this early stage of his career. Importantly, he doesn't look even a little bit out of place in a conference loaded with excellent players at his position. However, the fact that Gilchrist is taking so many shots is problematic, because it inherently means he's not passing the ball to others. That development usually causes this year's Maryland offense to stagnate, if not entirely break down. Gilchrist fired up 159 shots through mid-January, compared to 108 for shooting guard Chris McCray, and the Terps' offense simply isn't designed to produce those numbers. Part of the problem, of course, is a severe lack of production at two positions on the court: wing guard and power forward. Gilchrist essentially is having to serve as both the point and shooting guards, and he has only two other reliable offensive options — sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley and senior center Jamar Smith — at his disposal. For Maryland to be successful this season, that dynamic must change. Coaches want Gilchrist to trust his teammates a bit more and do a better job of setting them up with scoring opportunities. The headstrong youngster needs to curb his instinct to just get the job done himself and work harder to create a free-flowing offense that gets everyone involved. It's not surprising that some of Gilchrist's highest point totals have come in the toughest games. He had 18 in the overtime victory over Florida and 20 in a come-from-behind win over North Carolina. Basically, when the going gets tough, Gilchrist gets going — to the basket. A powerfully built player, he is very strong taking the ball to the hoop, can knock down open three-pointers and has a nice pull-up shot off the dribble. For the most part, the fact that Gilchrist is shooting and scoring more than any point guard in the Williams era hasn't stood out as a problem. However, he flat-out hogged the ball against Georgia Tech, and the rest of the Terps wound up standing around and watching. It was obvious afterward that Williams was not happy about that development. “I didn't like much about our offense. We weren't able to run our sets. I don't know how hard we tried,” Williams said. “We have to start doing a better job of running half-court offense.” Power Forward: Two Beats One Williams hopes he's onto something with the idea of employing a two-headed monster at power forward. Sophomore Travis Garrison and freshman Ekene Ibekwe both have obvious strengths and weaknesses. Williams is hoping the two of them, used wisely as a tag-team tandem, can provide the type of production the Terrapins need out of the position. It worked well against UNC, as Garrison and Ibekwe combined for 20 points and 11 rebounds while splitting the minutes pretty evenly (24 for Garrison, 19 for Ibekwe). That level of production had Williams beaming and believing the set-up could work. “I think Travis and Ekene kind of complement each other,” Williams said. “They're different types of players in terms of what they do. I'd like to see them feed off each other.” Garrison is more fundamentally sound but also more mechanical. The sophomore also is heavier, bulkier and stronger than Ibekwe, which makes him a better interior defender and in theory a more effective post-up threat. Ibekwe is far more athletic and a much better leaper. The 6-9 rookie also has extremely long arms, making him a better shotblocker and inside finisher. Garrison (6-8, 238) has more range and a more reliable jumper. Ibekwe runs the floor and scores in transition better. Garrison handles the ball a little better. Ibekwe brings more emotion and excitement to the court. Neither player is the perfect power forward at this point, but each brings some positive traits to the table. Obviously, the key for Williams is knowing how and when to use Garrison and Ibekwe, doling out playing time based on matchups and the flow of the game. What is undeniable is that Ibekwe has a far better upside than Garrison. The 211-pound bean pole needs to add weight and strength while improving his perimeter shooting, but he has all of the tools necessary to become an outstanding power forward. Garrison, unfortunately, is much closer to reaching his full potential already.   Brought to you by: