Alondes Williams, Jake LaRavia change the paradigm; The ACC’s All-Transfer Team

The 2021 offseason marked a seismic shift in how college basketball rosters are constructed. With a record-setting number of transfers, roster turnover soared. Some programs lost key players, while others — like Steve Forbes and Alondes Williams at Wake Forest — used the opportunity to supercharge a roster.

Roster construction has always been the most important aspect of college basketball; however, the paradigm has changed. It’s only one data point, but the 2021 offseason looks like a window into the future.

With that in mind, let’s sort through some of the ACC’s top additions: immediately eligible transfers who joined ahead of the 2021-22 season.

1st Team

Alondes Williams, Wake Forest, G

It took almost no time for Alondes Williams to radically transform the Wake Forest basketball program. When Steve Forbes landed the Oklahoma transfer, it was obvious: Williams would reinvigorate the offense with his ability to pressure the rim. Williams, however, has been so much more.

An elite downhill driver, Williams explodes to the rim with a powerful first step. He’s able to shift tempo and keep defenders off balance with a bevy of crossover dribbles or other hesitation moves. Even when defenders have the goods to stick in front of Williams — like Virginia’s Reece Beekman — he’s able to change tactics and use his power to carve out space.

During the win at Virginia, Williams showcased a low-post game.

According to Bart Torvik’s shot data, 54.5 percent of Williams’ field goal attempts have come around the rim, which is a monster number. Williams is shooting 66.5 percent on these close 2-point attempts — with almost 70 percent of the makes unassisted.

Williams leads the ACC in both scoring (19.8 points per game) and assists (5.4 per game). Currently, Williams is the only high-major player shooting above 60 percent on 2-point attempts, with 30 percent assist rate and 30 percent usage.

In terms of his passing ability, Williams has put on an absolute show this season. He flings cross-court skip passes or lasers to baseline cutters with ease. When you play with Williams, just assume that you’re open at all times. Williams sees the floor and possesses a killer combination of strength and creativity; he’ll try just about any pass.

This package of skills has unlocked Wake Forest’s offense, which currently ranks top 15 nationally in both 2-point shooting (59.3 2P%) and effective shooting (56.0 eFG%).

As a team, 38.2 percent of Wake Forest’s field goal attempts have come from around the rim. The Demon Deacons have connected on 67.5 percent of those shots, which ranks No. 12 nationally.

Moreover, during the 2020-21 season, only 29 percent of Wake Forest’s attempts (No. 312 nationally) were close 2-point shots. Wake Forest players connected on just 53.8 percent on those attempts — good No. 307 in Division I.

I keep coming back to those numbers. It’s insane what a difference Williams has made in Winston-Salem.

These types of on/off splits for an individual player can be noisy, but with Williams on the floor this season: Wake Forest is +224 in 815 minutes, per Pivot Analysis. With an offensive rating of 116.1 points per 100 possessions, the Demon Deacons have outscored opponents by 16.2 points per 100 possessions with Williams on the court.

Going back to the 2007-08 season, only 17 high-major players have attempted over five 3-pointers per 100 possessions, while also posting 30 percent usage and 30 percent assist rate. That list of players includes Trae Young, Markelle Fultz, Nolan Smith, Sean Singletary and Greivis Vasquez.

There’s still plenty of basketball left, but there’s a very real possibility that Forbes used the portal to land the ACC Player of the Year and a future first round pick in the NBA Draft.

Jake LaRavia, Wake Forest, F

Alondes Williams may very well claim the conference’s Player of the Year award, but Jake LaRavia has been almost as important to the microwaved rebuild with Wake Forest basketball.

LaRavia is a complete player. The Indiana State transfer can pretty much do anything. At 6-foot-8, 235 pounds, LaRavia has the ability to shoot or pass from every level of the floor, which makes him an excellent conduit of half-court offense.

With his size and shooting touch, LaRavia can punish matchups in the middle of the floor or isolated in the mid-post area. LaRavia can face up and see the floor or (just as easily) function with his back to the basket.

LaRavia plays with a lot of craft; he uses a variety of ball fakes and a deadly spin move to create pockets of space around the hoop.

On the season, LaRavia is shooting 38.8 percent from beyond the arc (1.14 points per spot-up possession) and a ridiculous 65.8 percent on 2-point attempts, a top-50 number nationally, per KenPom.

According to Bart Torvik’s shot data, LaRavia is shooting 69.6 percent at the rim and 57.4 percent in the midrange. Close to 90 percent of LaRavia’s midrange field goal have come unassisted, too. That’s where he can really go to work in terms of shot creation.

So far, LaRavia has scored 0.96 points per isolation possession this season (50 FG%). LaRavia has also scored 1.19 points per post-up possession (68.2 FG%), according to Synergy Sports, which is No. 1 in the ACC (20+ possessions).

The methodical scoring of LaRavia is a magnet for drawing additional defensive attention. When extra defenders start to lean in his direction, LaRavia will quickly read the situation and kick it to an open teammate.

LaRavia leverages his size and strength to draw a lot of contact, too. Wake Forest’s No. 2 option attempts 5.7 free throws and draws 4.6 fouls per 40 minutes.

His passing is critical to Wake Forest’s offensive flow. LaRavia plays heads-up basketball. With his height, LaRavia can scan over the top of defenders and pick out weak-side cutters and shooters.

LaRavia, who is averaging a career-best 4.2 assists per 40 minutes, is on pace to become just the third ACC player since the 2007-08 season to finish with:

    • 20% usage, 15% assist rate, 60 2P% and 35 3P%

He’s also an excellent cutter, which is what leads to plenty of his finishes around the basket. Williams and LaRavia have come of the best two-man chemistry in all of college basketball.

Brady Manek, North Carolina, F/C

Similar to Alondes Williams: Brady Manek left Oklahoma and found a home in the ACC. As Hubert Davis has shifted North Carolina’s offense, the 3-point shooting abilities of the 6-foot-10 Manek have unlocked a great deal.

Once again, UNC has a top-25 offense in terms of adjusted efficiency; however, the Tar Heels are getting it done differently this year. North Carolina is still one of the ACC’s top go-go offenses, but this team is comfortable playing in the half court, too.

Currently, 35.9 percent of North Carolina’s field goal attempts this season are of the 3-point variety. That’s on pace to be the program’s highest 3-point attempt rate since the 2018-19 team (35.8 percent), which featured Cameron Johnson, Coby White and Luke Maye. Going back to the 1996-97 season, UNC has only finished only four seasons with a 3-point attempt rate north of 35 percent.

There are only nine players in the ACC currently shooting 40 percent or better from beyond the arc — with at least 100 attempts. Three of those players are on UNC’s roster: RJ Davis, Caleb Love and Brady Manek. As a team, North Carolina ranks 12th nationally in terms of 3-point percentage (38.4 3P%).

For the season, Manek has scored 1.19 points per spot-up possession (63.2 eFG%), according to Synergy Sports.

Davis, however, uses Manek in variety of ways — not just stationary catch-and-shoot looks. Manek is capable of shooting off movement, which causes all sorts of matchup concerns.

North Carolina has used a lot of “Exit” action with its pick-and-roll offense this season, specifically from its Horns alignment. Exit refers to an off-ball screen along the baseline — for a player cutting to the corner — while two other players run pick-and-roll in the middle of the floor. This action can tie up help defenders, thus opening the middle up for the roller.

In these looks, Manek is more than a decoy, though. He looms as a dangerous option coming off the baseline pin-in screen as well. It’s simple, but big man defenders just aren’t used to having to chase their assignment around screens.

The pick-and-pop is another way to utilize Manek and bend defenses.

From the first possession at Miami: UNC opens with a continuity ball screen look, which morphs into empty-corner pick-and-pop between Leaky Black and Manek. When Jordan Miller hedges on Black, Manek pops out beyond the arc for a 3.

Even if you’re able to closeout on Manek, he still has the ability to shoot over the top with his high release point. If needed, Manek can even drive to the basket vs. a hard closeout.

According to Synergy, Manek has scored a ridiculous 1.29 points per possession (64.3 eFG%) on pick-and-pop jump shots this season.

Davis has called a lot of Spain pick-and-roll sets, too, which I detailed back in early December, after the Michigan win. On these Spain sets, Manek is usually the second screener; this is the person setting the back screen for the roll man (primarily Armando Bacot). After setting the back screen, though, Manek will pop out for a juicy catch-and-shoot look.

With the power of the 3-pointer, Manek can also utilize his hi-lo passing skills.

From the NC State game: Manek pops out after setting the Spain back screen. Davis draws two defenders to the right side of the floor: Cam Hayes and Jaylon Gibson. With Jericole Hellems closing out to Manek, Terquavion Smith gets caught between hanging in on Bacot and being worried about Kerwin Walton in the corner. While also that’s happening, Manek zips in a ball to Bacot.

Once again, on/off numbers can be misleading; however, it’s unquestionable that Manek’s shooting and passing have a positive impact on North Carolina’s offense.

According to Pivot Analysis, UNC is +169 in 669 minutes with Manek on the floor this season. During those minutes, the Tar Heels have scored a whopping 120.1 points per 100 possessions — with a net rating of +15 points per 100 possessions.

With Manek on the bench, UNC is -43 in 296 minutes. The offense slips way down to 103.9 points per 100 possessions.

Jayden Gardner, Virginia, F

Reece Beekman has been Virginia’s best two-way player this season; however, Jayden Gardner is the team’s most productive piece on offense. The East Carolina transfer is a hub of low-post and high-post activity. Gardner leads Virginia in scoring (14.5 points per game) and usage rate (26.5 percent).

Along with Armando Bacot, Keve Aluma and John Hugley, Gardner is one of only four ACC players with 25 percent usage, 10 percent assist rate and 10 percent offensive rebound rate. (Clemson’s PJ Hall is very close to these benchmarks, too.)

With Gardner, those offensive rebounds quickly turn into scoring opportunities. According to Synergy Sports, Gardner is shooting just under 66 percent on put-back attempts. Among ACC players with 30+ put-back possessions, Gardner ranks second in efficiency: 1.31 points per possession. (Notre Dame’s Paul Atkinson is just ahead of him: 1.33 points per possession.)

As crafty as he is finishing around the cup (62.2 FG% on non-post-up attempts at the rim), Gardner has an industrious mid-post game, too.

Gardner has proven to be rather effective in the Blocker Mover offense as a post-up target. After setting the pindown screen, Gardner will seal his defender or duck-in and look for the basketball. Gardner has been especially good facing up after the catch on these reads and looking for his jumper.

An 80-percent free throw shooter, Gardner is shooting above 46 percent on long 2-point attempts, per Bart Torvik’s shot data.

Gardner can also facilitate some from the elbows in Blocker Mover or when a team zones Virginia. On those zone possessions, Gardner will flash to the nail; from there, he can look to score or kick out for open 3-pointers.

Paul Atkinson, Notre Dame, C

For obvious reasons, freshman guard Blake Wesley, along with veteran snipers Dane Goodwin and Nate Laszewski, have grabbed plenty of headlines. Mostly, those dudes have been awesome; Wesley is a star, while Goodwin and Laszewski are two of the best shooters in the country. However, for this offense to hum, it needs another pressure point on the rim — outside of Wesley. That’s where Paul Atkinson comes in.

The 2020 Ivy League Player of the Year waited a while for this opportunity, but he’s certainly made the most of it. Atkinson found a perfect offensive fit for his skill set.

He’s a technically sound post-up target and a very good pick-and-roll finisher. The marriage with Notre Dame has paired Atkinson with two dynamic ball handlers — Wesley and Prentiss Hubb — in an offense that spaces the floor with at least four shooters at all times and features plenty of empty-side screen-roll looks.

While shooting 61.3 percent on his 2-point attempts, Atkinson is one of four players averaging above 12 points per game in Mike Brey’s egalitarian offense.

With Notre Dame’s spacing, the lane is free real estate. Atkinson has taken advantage. He can use his dribble and power game to back a defender down — unafraid off a pesky help defender digging in off a shooter. Other times, Atkinson is able to seal with a deep post catch.

When the ball arrives, it’s already too late to stop Atkinson, who is shooting 54.3 percent on post-up attempts this season, which ranks No. 15 nationally among players with 100+ possessions.

The Irish have used their continuity ball screen offense a lot this season, too. It’s another great way to involve Atkinson.

Atkinson gets to feast on empty-corner screen-roll looks. He moves so well for a big man, which makes him a dangerous threat to slip screens. On this possession, Atkinson burns Virginia’s Pack Line hedge and gets to the cup for another high-percentage finish.

According to Synergy Sports, Atkinson is shooting a combined 68 percent on rolls or slips to the basket this season. He leads the Irish with 15 dunks.

Of course, Atkinson can also use these continuity ball screen sets as a method for carving out space around the lane. It’s another route for establishing clean post position.

2nd Team

Charlie Moore, Miami, G

  • Moore probably deserves first-team recognition in this thought exercise; he’s been awesome for Miami and is one of the main reasons the Hurricanes will likely return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018.
  • 12.7 points (38.1 3P%), 3.9 assists, 2.1 steals per game (3.9 percent steal rate)
  • He’s posted a career-low turnover rate of 16.6 percent

David Collins, Clemson, G

  • Stuffs the stat sheet: 11.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 steals per game
  • Physical, tough two-way player who can also shoot: 44.1 3P%, 54.3 2P%

Caleb Mills, Florida State, G

  • Runs a little hot-and-cold on offense, but he’s a dangerous (streaky) scorer, which FSU desperately needs in the half court
  • 13.0 points, 2.6 assists, 1.8 steals per game

Storm Murphy, Virginia Tech, G

  • Murphy has experienced challenges finishing this season, but he’s still a really good player on offense. Murphy is the primary creator for the No. 12 offense in the country, which has won four straight games and scored above 1.18 points per possession in five consecutive games
  • Murphy: 38.5 3P%, 58.2 2P%, 18.0 percent assist rate

Jordan Miller, Miami, F

  • One of the ultimate Glue Guys in the ACC: 71.6 FG% at the rim, 32.8 3P%
  • 3.4 percent steal rate, 2.1 percent block rate — will be in the running for All-Defense consideration
  • Miller is a little undersized as Miami’s 4, but he battles big guys and is nasty at disrupting post-entry passes

3rd Team

Armaan Franklin, Virginia, G/F

  • 2.9 percent steal rate
  • 80.4 FT%, 48.4 FG% from the midrange — really good fit in Virginia’s Block Mover offense, especially curling off pindowns

Cole Swider, Syracuse, F

  • 39.6 3P%, 88 FT%
  • 13.2 points, 6.8 rebounds (17.5 percent defensive rebound rate), 1.1 steals per game

TJ Bickerstaff, Boston College, F

  • 7.6 points, 8.0 rebounds per game
  • 11.4 percent offensive rebound rate (No. 127 nationally), 24.1 percent defensive rebound rate (No. 72)

Mouhamadou Gueye, Pittsburgh, F

  • Intriguing, versatile two-way player — can be an impact player on defense and create his own jumper on offense
  • 9.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.0 blocks per game (8.9 percent block rate, No. 46 nationally)
  • 37.6 3P%, 83.7 FT%, 19 dunks

Dallas Walton, Wake Forest, C

  • Impacts the game beyond the boxscore — mobile pick-and-roll defender, who gives Wake Forest’s defense some scheme versatility
  • 61.2 2P%, 6.1 percent block rate

Honorable Mention

  • Mason Faulkner, Louisville, G
  • Noah Locke, Louisville, G
  • Casey Morsell, NC State, G
  • Quinten Post, Boston College, C
  • Cam’Ron Fletcher, Florida State, F
  • Naz Bohannon, Clemson, F

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