It’s an exciting time across the college basketball landscape. The initial wave of action within the transfer portal has cooled, some. However, plenty of big names remain out there as de facto free agents. Meanwhile, the 2022 NBA Draft combine is underway in Chicago, which features several ACC players that have at least left the door open for a return to college.
At this stage, it’s worth circling back to analyze some of the marquee transfers that will join the ACC for the 2022-23 season, including Miami’s Nijel Pack. What do these players bring to the table? How will they help replace lost production from this past season?
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Jao Ituka – Wake Forest
The addition of Alondes Williams instantly altered the trajectory of Wake Forest’s rebuild under Steve Forbes. Along with Jake LaRavia, Williams injected Wake Forest’s offense with juice: downhill drives and rim pressure, the things that result in layups, dunks, kick-out 3s and fouls.
During the 2020-21 season, Wake Forest finished 312th nationally in percentage of field goal attempts around the rim: 29 percent (53.8 FG%), according to Bart Torvik’s shot data. One season later, with Williams pushing the tempo (No. 46 nationally in average offensive possession length), 38.6 percent of Wake Forest’s attempts came at the basket — a massive increase, good for No. 79 nationally. The Demon Deacons made 66.5 percent of these attempts, too, which ranked No. 15 in Division I.
Moreover, Wake Forest finished second among ACC teams this season with 118 dunks, including 25 from Williams. Back in the 2020-21 season, Wake Forest recorded only 12 dunks, last in the conference by a considerable margin.
Duke led all ACC teams this season with 183 dunks — 52% of Duke's dunks via Mark Williams
Other ACC teams with 100+ dunks: Wake Forest (118), FSU (116), UNC (114)
Wake Forest finished last in the ACC in 2020-21 with only 12 dunks, so +106 this season, which is hilarious https://t.co/T2RklpZKJt
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) April 7, 2022
With Williams in the NBA Draft, and LaRavia (as he continues to climb draft boards) likely to remain in, too, it’ll be up to a new group of players to create offense and force defenses into rotations.
It should come as no surprise as to why Wake Forest and Forbes sought out Jao Ituka, a 6-foot-1 bowling ball from Marist.
During his freshman season, Ituka averaged 15.3 points and 1.6 assists per game. As a high-usage player, Ituka’s game is predicated on cracking defenses with a live dribble. Ituka posted a usage rate of 35.4 percent this season, which ranked No. 4 nationally, according to KenPom.
Marist managed Ituka’s minutes; he played just 22.0 minutes per contest. However, when he was on the floor, Ituka got busy with the basketball. Going back to the 2007-08 season, only six freshmen, including Trae Young, have recorded a usage rate above 35.0 percent.
Ituka can really slash. He plays with good burst and a low-center of gravity, which helps him slip into gaps for finishes. There’s constant advantage creation from Ituka. According to Bart Torvik’s data, Ituka shot 101-of-182 on attempts around the basket (55.5 FG%). This accounts for over 63 percent of Ituka’s total field goal attempts.
With that rim pressure, Ituka created a lot of contact; he drew 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes this season, another Top 5 number in Division I.
Now, the ACC is a big step up from the MAAC. Ituka will see a different level of athlete in the ACC: longer, more explosive. It’ll be interesting to see how Ituka adjusts to finishing in the paint.
Ituka has the goods the get into the paint, and he’ll be empowered to do so — given Wake Forest’s half-court spacing and offensive tendencies. Plus, Ituka will also get to work with other on-ball creators: Florida transfer Tyree Appleby, Cameron Hildreth and (possibly) Daivien Williamson.
In the 2021-22 season, Forbes utilized a lot of a spread empty-side two-man actions; often, it was Williams and LaRavia picking at different matchups. However, if Forbes saw a perimeter matchup for Williams to exploit — a smaller guard, for instance — he’d bring that defender into the action by having Williamson screen for Williams.
Ituka isn’t as physically imposing as Williams — most ACC guards aren’t built like that guy. However, he’s strong and can get downhill. These types of guard-guard screens could be something we see with Ituka and Appleby.
Delaware transfer forward Andrew Carr (60.1 2P%, 40.5 3P%) could also work well as a screen partner with Ituka. The 6-foot-10 Carr can score from multiple levels of the floor. If he can force as switch, it’ll allow Ituka to attack a taller opponent off the bounce. If his shooting puts defenses in rotations, then Ituka can attack the space.
Nijel Pack – Miami
Nijel Pack spent the first two seasons of his college career as one of the sweetest shooters in the country. During his time at Kansas State, Pack scored 810 points (15.3 per game) on 646 field goal attempts (58.2 percent true shooting).
Nijel Pack is a big add for Miami — deep shot range + touch. Across 2 seasons at Kansas State: 43 3P% (361 3PA), 84 FT%
2021-22 season, Pack: 72 eFG% on catch-and-shoot FGA, 53 eFG% on off-dribble jumpers
If Isaiah Wong returns, Miami has a wildly good offensive backcourt duo
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) April 23, 2022
As a sophomore, with nearly 57 percent of his field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc (9.1 3PA per 40 mintues), Pack averaged 17.4 points per game, while shooting 43.6 percent from beyond the arc (7.5 3PA per game) and 84.5 percent from the line.
Pack’s shot and touch are both pure. The 6-foot guard has a quick, buttery release and deep range on his 3-point jumper. Like a lot of great shooters, Pack moves well without the ball; he’ll float around the court, looking to lull his man to sleep, then dart off a pindown.
Here’s Pack going to work vs. future NBA forward Kendall Brown of Baylor. Brown loses track of Pack for a split second, which is more than enough time. Pack sprints off the pindown and gets the ball up in the air, over Brown’s pursuit and contest.
Some of that movement can be more sudden, though, and without the help of a down screen. Iowa State starts this possession in a zone; however, before the Cyclones can rotate around and matchup, Pack finds open real estate and buries a triple.
Pack scored 1.62 points per spot-up possession (80.8 eFG%) on no-dribble jumpers this season, per Synergy Sports, a Top 10 number nationally (50+ possessions).
Of course, Pack’s gravity as a shooter helps open other scoring pathways. If his defender closes out too hard or tries to jump a passing lane, Pack can attack the space and get to a couple different shots, including a floater.
Once again, Pack shows his touch as he drives 6-foot-9 Matthew Mayer and flips in a 2-pointer.
In the 2021-22 season, nearly 30 percent of Pack’s 3-pointers (28 of 95 3PM) were unassisted. Pack can bomb off the dribble and separate in 1-on-1 situations.
According to Synergy, Pack scored 0.99 points per pick-and-roll possession this season (53.7 eFG%). Opponents that want to switch a defensive big out on Pack risk getting burned.
Obviously, Pack still has lots of basketball left to play, although his first two seasons at Kansas State (isolated) were superb.
According to Bart Torvik’s database, only 23 high-major players (going back to the 2007-08 season) have posted career numbers of 42 3P% (300+ 3PA) and 80 FT% (100 FTA). For now, Pack hits those benchmarks, along with some of the other great shooters in recent history: Desmond Bane, Landry Shamet, Sam Hauser, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Cassius Winston and Kyle Guy.
Looking ahead to next season, there are countless ways to involve a shooter and shot-creator like Pack, but his usage may depend on the development of Miami’s other guards.
Isaiah Wong is currently in the NBA Draft process. He’s an excellent offensive player and a tough shot-maker. However, like Pack, Wong is more a combo guard, although he’s a stronger breakdown player/dribble-penetrator. Those two together would be a dynamic 1-2 punch, but the Hurricanes still need another guard, a table-setter, to help organize the offense.
The defense, meanwhile, looks like it’ll be super versatile and disruptive with the returns of Jordan Miller and Anthony Walker, plus the addition of Norchad Omier.
Norchad Omier + Jordan Miller will be an awesome defensive duo in the frontcourt for Miami. Add in Anthony Walker, impressive trio.
Omier: 2.7 blocks, 2.2 steals per 40 mins this season — 1 of 3 Division I players with 5% block, 3% steal, 30+ dunks (Tari Eason, Oscar Tshiebwe) https://t.co/olotspv2pr
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) April 26, 2022
In limited minutes this season, Bensley Joseph showed flashes on both sides of the floor. The 6-foot-1 lefty is in line for an expanded role in the 2022-23 season.
Harlond Beverly missed all but four games this season following spinal surgery. Now, the rising four-year sophomore returns to the lineup. Beverly has talent plenty of talent; his length on defense has created plenty of turnovers (2.5 percent steal rate) during his time at Miami. However, the offense (18.6 3P%) has pretty rough since his arrival at Miami (25.1 TOV%).
When Beverly’s at his best on offense, though, he’s operating as a downhill driver from a spread pick-and-roll look.
Harlond Beverly vs. NC State (at Miami) has to be the most encouraging game of his freshman season: No Lykes + McGusty, played on ball on a ton — 40 FG% out of PnR this season, but he got to the rim a lot. Long strider, fast, extend + finishing around rim (5-5 FGA rim, 6 FTA)
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) June 21, 2020
If Beverly can be a source of rim pressure on offense, and provide punch defensively at the point of attack, then he becomes a game-changer for the Hurricanes. This would allow Pack to focus on scoring and — on the other end of the floor — defend less potent offensive options.
During the 2021-22 season, Miami went all-in on its 5-out offense. The Hurricanes spaced the floor and ran their guards off these types of 5-out dribble-handoff reads.
Pack would look really good in these types of looks; however, Miami may be less apt to run these Delay sets without stretch-5 Sam Waardenburg (41.8 3P%).
Miller (29.2 3P%) offers some stretch to the frontcourt; he could be the handoff hub in the middle of the floor, which Miami went to vs. USC. This was done to keep Jabari Smith (a switch defender) out of the action and push Walker Kessler (18.8 percent block rate) away from the rim.
Certainly, there could be more of this next season. Walker (8-of-34 3PA this season) and Omier could still work as handoff partners, but they offer little-to-no stretch.
As one of the premier high-volume pick-and-roll offenses the last few years, Miami runs a lot of Horns Twist action. It’s a good set to create a switch to attack, which Wong does here, before drilling a 3 over Jericole Hellems.
Miami will also frequently use Iverson action — running a guard across two off-ball screens to start the possession — as a way for igniting empty-side pick-and-roll action.
Wong has run variations of this action countless times in a Miami uniform. Pack could also do a lot of damage from these Iverson/empty-corner sets.
In recent years, Miami hasn’t been a team that features a lot of off-ball/movement shooting sets. Again, the pick-and-roll has been the name of the game. With a shooter like Pack, though, Jim Larranaga would be wise to find more movement sets, and then play off Pack’s gravity.
One of the other things Miami will do from its Iverson action involves a back cut and then a re-screen for an open jumper. In the NCAA Tournament vs. USC: Kam McGusty comes across on the Iverson action and cuts to the rim off Miller’s screen, once Waardenburg receives the ball at the elbow. The initial cut isn’t there; as a counter, McGusty zips back up off a re-screen for Miller.
Miami would also mix in wide pindown actions for McGusty this season. This is super simple stuff, but it’s good action early in the shot clock. In an effort to diversify the offense, Pack should see a healthy volume of early-offense pindowns.
For the first time since 2016, the Hurricanes finished as a Top 20 offense, per KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings. If Miami is to repeat that next season, Pack will feature prominently into the equation.
Darin Green – Florida State
Florida State will lose program stalwarts like Anthony Polite, RayQuan Evans and Wyatt Wilkes this offseason. Currently, John Butler and Malik Osborne are testing the NBA Draft process; both could still return next season, although Butler did receive an invite to the draft combine.
It’s huge the have Matthew Cleveland and Jalen Warley back in the fold. If Butler returns, too, then Florida State has the makings of a dangerous basketball team. That high-end talent would be impossible to ignore; Warley and Butler are ready to make a jump. Butler could be the top returning NBA prospect in the league next season as well, although that depends on what Terquavion Smith decides, too. (Both guys have performed well this week at the draft combine.)
What’s the best thing to add to help amplify a team’s top-end talent? The answer is shooting, and that’s exactly what FSU acquired with Darin Green Jr.
During Green’s three seasons with Central Florida, the 6-foot-4 guard scored 949 points — 11.6 per game — including 13.3 points per contest in the 2021-22 campaign. Green’s forte is shooting from deep. In fact, nearly 65 percent of his career field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc.
Green’s a career 38.8 percent 3-point shooter (208-of-506 3PA). He hits in a variety of ways, too: spot-ups, off movement (pindowns and handoffs) and with deep range. However, when defenses closeout hard, Green has the ability to put the ball on the deck and get to a rhythm pull-up jump shot in the midrange: 41 eFG% on off-dribble jumpers this season
Here’s a little shake action from Green, who lifts up from the corner as Michigan’s pick-and-roll coverage rotates.
According to Synergy Sports, Green scored 1.37 points per possession (68.5 eFG%) on spot-up no-dribble jumpers, a Top 30 number nationally (75+ possessions). This is a wonderful activity to use around pick-and-rolls with Warley, Cleveland and Caleb Mills.
Warley runs spread pick-and-roll here vs. NC State. Similar to Michigan, NC State plays Jaylon Gibson to the level and has two on the ball; as Tanor Ngom rolls, Smith helps on the tag, Butler shakes up and Warley spays out for the triple.
(If Butler and/or Osborne return, FSU could unlock some lineups that really space the floor, including some 5-out looks.)
Within Florida State’s playbook, there are a couple sets/action that quickly come to mind for Green.
For starters, Florida State runs a lot of Ram Spain pick-and-roll. Here’s a look at that action from the 2020-21 season, with Scottie Barnes operating at point. MJ Walker goes and sets a down screen for Osborne, who runs out and then sets a ball screen for Barnes. Louisville pre-switches that action: Quinn Slazinki (No. 11) switches the down screen and then switches the ball screen. However, as MJ Walker sets the back screen for Osborne, Carlik Jones (No. 1) and Dre Davis (No. 14) miscommunicate on the coverage. Walker pops free for an open look.
For these purposes, image Green in the place of Walker. By using Green as a screener, Florida State will create clean rolls to the rim or pops for open 3-point attempts.
Leonard Hamilton and Stan Jones also run a lot of “Loop” action, which is a continuity baseline runner set. Florida State’s 4 and 5 set up along the baseline, by the two boxes. The other three perimeter players take turns cycling through and running off those staggered screens.
On the above possession, Wilkes (another good movement shooter) feels Nahiem Alleyne cheating over the top of the second screen and fades to the corner for a 3-pointer, off a pass from Polite.