Can Virginia expect more on offense from the bruising Jack Salt next season?

Virginia targeted some big men in the offseason transfer market; some of those players may have been able to contribute right away as graduates. None of them, however, wound up in Charlottesville.

Unless something unexpected happens late in the game, it looks like the Cavaliers are going with the roster it has for 2017-18, which means it will be interesting to see how the Virginia post players continue to develop. That, of course, means looking at the always fascinating Jack Salt.

[Note: Former William & Mary forward Jack Whitman transferred to Kansas, then left the team before the Jayhawks’ upcoming trip to Italy. Whitman, who also considered North Carolina, seems like a good fit for UVA in some ways, but there’s no known indication of mutual interest at this point.]

Salt started 43 games the past two seasons. Let’s say that again. He started 43 games as a freshman and sophomore for NCAA Tournament teams. It’s tough to think of a less talked about returning player with those credentials.

Part of that is because even when he’s started, he hasn’t always played a lot — averaging 13.7 minutes per game for his career. When foul trouble or matchups dictate, Virginia coach Tony Bennett has little trouble with starting Salt, but quickly sending him to the bench.

But beyond that, Salt’s biggest contributions so far are things that don’t show up on stat sheets. He’s a fantastic screener and even though he lacks a lot of offensive skills, UVA’s offense actually runs smoother when he’s on the floor. No coincidence the Cavs went 9-2 last year when Salt played 20 or more minutes.

Defensively, he gets called for a lot of fouls. But considering that Virginia’s other post players are either a little short (Isaiah Wilkins) or thin (Mamade Diakite, Jay Huff), having a 6-11, 250-pound bruiser fills a need.


Looking ahead

What will be interesting to see is if he develops ability to contribute in more ways. Salt skipped an opportunity to play with the Tall Blacks, the national team in his native New Zealand, in the Asia Cup this summer. Instead he’s been in Charlottesville working with the Cavs.

And consider this: Even though Salt averaged only 3.7 points and 4.1 rebounds last season, his scoring more than doubled and his rebounding nearly tripled from his freshman year.  Anything close to the same rate of improvement would mean very solid numbers for the big Kiwi.

It’s too soon to predict Jack Salt will turn into a double-double machine as a redshirt junior, but it’s quite possible he will soon be recognized for more than his size and cool name.


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