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FSU Basketball Season Preview: The Returning Players

We are roughly 5 weeks away from college basketball returning, as the NCAA officially announced that college basketball can start their seasons on November 25th. This week we will start a 5-part weekly series previewing Florida State’s season and what to expect from the Seminoles’ roster. While this team is losing some huge pieces in Trent Forrest, Devin Vassell, and Patrick Williams, as well as a major depth piece in Dominik Olejniczak, there is still plenty of experience littered throughout the roster.

So with us being 5 weeks out, let’s discuss the 8 scholarship players returning from last season’s ACC Champions.

MJ Walker, Senior

Walker is the one senior on the roster that has been at Florida State all four years of his career, and his career has been a mixed bag. He came in as the most heralded recruit in FSU’s 2017 recruiting class as a borderline 5-star and a McDonald’s All-American, and played well off the bench for Leonard Hamilton, averaging 7 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.1 assists on a 37.9/34.5/75.4 shooting split in just 18 minutes per game as a freshman. His sophomore season he was elevated to the starting lineup and arguably regressed. In almost 26 minutes per game, he averaged 7.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, and 1.6 APG on a 34.0/32.8/77.8 shooting split. Last season as a junior, he finally took a  step forward averaging 10.6 PPG, 1.7 RPG, and 1.5 APG on a 37.1/36.1/80.3 shooting split.

We’ll discuss him in-depth some more next week on what he can improve on, but he had some really incredible games last season and was a focal point in the offense. His three biggest games all came when FSU needed him most. On the road at Miami, Walker hit the 3-pointer late to force overtime and finished with 19 points. On the road at Notre Dame when they were down 13 with 10 minutes to play, Leonard Hamilton went to Walker and he delivered with 8 quick points to get FSU back into the game and finished with 21. Then again on the road against Louisville, Walker went berserk with 15 points off the bench in the first half (didn’t start due to a bone bruise he had suffered games earlier) before ending with 23 points.

If Walker can become more of the player we saw in those games, FSU will have a true go-to threat. He’s already a dog in 1-on-1 defense, he just needs to improve his team defense a little more.

RayQuan Evans, Senior

Evans started last season off slowly after partially tearing his hamstring in preseason practices and it took him a while to get back into form. Once he was 100%, you could see the type of player Evans can be. Just looking at his season statistics, there is nothing to be impressed by: 3.1 PPG, 1.2 RPG, and 1.4 APG on a 45.6/41.2/72.7 shooting split. RayQuan Evans is one of those players where you turn on the tape and some stuff really stands out to you. He is a phenomenal on-ball defender, and part of that is because of his size. Standing at 6’4″ and 210 pounds (the shortest scholarship player on Florida State’s roster), very few guards are going to be able to bully him and he has the quickness to keep up with most of the smaller guards. There were moments last season where he stopped an opposing team’s possession altogether before it could get going.

He’s a tough finisher around the rim, much in the mold of what Trent Forrest could do, and hit enough outside shots to keep defenses honest for next season. Playing him alongside Forrest last season ended up being great for both players as having both of them initiate offense created unique looks that I expect to see again this season with Scottie Barnes. I expect him to be one of FSU’s top 7 guys this season and take a massive step forward like the last North Idaho College transfer the ‘Noles had in Braian Angola.

Nathanael Jack, Senior

Jack’s junior season was disappointing, to say the least. He transferred from Eastern Florida State College and was expected by the coaching staff to be one of the best 3-point shooters in the country; he just never saw the floor. Nate Jack only appeared in 13 games for a total of 74 minutes and shot 33.3% from 3 in those appearances. Part of that is he has complete lapses defensively and isn’t quite athletic enough for Hamilton’s liking. His -0.9 defensive box plus-minus was the worst of any scholarship player, and was the only scholarship player in the negatives. He doesn’t quite have the same limitless range or consistency PJ Savoy had that could keep Savoy on the floor. Savoy was a threat as soon as he stepped across halfcourt and that opened many things up for the offense.

Jack has a lot to improve on if he expects to break into the rotation this season, between consistency, knowing the offense better, playing better team defense, etc. If he can at least get become an average defender who doesn’t get beat off-ball, there’s a chance for him to play 8-12 minutes per game.

RaiQuan Gray, RS-Junior

Gray is a controversial player. He’s got a lot of talent and a skillset that teams would love to have, but doesn’t always put it to its fullest potential. A big part of it last season was confidence, and you could see it in his play. He was hesitant to drive, hesitant to shoot, hesitant to post up… it’s reflected in his statistics from last season too: 6.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 1.4 APG on a shooting split of 39.2/22.0/69.6. The analytics don’t paint him in a bright light either, giving him the lowest offensive box plus/minus of scholarship players at -0.9.

Defensively is where Gray shined. His 4.0 Defensive Box Plus/Minus is the highest among all returning players, averaged more than a steal per game, and has really quick feet for someone that’s 6’8″ and 260 pounds.

This is another player we’ll dive deeper into in a few weeks, but there is a reason for fans to be excited about Gray and his play, especially if he can start becoming more efficient on the offensive end. Just improving his 3-point percentage to 30% would do wonders for him and the offense. Him being a third initiator of offense would be dangerous in the pick and roll.

Anthony Polite, RS-Junior

Polite is another player that has caught some heat from fans, but from mid-January through the end of the season, he was fantastic, especially on the defensive side of the ball. For the season, he averaged 5.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, and another 1.2 SPG on a shooting split of 40.6/35.4/67.9 (from January 15 on, his shooting split was 42.6/38.1/50.0). His free throw shooting has to get better. He’s too good of a natural shooter to be a below-75% shooter from the stripe.

This is another player that is worth his weight in gold on the defensive side of the ball, though. Polite leads all returning players in steal percentage (3.5%), is second among returning players in defensive box plus/minus (3.7), and is tied for first for defensive win shares (1.2). He’s another really big guard, standing at 6’6″ and 215 pounds, that is light on his feet. Polite won’t be pushed around and won’t be blown past, but is also a really smart team defender.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Hamilton rolled with Polite to start over Sardaar Calhoun while Calhoun brings that punch off of the bench since Polite has that experience in the system that he loves.

Wyatt Wilkes, RS Junior

Wyatt Wilkes is known for one thing as a player, and that’s the game at home against Notre Dame last season, in which he exploded for 19 points. He only scored in 13 of the 28 games he played in last season, but three of those 13 games he scored in was 10+. There were times Hamilton relied on him a little too much, like at the end of the Virginia game in Charlottesville. When he gets hot, I understand giving him some more minutes since his shooting does open up the floor. And while his measly 0.5 assists per game may not say much, he has a great understanding of the offense on where everybody is supposed to be and more often than not makes the correct read with the ball.

Defensively, he’s not great which is a reason Wilkes doesn’t see the floor consistently. He had the lowest defensive box plus minus of anyone that got someone regular minutes at 0.7. He knows where he’s supposed to be, but sometimes just isn’t quick enough to get there. At this point, in his fourth year of this system, we’re about to see how much trust the staff has in him. The work ethic has never been the issue with him, Wilkes is usually the first guy in the gym before practices getting shots up, he just has to be more consistent.

Malik Osborne, RS-Junior

After spending a year as a redshirt after transferring in from Rice, Osborne emerged as Florida State’s biggest X-factor last season, setting the tone consistently night in and night out. Osborne’s energy was absolutely infectious on both ends of the court, screaming and yelling and fighting for position on every possession. If there was a ball on the floor, Osborne was probably down there chasing it. His stats ended up as modest production: 6.0 PPG, 4.9 RPG, and 0.5 APG on a shooting split of 46.1/36.2/59.0. Despite his really good 3-point percentage, he relies on it slightly too much; the game against Duke was an obvious example where he went 2 of 6 beyond the arc (that was also likely a gameplan adjustment, trying to get Vernon Carey away from the basket).

Defensively, there were times where he got exposed a little bit, like against Virginia and Louisville where their really quick guards would get ball screens switched onto him and make tough shots over him. Osborne is still really athletic and can hang with a lot of guards, there are just a couple where he gets beat by. And as strong as he is, he’ll get overpowered by the few true traditional bigs that are left in the ACC. He’s about as perfect of a small-ball 5 that you could ask for though. He’s athletic enough to simply be a lob threat and rim protector, but is quick enough to switch onto the perimeter and not get consistently burned.

With another year of development from Balsa Koprivica, and newcomers Tanor Ngom and Quincy Ballard, Osborne may be in line for more of a power forward role, which is what he transferred to Florida State to do.

Balsa Koprivica, Sophomore

Of all the players that needed the summer to develop and work on their craft, Koprivica is probably the one that needed it the most. He missed some time with a back injury, wasn’t able to stay on the floor due to his lack of physicality, and needed the summer to work on defensive rotations (which Florida State spends a LOT of time on during the summer). He only averaged 10 minutes per game last season, partially due to his lack of awareness defensively.

Despite this, Koprivica’s potential was on display throughout last season, especially offensively. He’s arguably the most naturally talented offensive big Florida State has had under Leonard Hamilton, except for Mfiondu Kabengele. Once he gets stronger and knows how to use his size without fouling (5.9 fouls per 40 minutes, most of scholarship players), he’s going to be a fascinating player to watch. He runs the floor well, has incredibly strong hands, and has an array of moves he can use around the rim. Luckily, he has the best big man developer in the country in Associate Head Coach Stan Jones.

Next week, we will cover the fresh faces for this team, and who we can expect to make an instant impact from that group.


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