The funniest part of this offseason hasn’t been, for me, the mass exodus of players from the program at all. Rather, it’s been the fact that, despite all this turnover, Maryland’s starting rotation will only have two new players in it from last year: Melo Trimble and a center to be named. In a lot of ways, that is what most teams go through every offseason; the Terps lost two players from the starting rotation (Len and Pe’Shon Howard) last year, too. It felt more pronounced at Maryland, but it wasn’t really as substantial as one might think when you lose that many players.
Since Melo Trimble is essentially penciled in at the point guard, the Terps really only have one spot up for grabs: the center spot. Maryland got lucky for a few seasons when they had Jordan Williams then Alex Len manning the post. Last year, the Terps found out how tough it would be without very talented bigs roaming the floor. Improper defensive rebounding, poor free throw shooting, and no post outlets made the load on the guards cumbersome. This year, the Terps have a lot of weapons to choose from.
Damonte Dodd is in year two, and Maryland added in two seven-footers in Trayvon Reed and Michan Cekovsky. While all underclassmen, Maryland is hoping that these players combined will offer the program some sort of continuity or promise at the five moving forward. But the question is will this young committee be capable of doing that.
Folks might point to Jonathan Graham as a solution at the five, but if you have to start Jonathan Graham at the five, you’re doing something wrong. Graham is great in spurts to provide energy, but insanely unreliable because of his foul rate and complete lack of productivity offensively. Decent defensive player at the power forward spot, but undersized at the center and a lackluster passer.
That really only leaves Cekovsky, Dodd, and Reed to bolster the frontcourt. If you had to guess who would start, you’d probably have a more accurate guess if you assumed Dodd. Unfortunately, Dodd is as raw (and you could easily argue that he is far more raw) as Cleare was at the same age, and we saw how that went. As far as upgrades, if Dodd starts from day one he might be a downgrade from Cleare in most departments. Especially offensively.
Dodd’s game is reliant upon putback dunks and alley-oops at this point as he doesn’t have a single reliable post move under his belt yet. He’s also an atrocious free throw shooter, hitting only 2 of his 16 attempts last season. In that regard, he’s a serious liability; send Dodd to the line whenever you can down the court and count it as a missed possession for the Terps. He is also not really a post passing option because he can’t get positioning down low most of the time, and teams don’t need to commit a secondary defender to stop him.
Quantifying defensive stats is hard, but Dodd was lost a lot of the time on the defensive end. He was not strong enough to properly box out, and his teammates could be found continually tutoring him on positioning between whistles. Dodd’s defensive rebounding, which involves accurately predicting angles, was mediocre. His only relatively decent point was rim protection; his length gave him an advantage against most players, and he was able to swat shots away at a decent rate.
But that aggressive shot-swatting mentality comes at a cost, because Dodd has a very block per foul rate of .333. For reference, someone like Joel Embiid sits at .766 and 73rd nationally; Isaiah Austin of Baylor is a top five player at 1.283. You get the picture, though. Dodd will only be a real factor when he is blocking shots, but there’s a good chance Dodd will always get into foul trouble on the court.
Maryland’s other two options are Cekovsky and Reed at the center position. While Reed is a true center, Cekovsky is a bit of a hybrid power forward-center; I don’t really see him playing a ton at the five unless absolutely needed or in special matchup situations. Call me crazy, but there’s a chance Trayvon Reed could take the center position away from Damonte Dodd very quickly upon his arrival on campus.
Reed’s body right now is nowhere near where it needs to be to become a dominant first year player, we can get that out of the way right now. But having a true 7-footer on the floor is just game changing. You don’t have to have to softest hands around because at that height, the game is a little easier. Not many folks can contest your shots, and dropping the ball in the rim is pretty easy. If we’re comparing Reed to Len as freshmen, they’re pretty similar players, and Len was able to average 5 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks in conference play.
But rather than try to replace Len, let’s replace the incumbent: Reed will be an upgrade over Cleare in nearly every way, starting with his shot blocking. Cleare was worse than the guards on the team at rim protection (literally, he had fewer blocks), which ultimately damned Maryland numerous times against teams with more size. They got eaten alive down low, and Reed should prevent that immediately. He’s a natural shot blocker, and has proven he can send back shots against even high level competition. Life with a 7-footer in the paint is not the same as a 6’9 hulk.
Reed also has another quality about him that is tougher to put your finger on, but you get the feeling that foul trouble won’t be an issue for him. Reed isn’t as in-your-face aggressive as Dodd is on the floor, and while you could take that as a sign that he isn’t aggressive, it doesn’t feel that way. Reed loves to block shots, but won’t come skying from out of nowhere recklessly to do so; he’ll just be in the right spot. That’s important for Maryland because he needs to be kept on the court for long periods of time to maximize his impact on a game.
That’s ultimately what it will come down to for Reed. How long can Reed’s shot blocking ability stay on the court for. If he can give Maryland 20 quality minutes of play a game, then the Terps will be in great shape. If he is forced to foul opposing bigs because of how easily they should be able to body him down low, then this whole experiment won’t work right away.
Of course, Cekovksy is the new factor in all this. Not a ton is known about the guy except that he’s a big man who can shoot. Judging from the pair of game tapes I watched of him, he’s a power forward and definitively a high post player. When Maryland faces teams that employ a zone, Cekovsky will be a huge boon as the high post big. He will also be able to provide a lot when Smotrycz A.) leaves the game due to foul trouble and B.) needs less of a workload (as you may recall, his back had problems at the end of last season). But as a center prospect?
He isn’t one. Cekovsky could make the Terps dangerous when Reed and himself are out there because very few teams can trot out that kind of talent and size a lot. Still, using him as a center probably won’t go well right away. Cekovksy is bigger than Reed, but he doesn’t seem like a natural defensive center, which is what Maryland wants.
The committee may work, sure, but it’s going to ask a lot of players to step up their games in a big way. Dodd is going to need to become a better player in just about every aspect of his game, and Reed is going to need to punch above his weight class a lot earlier than expected.