As the start of basketball season looms ever closer, Post-Jimmer will be running a three-part series examining this year's team, position-by-position. Up first: the point guards tasked with filling Jimmer's legendary shoes.
There's no doubt about it — Brock Zylstra had himself a nice summer.
After sitting the bench and grabbing garbage minutes during his first two years in Provo, he took advantage of the super-vacuum created by Jimmer Fredette's graduation and played a big role on the team's trip to Greece in August. Zylstra's play obviously struck a chord with coach Dave Rose, who subsequently named him as a team captain and essentially gave him the keys to the car as BYU's new starting point guard.
Good for Brock, but before we hand him the Matt Saracen Memorial Award for Perseverance, there's still one problem with all this — Brock Zylstra is not a point guard.
Nothing confirmed this more than the Cougars' exhibition games against Midwestern State and Dixie State. Zylstra often looked uncomfortable while running the offense, like a square peg being jammed into a round hole (which is essentially what is happening here). Jimmer's departure has left BYU with a gaping hole at the point, and Rose is simply trying to fill it the best he can on the fly. Zylstra is his latest attempt at an answer — and while Brock was not particularly awful in the exhibition match-ups, his execution left much to be desired. He lacks the ball handling skills and quickness to consistently get into the lane and draw the defense away from his teammates to set up open looks. He does not seem to possess the ability to create that is essential to the position.
Now, none of this is to say that Brock Zylstra is a bad player. Quite the contrary. As I noted, Brock has shown great improvement since last season. I have been very impressed with his ability to shoot the 3 consistently, something this team sorely needs in a post-Jimmer world. At 6'6", he has great size and length for a guard. He deserves to see a lot of time this year — at his natural position of shooting guard. As much as I like where Zylstra's game is right now, I'm absolutely convinced that neither he nor the team are best served with him at point guard, and he should be used in that role as sparingly as possible.
What that really means is that Zylstra should only play the point until December — or in other words, until Matt Carlino becomes eligible. Granted, I have only seen the UCLA transfer play once (in the team's intra-squad scrimmage) and that's probably not a sufficient sample size for one to begin guzzling the Kool-Aid, but here I am nonetheless.
Put me down for five cases of the Soarin' Strawberry Lemonade.
I was significantly impressed with Carlino's first outing with the Cougars, despite the informal nature of the event. Unlike Zylstra, who is quite obviously being asked to learn the most complex position in basketball as he goes along, Carlino plays like a point guard. He has that "feel" for the game — when to attack the paint, when to kick the ball out to the open perimeter shooter, how to run a team, etc. He just exudes "point guard-ness," if I can somehow be even more vague. Throw in the fact that he rebounds exceptionally well for his size (he pulled down 9 boards in the scrimmage, second only to Noah Hartsock's 13) and his previously demonstrated outside shooting capabilities, and you've got the makings of a mighty fine point guard.
To be sure, Carlino isn't going to solve world hunger (or even make BYU an elite team) when he finally becomes eligible at the completion of fall semester. He is, after all, still only a freshman — there will inevitably be some growing pains. But you're probably looking at the Cougars' starting point guard for the foreseeable future, and I'd much rather see him get that learning curve out of the way sooner rather than later. He should start and get substantial minutes from Day One.
In terms of back-up duty (assuming that, post-December, Carlino starts at the point and Zylstra slides over to shooting guard), I'm adopting an Anyone But Nick Martineau approach. Now before anyone tries to defend Martineau's honor, let me qualify that statement: I don't think he's a bad person or anything like that. OK, maybe I kind of do — I'm still not entirely over some of the obscenely stupid things he said to that insufferable idiot Rick Reilly during last year's tourney run.
But even putting all that off-the-court stuff aside, Nick Martineau is just not very good at basketball. As far as I'm concerned, I've seen very little improvement from him in his previous two seasons at BYU. He seems to be exactly as ineffective today as he was the first day he set foot on campus. So if somebody wants to say I have an irrational grudge against Martineau, then that may be a fair assessment. However, let the record show that said grudge was originally inspired by his inability to play basketball far before he decided to run his mouth to the most overpaid writer in the history of mankind. This is (almost) strictly business.
So where else do we turn outside of Martineau, you ask? There are a couple options. Freshman Anson Winder and walk-on Craig Cusick have both proven to be perfectly adequate players in limited action thus far. I would personally push for Winder — even though he is probably a better fit as a smaller 2-guard, he handles the ball and creates well enough to serve as a passable back-up. Cusick is probably a more natural fit for the point, but he still needs to show more aggressiveness when he gets his chances on the floor.
Any way you slice it, whoever ends up as the back-up — whether it be Martineau, Cusick, Winder or someone else — will probably see very limited action behind Zylstra and (subsequently) Carlino. And that's probably preferable. This team has a decent temporary stopgap and an excellent long-term solution at the point, and, all things considered, that's a pretty good place for Coach Rose and the Cougars to be right now.
Does it replace Jimmer Fredette? Of course not. But then again, who could?
UP NEXT: Season Preview, Part 2: Wings
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