New Panther’s head coach, Kevin Stallings, has some decisions to make about who will replace James Robinson and Rafael Maia in the starting lineup for next season. However, the more important change in the starting rotation should be at the shooting guard position.
Before last season Jamie Dixon made the surprising decision to insert Coppin State grad transfer, Sterling Smith, into the starting lineup at the shooting guard spot. The idea was for Smith to space the floor with his shooting, giving more room for Jamel Artis and Michael Young to operate. He managed to hold onto his starting spot for the first 24 games on the season before being replaced by Chris Jones.
Jones would start in nine of the final 10 games of the season, including the NCAA Tournament loss to Wisconsin. The only game he did not start was in the ACC Tournament versus North Carolina, when Cameron Johnson took his place.
During Smith’s time as the starter Pitt went 17-6 overall, compared to Jones’ record of 4-6. Of course the majority of Smith’s wins came at the beginning of the season, when the competition was less than stellar.
It may seem obvious that Smith’s graduation would mean Jones is the clear-cut favorite to continue starting, but that should not be the case.
Cameron Johnson deserves a real shot at taking over the shooting guard spot.
Johnson only has one career start in his college career and in that game against UNC he shot a poor 2-10 from the field. However, in the previous game versus Syracuse he showed his true potential scoring 24 points with four three pointers.
Admittedly Johnson still has plenty he has to work on this offseason, needing to add muscle, better ball handling, and stronger defense. But all of those things he can accomplish all while providing immensely more upside than Jones.
Last season Jones was a dismal 28.8 percent from three, and never showed any reliable scoring ability. Johnson was 37.5 percent from three, while playing eight less minutes a game and in an offense that did not set up open looks for him. The only real advantage Jones has over Johnson is his defensive ability.
Offense is more of a need than defense for Pitt.
The Panthers were ousted from the NCAA Tournament after managing to score just 43 points in a four-point loss. They need more options on offense; it is that plain and simple. Pitt lacked playmakers, but next season could be different with Johnson in the starting rotation.
Johnson is a lengthy 6’7 with impeccable range, both of which would be a nightmare for opposing teams. As well, he was only a redshirt freshman last season, so he could control the shooting guard spot for the next three years. While Jones is entering his senior year, and has yet to prove he will develop.
If Stallings wants to take this program in a new direction, adding Johnson to the starting lineup is the first step.