By Benjamin Boswell
As a long season for La Salle basketball fans winds down, one player that deserves credit for improving his play over the season is redshirt sophomore guard Amar Stukes.
Stukes is a homegrown talent who attended La Salle College High School in Philadelphia. Despite his success there, he was a two-star recruit with good size (6-2), solid defensive abilities and an overall raw offensive game coming in La Salle. During Stukes’ redshirt freshman season, he averaged 5.3 points, 1.3 assists, and 1.4 rebounds, while shooting 44% from the field in 22 minutes per game.
When this season began, Explorer fans knew Stukes needed to play up to his potential consistently as he stepped into an improved role as a full-time starter. The season did not start off very well for Stukes as he shot just 6-36 from the field and 0-8 on 3-pointers through the first four games of the season.
Considering how short La Salle’s bench is, Stukes’ minutes fluctuated heavily over the season. He has played at least 34 minutes in fourteen games this season and five games where he played all 40 minutes, but he has also played fewer than 23 minutes in eight games. When La Salle’s bench was at its deepest, having all nine of their available scholarship players healthy to play for three consecutive non-conference games against Drexel, Miami and Villanova, Stukes was the player whose minutes declined the most, averaging only 19.7 minutes per game for that three-game stretch. Then as the injury bug re-plagued the Explorers’ frontcourt, Stukes’ minutes inclined, playing all 40 minutes in consecutive games against FGCU and UMass. Part of the reason for his inconsistent minutes could be due to some foul trouble he has gotten into as he has at least four fouls in 10 games. But in the back-to-back games against Drexel and Villanova, Stukes came off the bench for both contests and compiled only three personal fouls in 41 total minutes.
Although La Salle’s bench is paper thin and the team as a whole has struggled in nearly every facet of the game this season, a big concern regarding Stukes’s play has been the fact that he has not improved his stats by much since his freshman season. Despite playing 7.4 more minutes per game this season than he did last season, Stukes’s scoring only improved from 5.3 to 5.6 points per game, his assists from 1.3 to 2.9 and rebounds from 1.4 to 1.9 per game. In a largely expanded role, Stukes was expected to play more aggressively this season and get to the rim to create offense, but as the season drug along for La Salle, Stukes really had not been doing any of this and often appeared to be a non-factor offensively for the Explorers.
Many of Stukes’s struggles this season have to due with his offensive skill set not fitting well with what coach Giannini has him doing in the offense. If Amar Stukes is going to be a starting point guard, his ideal role is initiating the offensive action by either coming off a high pick or on a dribble drive, then dishing it to a big down low, or to a shooter on the wing. What you don't want to rely on Stukes to do is find shots on the perimeter, which is what the offense this season has had him do. 3-point shooting is the weakest part of Stukes game, so hiding him in the corner of a 1-4 or 1-2-2 set does not do his skill set any justice.
Despite his inconsistent minutes and struggles for the beginning and middle part of the season, Stukes has steadily improved his play to the point where he has strung together some nice games during the month of February. Stukes best two games came in a 17-point, 5-rebound effort against VCU and a 12-point, 6-assist, 6-rebound game in La Salle’s most recent win against George Mason. Stukes has averaged 9 points, 3.1 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 30 minutes per game over the past month, an improvement over his season averages.
Stukes’ long-term future as a major contributor for La Salle is cloudy at this point. Stukes will be competing for point guard minutes with both Johnnie Shuler and Pookie Powell next season. For Stukes to make an argument for playing time in a much deeper backcourt, he will have to let his play this season do the talking.
Photo: (AP Photo/Zach Gibson)The Associated Press
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament