La Salle guard Johnnie Shuler dribbles up the court against Mercer.
(La Salle Athletics)
The Empire will be running a series titled “Q and A,” where writers will provide in-depth answers to a couple of burning and/or interesting questions surrounding a specific City 6 team.
What is Johnnie Shuler's role on the team down the stretch?
Two seasons ago, Shuler’s sophomore year, he averaged 35.6 minutes per game, demonstrating an ability to create his own shot that many expected could translate into a 6th man, spark-plug off the bench type role for the team. But Shuler has never really made the impact that some may have foreseen.
This season, Shuler is averaging 2.2 points, 1.1 assists, and 12 minutes per game in all 14 of La Salle’s contest. Dr. Giannini turns to Shuler for short spurts to spell Pookie Powell. In the past three games, Shuler has seen his minutes increase, with 22 against Mercer, 18 against Bucknell and 18 again in their most recent match against Saint Louis.
Still, however, when Shuler does play, he hasn’t been aggressive shooting the ball, with just 6.4 shots per 40 minutes, leading only Miles Brookins on the team in this statistic. When Shuler does decide to shoot, 70% of the time it is from behind the three point arc. Hopefully for him, the law of averages kick in, and his 32% three-point shooting effectiveness climbs back somewhere towards the 40% he put up last season.
Shuler’s best way to help the Explorers is to be an efficient distributor and feisty guard rebounder, something they’ll need with the small-ball lineup. His 16.7 assist percentage follows only Pookie Powell on the team, and his 6.3 total rebounding percentage leads all Explorers who stand 6-foot-3 or shorter. Although it is not the most important attribute for a guard, getting the extra possessions from rebounds really matters in the big picture of a game. It would not be a surprise to see the momentum of a tough conference match swayed in the Explorers’ direction, thanks to Johnnie Shuler jumping “into the trees” of big men and pulling down a tough rebound.
Which player has exceeded preseason expectations?
In my La Salle season preview, I had B.J. Johnson averaging 17 points per game, 6 rebounds on 45% shooting. So far this season, Johnson has shown that I, along with many others, underestimated just how good Johnson could be as the clear number one scoring option. He boasts a stat line of 21.8 points and 9.1 rebounds on 43% shooting.
With much of opponents’ defensive attention directed on him, Johnson has made a big adjustment to where his shots are coming from. He is shooting 3-point shots at a fewer rate this season then he has his entire career, with just 31% of his total shots coming from behind the arc. Last season, 47% of Johnson’s shots came from 3, and during his two seasons at Syracuse, the number was 56%. His best game this season was against South Alabama where he scored 30 points on 58% shooting and 11 rebounds.
Johnson has looked very comfortable in his role as the team’s alpha dog. If he can return to form from his injury, Johnson’s excellent season should put him atop the list for City 6 Player of the Year and perhaps even the Atlantic 10’s Player of the Year as well.
How are the freshmen developing?
Head coach Dr. John Giannini has a history of not allocating a lot of minutes to freshman in his rotations, playing them only if necessary. This year, injuries and the makeup of the roster has required four freshmen to be used by the Explorers for at least 15 minutes all season. Additionally, all six freshmen have seen more run recently, playing 62 minutes combined in the last three games.
Miles Brookins’ 143 minutes played this season leads La Salle’s freshman class. He is averaging 3.7 points and 1.6 rebounds in 11.9 minutes per game, nailing 63% of his field goal attempts. Brookins length and energy make him impactful in the short bursts that he plays, and his 142.7 offensive rating leads all Explorers. He will likely step right into the starting center spot come senior Tony Washington’s departure, and if Brookins continues his development path, he will be an important player in the program’s future.
The next leading freshman minute earner for the Explorers is Jamir Moultrie, the 6-foot-1 guard from D.C. Moultrie has played in six games this season, totaling 23 minutes. While his on-court sample size is still small thus far, Moultrie has shown a proclivity to shoot in volume when given the chance, putting up the ball 1.7 times in 3.8 minutes averaged per game.
Moultrie's aggressive shot seeking has him leading all Explorers in a number of advanced offensive statistics. Although the statistics may be a little inflated due to his lower amount of minutes, they are important to consider, allowing Explorer fans to get a sense of what Moultrie could bring to the table. He sits first in points per 40 minutes (24.3), player efficiency rating (27.9), and offensive box plus/minus (10.6). His 133.2 offensive rating is also second on the team. Moultrie is currently buried on La Salle’s depth chart, but with Amar Stukes and Johnnie Shuler’s time with the program ending after this season, Moultrie should be on track to be an every game player for the Explorers next season.
Redshirt freshman Cian Sullivan has seen a recent uptick in his in-game action, tallying 8 minutes against Bucknell in a game that Brookins missed. On the season, the 7-foot-2 Irishman has played 22 minutes in six games while also earning a pair of starts. Sullivan’s length has been apparent in his stints on the court, as his 6.8 defensive box plus/minus, 19.2 block percentage, and 91.6 defensive rating lead the team. Sullivan’s 4 blocked shots has him tied for second on the team with Isiah Deas and Saul Phiri. As promising as Sullivan’s defense could look, his offensive skills will definitely need to improve. In his last game against Bucknell, he notched 0 points on 3 shots in 8 minutes of play. Among all Explorers who have played at least 15 minutes this season, Sullivan’s 51.1 offensive rating and -13.5 offensive box plus/minus are both the lowest on the team.
After Sullivan, the next freshman minute earner is Dajour Joseph. Joseph has played 15 minutes in five games this year. Joseph, like Moultrie, has been aggressive with his shot attempts when Dr. Giannini unleashes him. Joseph’s 7 field goal attempts make him the second most aggressive Explorer in terms of shooting rate, with 18.7 field goal attempts per 40 minutes, trailing only B.J. Johnson’s 19.4 field goal attempts. As a freshman and already having a 6-foot-6, 207-pound frame, it is easy to envision how Joseph would fit as a small-ball ‘4’ in the Explorers’ rotation for years to come.
How is the rest of the A-10 stacking up?
As teams begin conference play, the Atlantic 10 has a clear favorite, the Rhode Island Rams. The Rams are 9-3 on the year, led by senior guard Jared Terrell (17.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 2.9 apg). Rhode Island has a couple decent wins on their non-conference resume, defeating #21 Seton Hall 75-74 and a 10-5 Providence team 75-68. They also defeated George Mason in their only conference game so far. The Explorers play at Rhode Island on January 3rd and will battle in Philly on February 20th.
Another team that is expecting to make a run in the A10 conference is St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies are 11-2 on the season, with impressive wins against Maryland and Syracuse, while notching a win against Dayton in their first conference game. The Bonnies are led by senior guard Jaylen Adams, who is averaging 20.1 points, followed by another senior guard, Matt Mobley, who notches 18.3 points per contest. St. Bonaventure is currently shooting 39.8% on their 3-point shots, which is 32nd in the nation.
St. Joseph’s, VCU, and Dayton made up a third tier of teams in the Atlantic 10 conference preseason poll. While St. Joe’s is 5-7 (0-1 in conference) on the year, VCU is 9-5 (1-0) and Dayton is 6-7 (0-1).
The next teams from the preseason poll are Davidson, St. Louis, Richmond, and La Salle. The Davidson Wildcats are 5-7 (0-1) this season, St. Louis is 7-7 (0-1), and Richmond is 3-10 (1-0).
The final five teams, whom the A10’s preseason poll expected at the bottom of the conference standings by season’s end are George Mason (6-8, 0-1), George Washington (8-6, 1-0), Massachusetts (7-7, 0-1), Fordham (5-8, 0-1), and Duquesne (10-4. 1-0).
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament