La Salle guard Isaiah Deas dribbles past Temple guard Quinton Rose.
(La Salle Athletics)
Prior to La Salle’s most recent win over Mercer, it was becoming apparent that the Explorers needed a consistent scorer beyond B.J. Johnson and Pookie Powell. Now, with Johnson’s ankle injury, finding the team’s next scoring threat should be one of the top priorities.
The duo of Johnson and Powell is currently combining to average 31.6 field goal attempts and 37.9 points per game, which is 53% of the Explorer’s shots and 54% of their points. If both of them are having a good night, Johnson and Powell can take over games offensively, and propel the Explorers to quality wins. But, if either of the duo is having an off night, the Explorers struggle to generate enough offense to keep pace with their opponents.
If La Salle can develop one of their many role players into a reliable offensive catalyst during these possibly handful of games that Johnson is out, they could see the entire offense open up with Johnson’s return. We’ll take a look at the four players in La Salle’s rotation who are averaging at least 18 minutes per game, and suggest their chances to become La Salle’s clear third scoring option.
Sophomore Saul Phiri is the new face in La Salle’s starting lineup this year. On the season, he is averaging 29.3 minutes played and 5 points per game on 34.5% shooting from the field and 26% from three, to go along with a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line.
Phiri’s two best offensive performances this season are his 12 points in a loss to Penn and 14 points in a win over South Alabama. Phiri mostly looks to play within the offensive system and dons a supporting cast role with 4.8 field goal attempts and .9 free throws per game. For Saul Phiri to create more offense this season, La Salle would have to adjust their strategy and design more sets to get him open looks and put him in a position to score.
They can do this during Johnson’s absence, as his volume of shooting will need to be replaced. But, given Phiri’s current shooting numbers, and the fact that more shots and set plays for Phiri would take shots away from Johnson when he does return, Phiri is the least likely of the players mentioned to become the Explorer’s third scorer.
With Johnson out, Tony Washington becomes the teams top interior scoring threat. Washington has efficiently scored on 55% of his 4.3 shots per game this season. His best offensive game this season came in a win against Temple, when he scored 12 points on 60% shooting.
When La Salle is facing a scoring drought, if a play is not called for either Johnson or Powell, it is not uncommon for La Salle to post Washington up and let him go to work down low. Washington is good at getting low block position in his post ups, and has a nice little hook shot in his post-move repertoire. Even if Washington is not getting touches in the flow of the offense, he can still affect the game with offensive rebounds and putbacks. Washington has managed 1.9 offensive rebounds per game, and while that is a solid margin, they’ll need him to attack the offensive boards more as a legitimate third scoring option.
If he is able to further develop this part of his game over the season, Washington’s scoring numbers will improve as well, without the Explorers needing to shake up the offensive game plan too much by calling set plays for him.
Another player that could grow into a consistent offensive engine is the team's primary point guard Amar Stukes, The fifth-year senior has seen consistent playing time throughout his entire Explorers’ career. This season, he is playing a career-high 36.5 minutes per game, averaging 6.3 shots per game, and 1.8 free throws.
Stukes is a quality ball handler and his career 1.93/1 career assist/turnover ratio shows that he is not sloppy or careless with possessions. Stukes’ game is limited by his perimeter shooting (29% in career from three), so most of the offense that Stukes generates happens when he is the primary playmaker.
The Explorers have found creative ways to get Stukes involved. One of them is in the high post, where he takes advantage of his 6-foot-3 size to make plays against shorter point guard counterparts. For Amar Stukes to become the Explorers’ clear third option, he will need to lead them by becoming more aggressive in attacking defenses off the dribble, especially in transition. A more aggressive dribble penetrating Stukes would draw more fouls and utilize his most effective offensive weapon: 84% free throw shooting over the past two seasons.
After Johnson and Powell, the next most aggressive Explorer in terms of scoring is Isaiah (Shaggy) Deas, who is averaging 8.1 points, 6.8 field goal attempts, and 1.8 free throws per game.
Deas has blended in well as a wing floor spacer, 54% of his shots are from behind the three point arc. The biggest hindrance to Deas’ chances of becoming the clear third offensive option for La Salle is just getting on the floor. Deas’ role on the team is the first player off of the bench, with an average of 19.3 minutes played per game. Even with his minutes per game being a bit less than the rest of La Salle’s rotation, Deas’ 16.7 points scored per 40 minutes shows that despite never being relied on as a primary playmaker, Shaggy is aggressive and gets to the bucket when he is on the court.
The recipe for Deas to become a consistent offensive contributor is simple, he has to make his shots. Shaggy is not afraid to shoot, and his nose for scoring will be needed by the Explorers in years to come.
Deas has garnered quality looks by just playing within the offense and finding his spots. Deas’ three point shooting has improved throughout the season, to the point where he has made 36% of his three point attempts. If Dr. Giannini continues to give Deas a longer leash to shoot and be aggressive off the bench, and Deas can continue to be a threat from the perimeter, defenses will be forced to close out harder on him, giving him more opportunities to penetrate defenses with dribble drives and mid range pull-ups.
Of all the players mentioned in this article, Shaggy Deas has the best chance of developing into the Explorer’s third scoring option and will be relied upon to create an important portion of the team’s offense as the season continues.
La Salle’s next test comes Friday, December 22nd as the Explorers will tip off against the Patriot League’s Bucknell. As non-conference schedules are concluding and A-10 play begins, it will be interesting to see who steps up in Johnson’s place and helps Powell carry the Explorers’ scoring load. Even if Johnson does return, the Explorers’ need one more piece to give them that extra scoring punch come conference play. This is the difference between a .500 La Salle team and an above .500 La Salle team.
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament