As the Deacs head into their ACC opener against N.C. State (beat Elon by 3, wtf?) on Sunday, we thought it was a good time for a quick evaluation of each Wake Forest player thus far. The categories are divided by the players' performances in comparison with my personal expectations for them going into the season and not necessarily their overall performance or relative importance to the team. As always, feel free to post your observations below the story...
Performing above expectations:
C.J. Harris: Honestly, I did not expect Harris to play a whole lot this season. However, he is making a lot of people look stupid and is one of the top freshmen in the conference. C.J. has worked his way into the starting lineup and is tied with Ish for second on the team in scoring, averaging 12.4 points per game. The most surprising stat is his ability to knock down the trifecta (thanks, Musberger) at an astounding 52% clip. He is also shooting 79% from the line, which will be huge factor in holding leads at the end of games. Thank goodness Dino finally decided to offer this hometown prospect a scholarship after much consideration. Seeing him do this at Clemson would have made me sick.
Performing as expected:
Ish Smith: Mr. Smith has played well as I expected he would (anyone that knows me knows that I am the biggest Ish fan in the world). He is getting into the lane at will and making ridiculous shots while being the unquestioned leader on the floor for the Deacs. He also has a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, which is very important for Smith if he is going to lead the Deacs into March. The fact that he has reverted to his old free throw habits is troubling, but with Harris and L.D. Williams looking good from the stripe that can be covered up at the end of games. One of my favorite things about watching Wake games is the camera showing the opposing crowd after their team scores a basket and knowing that Ish has already scored a layup before the cameras can make it back onto the game.
Al-Farouq Aminu: At the beginning of the season it looked as if Aminu was going to be the ACC POY. However, he struggled in the big games and seemed to be forcing the issue a little. Nevertheless, Farouq is averaging 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, so it is tough to be too disappointed. He is superb around the basket and on the boards, which leads to solid numbers even on nights when you think he struggled. He needs to find Smith or Harris a little quicker on the break to reduce the amount of turnovers that he commits by dribbling when smaller, quicker guards are around. Aminu is obviously the star for Wake Forest, but knowing that he does not need to do it all for the Deacs to be successful is important. He is very, very good when he lets the game come to him and does not force it.
L.D. Williams: Williams has the heart of a lion and loves playing basketball for Wake. As expected, he continues to be one of the top defensive players in the league and is a great asset to have against any opposing team's star guard. As we also expected, L.D. is not a great offensive player (other than against UNCW, which was nice to see). He is shooting 7% from the 3-point line this season, which is obviously not ideal. However, in the last couple games he has realized that he can be effective with the mid-range game and in the paint while shying away from taking 3's. Hopefully he can continue to convert opportunities in these areas during ACC play. It also must be mentioned that L.D. is shooting 88% from the FT line, which is astounding considering his first three years as a Deac.
Ari Stewart: Coming into the season I thought Stewart could average ten points per game and start for Wake this year. He currently sits at a nine point average, but is not playing as many minutes as I expected. Stewart's shooting is very smooth, as he is 46% from three-point range and 50% overall. On the other hand, his defense is a work in progress and he does not handle the ball well enough to create much for himself. If Coach Gaudio and Smith/Harris can get him some catch-and-shoot opportunities off screens, it would serve Wake well in my opinion. Stewart's production off the bench will be key for the Deacs, especially when teams try to play a zone against them. The bottom line is that Wake fans have a lot to look forward to in Stewart over the next few years.
David Weaver: We know what we get with Weaver. A big guy that can play effective defense on the opposing bigs, but is foul prone and not a particularly productive rebounder. It is always fun to see the occasional huge Weaver slam. With all the good post players in the ACC, Weaver will have a lot on his defensive plate this season.
Performing below expectations:
Chas McFarland: I thought Chas would be the second leading scorer for Wake this season, but he is only logging 5.8 points per game thus far. This is due to both a lack of touches and a lack of production once he gets touches. I feel that Coach Gaudio should try to get McFarland most of the touches that Woods currently gets, as McFarland is often positioned in the high post when they are in the game together. Chas has, by far, the best post moves and shooting touch of the Wake towers. I fully expect him to be a bigger factor in ACC play, provided that he can stay out of foul trouble. He has done a very nice job of keeping his composure in some tough situations this season.
Tony Woods: Woods started the season in the starting lineup, but has not produced on the offensive end. He is still having problems with his footwork on the block, as he often travels or gets it stripped by those coming for the double team. Tony is a factor on the defensive end and, like Weaver, will have plenty of big responsibilities when Lawal, Favors, Booker, Davis, Alabi, etc. come to town. By his body language, it seems that he is having some confidence issues that may be difficult to put behind him once conference play starts.
Gary Clark: G$ has missed all but three games with mono. He was a nice spark in the Gonzaga game and looked great against Elon, but this is not enough to get a good feel for what he can accomplish in his junior season. He will definitely have the opportunity to log significant minutes in the next few games.
Ty Walker: Ty looked solid in his minutes against Elon, but has not worked his way into the rotation this season. Hopefully he keeps working hard and will be ready to team with Woods and become a significant factor in the ACC next season.
Konner Tucker: We hardly knew ye