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UVA basketball mailbag: Reece Beekman NBA draft stock, best lineups, players as Thanksgiving sides, and more

On this day of gratitude, we give you a lengthy basketball mailbag answering any and all questions you could have.

Continental Tire Main Event - Virginia v Illinois Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After a weekend of tremendous success for the Virginia Cavaliers’ men’s basketball team, I gathered questions from the fanbase to answer as we reassess how good this team is and the factors which could determine this group’s potential. Oh, and I got to talk about which player is associated with which Thanksgiving side. Enjoy!

Are you seeing a pattern of floor time between Reece and Kihei? Reece getting more opportunity to run things?

Reece is definitely this team’s lead guard. He’s played slightly fewer minutes than Kihei in the first four games, but that’s more due to some unfortunate foul trouble than anything. Reece is the one running this offense. His usage rating is up to 25.1% from 16.8% last season while Kihei’s is slightly down from 19.8% to 18.4%. Obviously some of the additional responsibility Reece has correlates to a team that is more catered to his strengths than last season, but it’s also a sign of more growth.

Kihei still gets his opportunities. He’s not going to shrink into the background anytime soon, but it’s clear that the coaching staff knows who their lead guard is.

Which player has been your biggest surprise so far this year in terms of taking their game to the next level?

As readers probably know I’ve been banking on (and crossing my fingers for) jumps from Kadin and Reece for a while now. So, for this one, I’ll say Armaan Franklin. After being really high on him when he got to Charlottesville last season, I’ll admit to being a skeptic heading into this season regarding what role he’d play. Boy has he proved me wrong. He’s arguably been the team’s best player through four contests.

And it’s not just his shooting, either. He had five combined steals over the weekend and got out in transition well. Franklin’s been disruptive defensively and is becoming one of the prototypical big guards that the UVA system loves.

Of the many permutations of 5 players that UVA can place on the court, what are your top 3 combos? (FWIW, I was in Vegas for the Main Event and I don’t think any of my top 3 would include our current starting lineup)

Definitely an interesting question here. It’s tough because certain lineups are sustainable for longer periods of time and this is all significantly influenced by opponents and matchups. But if I had to list my top three (in no particular order), I’d go with Beekman-Clark-Franklin-BVP-Shedrick, Beekman-Clark-Franklin-Gardner-BVP, and (still) Beekman-Clark-Franklin-Gardner-Shedrick.

I know that’s probably not the desired answer nor the highest potential one. But those are probably the team’s best three lineups to use over the course of an entire game against elite competition right now.

That being said, things change over time and players can develop to the point of making this conversation far more difficult. But I think the continuity and consistency that can be expected from the current starters who started together last season, the twist that the small ball lineup provides, and how playing Vander Plas at the four with Shedrick alters how defenses have to play Virginia make those the best combos at this point in time.

How long until BVP gets into the starting lineup?

I don’t think he will. Not a knock on him — I think he’s the perfect sixth man for this group. Is he the most valuable player on the roster in terms of lineup success? Probably. He changes how the team plays when he’s on the floor for a variety of reasons. But there’s value to bringing that guy off the bench considering how he’s more of a complementary piece than a leading guy. But maybe bringing Gardner in off the bench could be even scarier for opposing teams. We’ll see, but it probably won’t impact actual playing time either way.

Ryan Dunn didn’t get many minutes in Vegas. Coach’s decision or was he a little under the weather?

Couldn’t tell ya if he was under the weather, but I’d wager the staff felt more comfortable with those top six guys against such elite competition than they did in going further into the bench. Dunn will continue to grow and get better as the season progresses (as will McKneely) and could be critical down the line.

What’s Ryan Dunn’s ceiling by March? Who’s minutes will he be taking?

As I alluded to in the last answer, this is absolutely something to watch as the season progresses. This is already a top-10 team in the country with how UVA is playing right now and how this roster is fitting together. But McKneely and Dunn (in particular) can only make the ‘Hoos that much better.

Dunn’s ceiling by March... whew boy dare I say De’Andre Hunter 2017-2018? It’s hard. This team has way more front-court depth than that roster did and the BVP-Gardner dynamic at the four somewhat limits the advantages Dunn can provide as a small ball, versatile four for Virginia. As a guard playing the three, his perimeter defense is great, but his value is probably exceeded by Franklin right now at that spot.

So, his ceiling is to be an equation-altering player who takes real minutes from Gardner and/or BVP. What is more likely to happen is that he’s the changeup pitch to throw in there at times when things stagnate or the defense needs a boost of athleticism.

What’s Jayden‘s vibe, is he frustrated or is he developing into the kind of player we need this year (which is clearly different from last year)?

I can’t speak to any frustration level that he may have, and I’m sure it can’t be fun to have his role diminished after being the guy last year. But all indications point to him being an awesome teammate committed to winning. That said, I think it’s going to take time for him to learn how to play with this team rather than last year’s. Last season he had to force and make difficult shots, but that’s not needed for this group, so he’ll need to continue to find more ways to impact the game.

He’s getting to the free throw line at a great rate, has been borderline dominant on the offensive glass, and continues to be fluid defensively. I do think he is developing into the player UVA needs him to be, the mindset change may just take a minute.

Is Gardner going to get more minutes, less minutes, or the same amount of minutes going forward?

Speaking of, right now Gardner is averaging 20.7 minutes per game. I think that number will tilt up slightly as the year progresses and UVA uses its small ball lineup with him and BVP more and with fewer blowout games where he sits. I think as he does adjust to playing with this version of the team his minutes will increase as well, maybe closer to 24 or 25 per game.

If every player on the roster was a Thanksgiving side, what would they be?

My knowledge of Thanksgiving sides truly isn’t vast enough to go through the entire roster, but I’ll go as far as I can.

Kihei Clark — Bread rolls. An absolute staple. Been around for freaking ever. Not perfect by itself but when paired with the right teammates, watch out.

Reece Beekman — Mashed potatoes. My MVP of sides, but still needs the right complementary pieces to truly shine.

Jayden Gardner — Stuffing. In the right moments, absolutely incredibly and the star of the show. In others, a solid addition to the plate.

Armaan Franklin — Gravy. Not sure this qualifies as a side necessarily, but I’ll allow it because I want to. An elite side to pair with mashed potatoes or turkey (CTB is the turkey by the way), gravy and Armaan are both elite in their own right and make plenty of plays but still need the staples around them to work best.

Ben Vander Plas — Mac and cheese. You don’t think they belong right away, but when added to the mix, it’s a total game changer.

Kadin Shedrick — Yams. (Speaking from personal experience). Took some time to grow and blossom into the star we all expected, but now it’s tremendous.

Francisco Caffaro — Green Bean Casserole. Solid, straightforward, you know what you’re getting. Sometimes a bit soggy and shouldn’t be consumed in huge doses, but very good when asked to perform in bursts.

I’m gonna stop while I’m ahead here. Need more time before assigning the young guys a particular side.

Sounds like CTB might’ve wanted Traudt for depth but Traudt asked for the redshirt. Do you think if we’re struggling in conference play with shooting there’s any chance CTB burns the redshirt for more added shooting depth?

Nah. No way Bennett makes that decision. I also don’t think it’s likely the team struggles with shooting too significantly for that conversation to be had. But, as CTB always says, to redshirt or not is always down to the player and, with Traudt making that decision himself, he’d need to agree to reverse it for that to happen.

I also don’t know for sure that CTB wanted Traudt for depth or would want that now instead of the redshirt. Those first four guys in the front-court are going to mop up the minutes this season to the point where Traudt probably wouldn’t have been able to provide much regardless. I think he was too good to outright redshirt but, after a game and after seeing the rotation play out for real, it was the right decision for Traudt to take advantage of a year of development while the team is so stable up front before he has to jump into the fire next season.

You know CTB will pick up a transfer for next year. Maybe two. What position will he be looking at?

Point guard. Plain and simple. Kihei Clark will be gone and, with it looking pretty clear that UVA won’t be bringing in a 2023 point guard (save a spring sleeper who probably wouldn’t be expected to contribute right away anyway), there’s going to be a need for depth at the point guard spot. Throw in the potential for Reece Beekman to get drafted (which I’ll touch on shortly) and that could become an absolute dire need for the ‘Hoos. Either way, Bennett will be shopping for a PG.

That being said, I’d expect Bennett and company to be busy in the portal this spring. Assuming Franklin doesn’t use his fifth year, they’re gonna lose BVP, Clark, Caffaro, Gardner, and Franklin which only leaves seven scholarship guys, three of whom likely won’t have been in the regular rotation yet.

Fortunately UVA should be fine on the wing with McKneely, Murray, Bond, and Dunn all more than likely to return and Elijah Gertrude coming in. The question is going to be in the front-court. Blake Buchanan comes in via the 2023 class, but expecting him to contribute immediately is probably a bit naive. So grabbing potential depth behind Kadin Shedrick at center or even another Jayden Gardner type player to provide more versatility and experience in the front-court would be another likely priority.

What’s the possibility Reece gets drafted, if he continues to show out?

It’s definitely hard to gauge right now, but it’s definitely worth having “the will Reece be drafted in 2023?” conversation now. A general misinterpretation about whether or not players leave early is that their games have to be complete before heading to the next level. That’s part of why so many people doubted Trey Murphy would go when, in reality, it was pretty clear from very early in his time at UVA that he was going to get drafted and, by the end of the season, that it’d probably be in the first round.

What matters is having a few elite qualities which organizations can help develop a player to utilize while filling out the rest of their game. Reece has those elite qualities that make him draftable after this season. Right now he’s borderline getting drafted, in the 50s-60s range or on the edge of going un-drafted.

But, if he keeps showing out and displaying the ability to score for himself at all three levels, it becomes a conversation of how much he values another year at UVA and how this season unfolds for the team. We’ve seen what late season success can do for a player’s draft stock. Right now I’d say it’s more likely Reece comes back than he leaves, but that answer could be very different come February.

Will the opponent (on Friday) put up any resistance or is this just a glorified scrimmage?

MD Eastern Shore has a couple of decent shooters, but also nobody over 6’7”. If this is a game for longer than like five minutes I’d be shocked. Charlotte and former UVA assistant Ron Sanchez handled MDES by 33 points. The bench should be emptied by the end of the first half and Jayden Gardner should have a feel good double-double.

If you would like to submit a question for the next mailbag I do, be sure to follow me on Twitter here and the STL account here in order to see when we ask for questions.