After their first season without an NCAA tournament berth since 2013, the Virginia Cavaliers are currently set to return seven scholarship players: Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Armaan Franklin, Jayden Gardner, Kadin Shedrick, Francisco Caffaro, and Taine Murray.
In this season review series, we’ll take a look back at each player’s performance this year and where each of them stands. At the end, we’ll wrap it up by discussing expectations for each player next season.
Last time, we focused on East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner. This week, we’ll look at wing Armaan Franklin, who finished second on the team in scoring in his first season at Virginia amid an up-and-down inaugural year.
Mixed results in his first season
Virginia brought in Armaan Franklin to give the team a scoring spark on the wing after an exodus of elite offensive talent — Jay Huff, Sam Hauser, and Trey Murphy — last offseason. The Indiana transfer ended up doing just that, finishing second on the team in scoring and averaging 11.1 points.
However, for fans who glanced at Armaan’s sophomore year 42.4% success rate from three-point land and expected a sniper, last year was a disappointment as Franklin’s three-point percentage dipped to just 29.6%, well below the NCAA average.
Armaan’s struggles from three overshadowed a season in which he took a step forward in every other aspect of scoring the basketball. Per Hoop-Math, Armaan converted 58% of his shot attempts at the rim, a better percentage than backcourt mates Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman as well as center Francisco Caffaro. That was despite managing a foot injury during the latter half of the season which saw Franklin take just two shots at the rim in his last 10 games.
Throughout the year, he also developed a very capable midrange game, knocking down 46% of his 258 midrange jumpers, per Hoop-Math. Franklin became adept at navigating mover-blocker pin-downs off one or two dribbles to create clean looks for himself in that area as the season went on.
Midrange jumpers were Armaan’s bread and butter all year, especially in the clutch, where his solid performance flew under the radar a bit. While most players see their efficiency decline in high-pressure situations, Franklin shot 43% on crunch-time attempts (situations in the final 5 minutes where the score is within 5 points), including 6-of-9 on two-point attempts. Matthew Cleveland’s miracle three-point heave robbed Armaan of his signature clutch moment, too — a transition pull-up midrange that gave the ‘Hoos a two-point lead with one second remaining against Florida State on senior night.
Armaan also played solid defense for Virginia all season long, especially once he acclimated to the pack line. His style on that end isn’t as in-your-face as Kihei’s full-court press or Reece’s ball-pressure steals. But the ‘Hoos were three points better per 100 possessions with Franklin on the floor.
All the little things, though, flew under the radar in comparison to the elephant in the room: Armaan’s sporadic three-point shooting. He can be a good player next season by replicating his scoring inside the arc and continuing to play good defense. He can be a great player if he finally finds that three-point stroke that was so lethal in his sophomore season.
Can Franklin turn the corner as a jump shooter?
Yes, sometimes it really is that simple. The most obvious improvement for Armaan to make next season is simply to return to his sophomore form from three, when he shot 42.4% on four attempts per game.
The season-to-season variance he’s experienced is one of the stranger things I’ve seen in college basketball. Players don’t go from being elite shooters on high volume to below-average shooters on high volume without some sort of strange extenuating circumstance, but that’s exactly what happened to Armaan.
I’m not sure if he’ll get back to that 42.4% clip, but there’s certainly reason to believe Armaan is a better three-point shooter than what he showed last year. Franklin gained a reputation as a feast-or-famine streaky shooter (the sort of guy who’s either 1-7 or 4-6 from three), and the data from his sophomore season at Indiana support that conclusion: that year, after making a three, Armaan made his next three 58% of the time; following a miss, he shot just 39%.
A similar-but-less-pronounced trend emerged this year at Virginia — after making a shot anywhere on the floor, Armaan shot 42% on his next field goal attempt; that number dropped to just 36% following a miss. Perhaps he was just in a season-long slump.
If last year’s performance really was just an aberration of a slump, the final two games of the season give reason to believe that Armaan might be breaking out. He combined to make 10 of 18 three-point attempts (56%), setting season highs for both three-pointers made and three-pointers attempted in a two-game window.
If Franklin does turn the corner next season, we’ll look back at his performance against North Texas in the NIT as a turning point: Armaan poured in the last 8 points for the ‘Hoos in regulation and then the first 9 points for the ‘Hoos in overtime, almost singlehandedly willing them to a 71-69 victory.
To be sure, the jumper isn’t the only thing Armaan can improve this offseason. His ball-handling and creation for others are two other areas for growth — but regaining his jump shot is orders of magnitude more important than that. Virginia has players who can break down a defense and players who can create off the dribble. The gaping hole on the roster is a reliable wing shooter, which is why Armaan’s growth in that area is so crucial to this team’s outlook next season.
If Virginia returns to serious ACC contention this season, Armaan’s improvement as a three-point shooter will be a major reason why.