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UVA Basketball Mailbag: Why Ryan Dunn doesn’t get consistent minutes, each UVA player’s NBA comp, and more

Addressing the fanbase’s questions ahead of tonight’s game against Virginia Tech.

NCAA Basketball: Houston at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the Virginia Cavaliers’ 7:00 PM tip against the Virginia Tech Hokies, I answered a number of questions from the Wahoo fanbase. To get your question answered, follow me (@Zach_Carey_) and Streaking the Lawn (@STL_UVA) on Twitter. Apologies to those who asked questions that I didn’t get to answering this time around. Had to cut it down to avoid this being even longer than usual.

If you could add one defensive player and one offensive player from UVA past and add them to this squad, who would be the players and why?

Hm, this one’s interesting. For the purpose of answering the question I’ll take the football approach to it as the Twitter trend asking this question is less complicated than basketball since basketball players play both ends of the floor. But, for this exercise, we’ll pretend that the defensive player and offensive player I add here can only play on that end of the floor.

Starting on defense, I think Akil Mitchell is a pretty easy answer here. A tough rebounder who has the size to guard bigger centers in the post, the quickness and agility to blow up ball screens on the perimeter, and the footwork and intelligence to guard premier forwards, Mitchell is exactly the player this UVA defense needs right now, especially with Kadin Shedrick struggling. Virginia’s struggles on the boards and against teams that can spread them out and attack the bigs would almost immediately be solved by Mitchell’s presence while his experience in the Bennett system would be huge for this squad.

Offensively, I’m gonna keep it simple (stupid) and go with Malcolm Brogdon. The shooting for this team has improved enough that I don’t feel the need to add a Kyle Guy or Joe Harris and, with Reece and Kihei, adding London Perrantes or Ty Jerome feels unnecessary. Additionally, the idea of throwing prime Jay Huff or Sam Hauser in with this backcourt is very intriguing, but having Brogdon and his shot-making and slashing ability would be a massive help for this offense. He can go get a bucket at a moment’s notice and, while Armaan Franklin has been very good this year, adding Brogdon into the fold would take pressure off everybody else and make guarding the Wahoo backcourt a massive headache for opponents.

What is each UVA player’s NBA comp?

This could take a while, so I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. Making NBA comps is inherently difficult because it assumes that a player reaches their ceiling or even a potential that isn’t actually attainable for that player. So, in making these comparisons, I’m more so comparing these guys to the types of players who play in the NBA and what the absolute best version of each of the UVA players could be. With that said here’s a quick comp for each guy playing more than 10% of minutes this season:

Kadin Shedrick — Nic Claxton

Armaan Franklin — Damion Lee

Ryan Dunn — De’Andre Hunter

Isaac McKneely — Donte Divincenzo (with better shooting)

Reece Beekman — De’Aaron Fox

Ben Vander Plas — Joe Ingles

Jayden Gardner — Adam Schofield

Francisco Caffaro — (The current iteration of) Deandre Jordan

Kihei Clark — Jose Alvarado

@ me on Twitter if you agree, disagree, or want more explanation.

You noted during the UNC 1st half that it might be time to look at the offensive scheme overall. Do you think that’s necessary? And if so, how would you change it? Are the issues with scheme, matchups, streakiness, or all of the above?

So, there’s a macro and a micro way to answer this question. On a broad scale, yes, it’d be ideal if UVA could diversify and modernize some of its offensive sets to get away from the same three sets they’ve been running for the past five years. The sides offense molded with continuity ball screen, the three-man offense (which I’ll address in a moment), and UVA’s spread high ball screen looks are relatively simplistic offenses. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and it points to how the coaching emphasis is probably closer to 60% defense, 40% offense than a 50-50 split.

But, in today’s basketball, having more schemes, looks, and sets in your offensive repertoire is helpful and borderline necessary. Sure, the ‘Hoos have a few set plays in their back pocket for late game/clock scenarios. But expanding the straightforward offensive principles the team relies on to more player (and team) specific sets would undoubtedly be beneficial in the long run. Opponents have an in-depth knowledge of what UVA runs by now (sides, ball screens, three-man/middle triangle) and so the offense is perhaps too dependent on execution and not scheming up good looks. That’s where the scoring droughts come from. The inherent continuous nature of sides or even the triangle set are contribute to the indecisiveness and stagnation that all Bennett teams struggle with

That being said, that’s hard to do 16 games into a season and what Virginia runs can and does work very well! I’ve loved what I’ve seen out of the small-ball lineups, particularly in the three-man offense, because the offense has catered to the personnel rather than vice versa. Finding what works for the players is typically a better way to go about offensive game-planning than trying to make the players adjust to the scheme. There are also a number of very talented guys on this roster who have plenty of experience executing well in Bennett’s offense.

Long story short, it’d be great if UVA could gradually incorporate more diverse and complex offensive sets into its scheme (for instance, finding ways to cater to skilled bigs). Granted, what Virginia runs now can be very effective if the personnel and scheme are molded together rather than one being forced to cater to the other. The small ball experiment has been a fantastic example of that as Vander Plas and Franklin in particular have thrived in the three-man offense while playing without true bigs on the floor.

What does the future hold for Gardner for the rest of the season? Does his lack of versatility mean that his role will continue to decrease?

I don’t know about his role decreasing, but I think it’ll stay about the same. I suspect that the days of Bennett confidently trotting Gardner and Shedrick on the floor together for 25+ minutes per game together are long gone, unless we see major improvements from each of them throughout the back half of the regular season.

Again, I don’t mean to rip on Gardner. He’s a very good college basketball player who knows what he’s good at, is sound defensively, and can provide necessary front-court scoring in a few different ways. Unfortunately, he’s just not efficient enough to be this Virginia team’s go-to-guy and his skill-set limits his impact as a complementary player. Like the role he’s played for most of this season, I think he’ll come up big in a number of games where UVA relies on him offensively. But, otherwise, his minutes will be based on how the rest of the front-court is playing and the defensive matchups.

Do we start to see Kadin play more of an expanded situational role similar to Caffaro from here on out? Or do you think these past two games were exceptions?

Similar question here but a slightly different answer. The inconsistency for Kadin has been quite the head-scratcher this year. On the one hand, the analytics point to Shedrick being a ridiculously effective and efficient big man. His defensive numbers as a shot blocker and disruptor both on the backend and on the perimeter are ridiculous while he’s been very efficient offensively as a stellar finisher and a very good free throw shooter. Heck, his offensive rate is 21st nationally on KenPom.

Unfortunately, he also commits 5.1 fouls per 40 minutes while he’s often too aggressive defensively which results in fouls and backside buckets when Shedrick over-helps. On offense, he can tend to slip into the background and doesn’t provide much of a threat beyond being rolling to the basket off ball screens. He’s still that potentially efficient offensive player who is a game-changer defensively, but the inconsistency has been pretty frustrating considering just how skilled he is.

With all that said, I expect him to bounce back and establish himself again before this season is over. He’s too good of a player with too good of a coaching staff instructing him for that not to happen.

If UVA twitter seems to think Ryan Dunn is the next DeAndre Hunter, why isn’t he getting more minutes? What does twitter know that our HoF coach doesn’t?!

Yeah so the Ryan Dunn discourse is definitely an interesting one. Don’t get me wrong, I generally agree with the masses that he probably deserves some more run in games and that establishing him as a consistent member of the rotation would be really valuable. With that being said, understanding why Dunn isn’t that guy yet or isn’t getting those opportunities yet comes down to a couple of different factors.

For starters, Tony Bennett is a win-now coach. He doesn’t care about playing guys to develop them. He couldn’t care less about that. Bennett plays the guys who are most likely to win him games, not for the sake of players growing as individuals. If that happens along the way, great. If not, at least minutes weren’t wasted trying to make it happen. Bennett-ball can absolutely be frustrating and has likely contributed to a few guys leaving the program when they did.

But, it also won UVA a National Championship and the guys that do leave the program typically weren’t great fits in the first place and would’ve needed to go elsewhere anyway. So the balance there is tough, although that 2019 banner hanging in JPJ should sway most opinions.

In Dunn’s case, the next obvious question is why Bennett doesn’t feel that the freshman wing contributes enough to winning. That’s a slightly more difficult question to answer, but it’s not to spite UVA Twitter, believe it or not. No, there are still limits to Dunn’s game. For starters, he doesn’t provide that much offensive production. He can make an occasional outside shot and take a defender off the dribble from time to time, but both are far and few between. Dunn has crazy offensive potential. He truly does and we’ve seen it on display — most recently with his nine points versus Florida State — but he still needs to take another step or so to establish himself in the rotation.

Secondly, I think the perception of him as this lockdown wing defender is actually a tad bit distorted. Maybe I’m part of the problem in overhyping him, but he’s not all the way there defensively. Dunn is a versatile defender with the length, wingspan, quickness, instincts, strength, and footwork that give him the potential to be an incredible wing stopper.

BUT, he’s still about three-ish percent off in all of those areas (save natural size of course) which means that he’s similarly maybe a half step away. Because he’s quick for his size but not as quick as perimeter guards, he can struggle against guys in the backcourt (it’s unfair to make him guard somebody like Marcus Sasser, but he did struggle against the Houston guard). Meanwhile, while he’s strong and lengthy relative to his mobility and footwork, he’s still not strong enough for most front-court players in the ACC, so he can be backed down.

Thus, because Dunn is just a tad lacking in a number of areas and isn’t automatically a massive defensive plus especially when considering that his offensive game is limited, it’s understandable that his minutes haven’t been consistent yet. He still boasts incredible potential on either end and could start to reach that this season if he can transition those awesome flashes into consistent production.