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San Diego State Basketball: If Malik Pope is ready, it's time to turn him loose

The 6-foot-10 freshman has only played in five games this year, averaging 9.6 minutes per contest.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego State Aztecs' 2014 recruiting class ranked 18th in the country and was the top-rated class in program history. With Zylan Cheatham still out with a broken foot, and Malik Pope still being eased into playing time, 376 of the 424 freshman minutes have been played by Trey Kell and Kevin Zabo.

Pope, the highest rated freshman of the group, has seen action in five games, averaging around 10 minutes per game, but he hasn't played in SDSU's last two match-ups. Now, we know about his injury history and that the coaching staff was extra cautious getting him into game shape this offseason, but with the Aztecs' putrid offense of late, is it time to turn him loose?

If the reason for his limited playing time -- more specifically the zero minutes he's played in the last two games -- has anything to do with health, then by all means keep him out of harms way. If it's a comfort thing, SDSU's next stretch of home games could be a great time to increase the load and see what happens.

We've seen some rustiness when he's gotten into games this season. He's only 2-13 from the field and has turned it over four times, but he also has four blocks on the season and is a perfect 4-4 from the free-throw line.

I'm willing to bet that Pope isn't a 15 percent shooter and that his lines would improve with some increased playing time. Unfortunately, an increase in minutes doesn't look imminent. Maybe Steve Fisher and his staff just don't think he's ready to contribute or that he's still not quite in the swing of the system.

With the way the Aztecs are struggling to score the ball, giving him some run might not be the worst idea. Pope's range and athleticism make him a top-five scoring threat on this team. Now that's not saying much for a team that has one guy who averages more than 10 points.

Winston Shepard and J.J. O'Brien, at 4-10 and 4-12 on 3s, respectively, lead the team. Of players that have shot more than 13 3-pointers, only Aqeel Quinn is north of 30 percent and no one else is upwards of 24 percent. We haven't got to see much of it, but here's Malik Pope's 3-point stroke. Pretty smooth, right?

We saw Cincinnati hit big shot after big shot in the second half on Wednesday, the kinds of big shots the Aztecs have been looking for all season. Pull-up jumpers, spot-up 3-pointers, fading shots that you thought had no chance but went in anyway and stabbed your heart. Pope is a player with the handles and athleticism to create for himself and make these plays that can awaken his team and shift momentum.

So throw him out there, let him run. Give him a chance to regain his sea legs in live action because you can only simulate game speed so much in practice. Quinn has been the only Aztec this season that can consistently hit a late shot to keep his team in the game. Why not see if Pope can, too?