Coach Steve Fisher has had the luxury of relying on a smart, poised, and experienced point guard for five years now, between D.J. Gay and Xavier Thames. However, this year Fisher faces a question that he happily has not had to face for years...who starts at point guard?
This year's roster is loaded with talent. A great blend of experienced players mixed with young talent. Following a tremendous sweet 16 run, and a season that we never saw coming, SDSU faces high expectations for the 2014-2015 season. With an ideal roster for Coach Fisher's style of play, there are several different options for almost every position. But the biggest positional battle will be at the point guard spot. Based on Fisher's track record, he likes starting his more experienced, defensive minded players. SDSU's returning players Dwayne Polee II, JJ O'brien, and Skylar Spencer have a reserved spot in the starting lineup. Arizona transfer Angelo Chol is really the only power forward on the roster, so we can assume he will start this year and fill a similar role to Josh Davis. That leaves one spot open, arguably the most important in Coach Fisher's system, the point guard.
Over the last five years the starting point guard under Coach Fisher played an average of 32.72 minutes per game. These are some heavy minutes considering the up in your face, push the ball style of play that has made SDSU an elite basketball program. So knowing that Coach Fisher relies heavily on his point guards, it is critical that he chooses the right one, but this year there is no clear choice. Lets look at the options: Winston Shepard, Aqeel Quinn, D'Erryl Williams and Kevin Zabo.
First lets start with Winston Shepard. Winston Shepard is going to start, it is just a matter of what position. If it's not point guard, then Coach Fisher will make a lineup including him as the 2 or 3. Winston brings so much on the defensive end that Fisher will make sure he plays 30+ minutes per game. However, giving the ball to Winston Shepard and telling him to run an offense isn't the best idea. Despite an outstanding season, improving in all statistical area's except one, Shepard showed that there are still some flaws in his game. Shepard posted a .925 assist/turnover ratio(per basketballreference.com). Shepard had 6 more turnovers than he had assists. Basically because of the bigger role, Shepard's assist/turnover ratio got worse. And this is when he wasn't even the starting point guard. Imagine if he had the ball in his hands the whole game, that could get ugly. Shepard posted the second highest turnover percentage of SDSU players who played at least 7 minutes per game, only behind Skylar Spencer. Lastly, putting Winston into the starting lineup means that we will have another season with only one good shooter in the starting lineup (Dwayne Polee II). It has been proven that SDSU can definitely compete with the big dogs, but shooting is the one flaw that consistently holds the team back from being a final four caliber team. Shepard shot a dreadful 18.4% from three last year, putting him dead last on the team in three point shooting. So inserting him into the point guard spot won't help that issue. His weak handle and poor decision making doesn't help the argument for him at starting point guard, however, he brings so much more on the defensive end than the others at the position do, giving him the best shot at winning the position.
Next up we have Aqeel Quinn. Aqeel came in as a transfer from California State University of Northridge. He actually was not recruited to play for the Aztecs but decided to try out. He made the team but that's not it. He managed to work his way into the rotation, and played a huge role in SDSU's success. Quinn had the third best three point percentage on the team of players who played at least 7 minutes per game, only behind Mountain West MVP Xavier Thames, and sharp shooter Matt Shrigley. So inserting Quinn into the starting point guard spot will definitely help the shooting issues, but that's not the problem with Quinn. The problem with Quinn is he does not posses any traits of a point guard. Quinn is a great shooter and can score the ball in several different ways, but he is not a great ball handler, or facilitator. Quinn often played best when playing alongside Xavier Thames because he prefers spotting up on the perimeter and playing off somebody else rather than creating for himself and more importantly for others. Quinn averaged just 1.0 assists per game, despite playing 16 minutes per game. Was Xavier Thames a true point guard? No, but he did know how to set up his teammates when he had to, and he knew how to run an offense. Quinn is a great energy player, and a fantastic shooter, but he is not capable of running an offense for 30+ minutes per game.
Up next is D'Erryl Williams. We did not see a whole lot of D'Erryl Williams in his freshman year, as he was playing behind Xavier Thames and Aqeel Quinn. Williams has a much different style than the other point guards he is competing against. He has a thick frame at 6'3 200 pounds, and uses that body to finish around the basket. However Williams is not the prototypical Aztec player. He is not very quick, and is not very athletic, indicating that he won't bring much on the defensive end. He also is not a very good shooter, based on his very limited playing time as a freshman. Williams however only turned the ball over 3 times in his 126 minutes of action over the season. So if there is one thing that gives Williams an advantage over Quinn and Shepard its that he won't turn the ball over. Its hard to judge Williams after only averaging 6.4 minutes per game as a freshman, so unless he comes back with a consistent three point shot, and some more speed and explosiveness to his game, don't expect to see Williams in the starting five anytime soon.
The last candidate is Kevin Zabo. Kevin Zabo is very different from the other options because of one HUGE reason, he is a freshman. The only freshman to start for Coach Fisher in the last 4 years was the Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Starting a freshman doesn't mean much in college basketball anymore, but starting a freshman at point guard is still pretty rare, and considering Fisher doesn't usually start freshman, it doesn't look good for the Canadian product. Zabo is a very crafty, skilled point guard who doesn't stand out in any way. He is not a crazy athlete and isn't a tremendous shooter. However, he can finish down low using his soft touch, and he is capable of hitting the outside shot. He see's the game very well, and was looked at by some of the nation's top programs including Virginia, Villanova, and Kansas. I think one day Zabo will be a starting point guard for Coach Steve Fisher, but it takes someone truly special to start for Coach Fisher freshman year, and Zabo isn't that guy.
There isn't an obvious choice in this positional battle, and quite frankly none of these players would be anything close to Xaiver Thames and D.J. Gay. Due to his great defensive instincts, his high ceiling, and his experience, I think Winston Shepard will be the teams starting point guard this year. Although the point guard position won't be strong this year, SDSU has a deep roster loaded with length, shooting, and defense. Don't worry SDSU fans, when Kawhi left Jamaal emerged, when Jamaal left Thames emerged, now with "X" gone, it's Winston's time.