Replacing the production of Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury [INSIDER]

VCU will graduate two key pieces from this year’s offense with the departures of seniors Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury this offseason. The duo averaged over 28 minutes each and accounted for over 40% of VCU’s shot attempts this season, leaving a production hole that will need to be filled by some combination of returning and new talent on Broad Street this upcoming season.

To see just how big of a hole that is, I decided to see what percentage of shots the duo accounted for as compared with VCU’s six recent NCAA tournament teams, coincidentally the last six teams that wore the uniform, as the Rams have reeled off a program-record six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

DEPARTING PLAYERS AND PERCENTAGE OF SHOTS TAKEN

Melvin Johnson's 535 shot attempts were the most at VCU since Eric Maynor's 536 in 2009.
Melvin Johnson’s 535 shot attempts were the most at VCU since Eric Maynor’s 536 in 2009.

2015-16
Melvin Johnson 24.7%
Korey Billbury 16.7%
total 41.4%

2014-15
Treveon Graham 18.8%
Terry Larrier 10%
Briante Weber 6.4%*
Jarred Guest 2.2%
total 37.4%

(*Weber’s suffered season-ending injury halfway through A-10 play)

2013-14
Juvonte Reddic 15.2%
Rob Brandenberg 13.8%
Terrance Shannon 2.4%
total 31.4%

2012-13
Troy Daniels 16.3%
Darius Theus 8.4%
Teddy Okereafor (transfer) 1.8%
DJ Haley (transfer) 1.9%
Justin Tuoyo (transfer) 1.6%
total 30%

2011-12
Bradford Burgess 19.1%
total 19.1%

2010-11
Jamie Skeen 17.1%
Joey Rodriguez 16.4%
Brandon Rozzell 13.1%
Ed Nixon 11%
Toby Veal 3.1%
total 60.7%

Of that group, Johnson checks in as the most prolific shot-taker of VCU’s 20 most recent departing players, making the Johnson-Billbury duo the most offensively active duo at VCU since Eric Maynor was around and checking them in at second overall in total shots graduated behind only VCU’s senior-heavy Final 4 group.

What does this mean? Why should you care?

Well, if you’re a player that would mean — as Doug Brooks would say — “mo minutes”. Mo minutes also equals more attempts, so as a player, either current or incoming, that equals opportunity.

Roughly 60 minutes are now distributable and with that, a nice amount of shot opportunities. Johnson and Billbury combined to shoot 898 attempts this past season, which doesn’t include their combined 176 free throw attempts (of which they made 129).

PRODUCTION PREDICTION

This is a blog post, not a research paper or scholarly journal, but looking at recent graduations and production increases (years 2009 to 2010 following Maynor’s departure and following the 2013-14 season with the graduations of Brandenberg, Reddic and Shannon), my best guess for who stands to benefit the most from this year’s graduations would be a combination of Justin Tillman and a “group effort” baring a transfer situation.

Joey Rodriguez was the biggest beneficiary of Eric Maynor’s graduation, adding 6.3 minutes to his playing time and using that opportunity to get up 102 additional shots that following season. Similarly Mo Alie-Cox saw a big jump in production following Juvonte Reddic’s graduation, adding 11.5 minutes of PT and more than doubling his shot attempts. Overall those are two replacement situations that represent a pretty predictable pattern of void filling that is often times the next man up at that position.

This will be Will Wade’s second season as the head coach on Broad St. and just his fourth season as a head coach, making his replacement pattern a little harder to predict, but I’d bet the mortgage Justin Tillman is the most obvious lock for more minutes (pencil him in for 26 or so per game).

Tillman will most likely be the biggest beneficiary of Billbury’s graduated minutes/attempts, being the logical next-man-up at the power forward position, a position Wade and Co. often went small at last season with the experienced Billbury on the roster. Wade made reference to needing to play Tillman more at this week’s men’s basketball banquet, another pretty obvious hint that we’ll see a lot more of JT in next year’s lineup. Ram fans will love watching that, as Tillman is one of the flashier players in the Atlantic 10, but noy only does he bring style, but loads of substance as well, leading last season’s Atlantic 10 with an insane 72.7% in-conference field goal percentage.

That leaves Melvin Johnson’s role the tougher void to fill on next year’s team.

Expect JeQuan Lewis to have a big senior season, as he has the ability to play both guard positions and should definitely be VCU’s main scoring option on next year’s team. The Dixon, Tennessee native finished last season red-hot, scoring at least 26 points over his final three games, a trend that will likely cary over into next season.

But even with Lewis, the Rams will need another reliable three-point shooter. Some combination of Doug Brooks, Mike Gilmore and Samir Doughty could help fill that void, or VCU could bring in a proven shooter like recent visit and former Memphis guard, Avery Woodson, who has shot over 37% from deep all three of his college seasons including a blistering 43% with the Tigers this past year.

 

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