When Kerry Blackshear announced he would be returning to college and would also be taking a serious look at his graduate transfer options there were a lot of teams salivating at the potential opportunity to land his services. The Gators, long rumored to be in on the Virginia Tech big man, were one of them.
Perhaps the best returning center in college basketball Blackshear is far and away the most sought after graduate transfer still available on the market and any team in the country would welcome him. The team Florida might be competing with the hardest in the recruitment is Kentucky which should probably frame just how good Blackshear is.
Florida has a bit of a home court advantage in the recruitment due to the fact Blackshear hails from nearby Orlando and that has been the center of a lot of people’s reasoning behind why he should become a Gator. While I think that factor and the benefits that surround being near his hometown all matter I think there is a lot of reasons why Florida makes the most sense from a pure basketball standpoint. His final decision will be the result of weighing a lot of different things but when it comes to just basketball I think the Gators can put together the best possible pitch, and I want to lay out what that is.
Here is why Florida would be the best team for Blackshear to play for.
This one might seem obvious but I really don’t think it can be understated. Obviously any team in the country would roll out Blackshear as a starter but if he came to Florida he would bring a skillset unique to the roster that wouldn’t clash with any other players in the Gators’ frontcourt. Some of the teams Blackshear is looking at have multiple post players that all rely on a back to the basket game down low (like, say, Kentucky). If he came to Florida he’d be next to Keyontae Johnson in the frontcourt and Johnson’s perimeter abilities would offer great symmetry to Blackshear’s game in the low block and high post. None of Florida’s other centers are established enough to demand minutes and that means Coach White wouldn’t need to force out atypical lineups to get multiple big men on the floor at once (like, say, Kentucky would need to do with their returning big men plus grad transfer Nate Sestina).
While Florida doesn’t have post players that are going to command lots of minutes that isn’t to say they don’t have centers on the bench and that could be good news to Blackshear who was the only true big on Virginia Tech last season. Being the only true center he was driven into the ground playing a ton of minutes and I’m sure he was overextended in a lot of situations. The fact he was the only center also made him play very conservatively on defense as he was terrified of fouling and being taken off the floor. That hesitancy while protecting the rim really hurt his defensive numbers in the paint and that in turn hurt his pro potential as he was exploring options this summer. The Gators’ bench of Gorjok Gak, Dontay Bassett, and Isaiah Stokes would be able to spell Blackshear whenever needed and therefor he would be able to play without any fear of fouling.
Florida’s center depth would be perfect for Blackshear. There isn’t anyone that’s going to need to be forced into the lineup next to him and clogging up the paint but there are enough bodies that he can be properly rested and also not be concerned with picking up the occasional foul. The perfect amount of playing time in the ideal lineups should really be enticing to Blackshear.
Playing Around The Post Up
There are a lot of things Blackshear does well but his number one offensive ability is posting up and he dominated opponents on the block last year shooting 52.1% on heavy volume. His drop steps were unstoppable, his hook shot was immaculate, and his ability to go over either shoulder was unpredictable. Everything pointed to him being one of, if not the best post up players in the country.
If he’s looking to replicate that performance Florida could put out lineups perfect to space the floor for him to go work down low. What does every post up player need around him to operate? Shooters. Having rocket launchers on the floor deters players from wanting to go double team in the post as the threat of the 3-ball looms in their mind.
As a mental exercise, I want you to imagine Blackshear in orange and blue getting the ball on the block.
Then, look around him and see who would be on the perimeter.
First, you’ve got Andrew Nembhard. As I mentioned in an article about Nembhard’s jumper a few weeks ago he was one of the best catch and shoot threats in the country hitting an astonishing 47.9% of his catch and shoot threes.
Then, you’ve got Noah Locke who was shooting 43% from three before his injury.
Next, you’ve got Keyontae Johnson who shot 50% on corner threes last season.
With three lethal catch and shoot weapons on the perimeter Blackshear could have all the time and space he would ever want on post ups. If a double team came he has the passing ability to hit the shooter every time and it wouldn’t take long before teams would be gun-shy when it came to doubling him. While I highlighted the shooting of three of Florida’s starters that doesn’t even factor in incoming freshman Tre Mann who is a deadeye shooter as well as Ques Glover who was above the 40% mark from three in high school. If Florida wants to showcase how they could space the floor for Blackshear to operate they’ll have a compelling case.
Every player wants to put points on the board and if Blackshear wants easy buckets than playing with Andrew Nembhard should be one of his top priorities.
Nembhard was one of the best passers in college basketball last season and his 32.8% assist rate was good for 46th in the country and 9th amongst power conference players, doing that as freshman no less. His vision is otherworldly and a lot of his assists were on passes that I’m not sure anyone else in the country would have even seen.
Nembhard’s passing ability made all of his teammates better but there was one position he helped out more than anything else.
The center position.
Of all Nembhard’s assists this season 34% of them were to Florida’s centers. Considering he averaged 5.4 assists per game this season that means he had 1.8 assists to centers per game, an impressive amount.
Additionally, Nembhard had 0.7 assist opportunities that lead to fouls per game (plays where he passed the ball to a player that was fouled in the act of shooting, also referred to as foul assists) to his centers. Anyone who saw the plays where Nembhard threaded a pass to Kevarrius Hayes or Dontay Bassett only to have them clobbered on the layup attempt knows what I’m talking about.
Between the 1.8 assists to centers and 0.7 foul assists to centers this year Nembhard is as good of a set up man to bigs as you can get.
The thing that’s even more impressive about that number is the fact that truthfully, Florida didn’t have any great offensive centers on the roster last season. Those numbers could easily be higher than the 1.8 and 0.7 and if Blackshear comes to Gainesville I think Nembhard averaging 2 assists per game to Blackshear is totally within the realm of possibility and that could easily be more than any point guard in the country could provide Blackshear. For Blackshear to build his resume leading up to his upcoming pro career he’ll want to put some points on the board and Nembhard spoon-feeding him buckets could be just what he needs to put up a robust points total.
Going through the NBA Draft process there was one central knock on Blackshear that kept him off team’s big boards and that was his athleticism. Where did Blackshear’s lack of elite athleticism hurt him most? Defensively. For that reason I think it would be wise for Blackshear to pick a home where he’s insulated defensively and the concerns NBA teams have regarding his defense aren’t spotlighted.
Florida would be a perfect place for his defense to be insulated and he could feel good about not being exposed. First of all, the Gators were 16th in adjusted defensive efficiency last season and they did it with a depleted roster that had less defensive talent than this year’s team. Mike White is a proven defensive mastermind with three top-20 defenses in his four years in Florida and he would be certain to devise a strategy that best uses Blackshear.
The biggest knock on Blackshear’s game was his rim protection which wasn’t good last year. He allowed 67.9% at the rim which was partially related to his mandate to avoid fouling but was also related to his lack of explosiveness.
How could his struggles protecting the rim be covered up? How about by not even letting drivers get into the paint.
Florida is going to have some really stout perimeter defenders on the roster next season with a healthy Noah Locke, a physically imposing Keyontae Johnson, and the best defender in the 2019 class in Scottie Lewis. Tre Mann also offers perimeter athleticism at the wing and Ques Glover is a ball hawk at the point. All these guys are going to be effective at keeping their man in front of them and when they’re successful at that there won’t be drivers slicing towards the hoop and requiring a rotation from Blackshear.
Even though he’s not super explosive vertically Blackshear actually moves decently side to side and can switch out to the perimeter pretty well. Florida did a lot of switching last year and Blackshear would fit well into that scheme which would be great for showcasing his switch abilities to NBA scouts. At Florida he would likely be able to show a lot of his strong defensive abilities with his weaknesses being covered up by the team speed around him.
If I had to summarize I’d say this— if he wanted to come to Florida things would be tailor made for Blackshear on both sides of the basketball and it wouldn’t even require the Gators to drastically change their style of play. Offensively the pieces would fit perfectly around him and on defense he would be protected by Florida’s perimeter athletes not putting him in too many vulnerable rim protection situations. At Florida he would be able to be featured in multiple ways which would make for an enjoyable season and one that would showcase his skills and better his chance at becoming an NBA player.
When you look at all the basketball factors Florida is a tremendous option that could very well be the best fit for Blackshear and when you mix that in with the geographic ties he has to the area we may just see him become a Gator.