It's the first question on anyone's mind when it comes to Penn State basketball this year. Everyone has been talking about it. We even wrote an article about it. How is Penn State going to replace Tim Frazier at point guard? Because past history indicates it will be a massive struggle.
This program has never recruited well enough to reload quickly. There were no immediate solutions to filling Talor Battle's void. Or Jeff Brooks'. Or Jamelle Cornley's. Or Geary Claxton's. Or Joe Crispin's and Titus Ivory's. The answers following those players' graduations haven't been pretty. They've usually included a bunch of considerably uncompetitive teams occupying the Big Ten's basement.
So there's a certain level of skepticism when the solution offered by the head coach is moving your best returning player from his 2-guard position to the one. And there's only two other newcomers in the running, both of whom do not possess a recruiting ranking representative of an instant impact player. This much is understandable. But should Penn State fans be worried that D.J. Newbill won't be as effective at the point guard position?
I don't think so. Newbill's scoring is predicated on his strength of creating off the dribble. Whether it be in isolation or off ball screens, the majority of D.J.'s offense is created with the ball already in his hands. He's got the size and ability to consistently get to the rim and finish (61.5% on at rim attempts last year, per hoop-math.com) or get to the foul line (42.7 free throw rate, 71.7% FT% in Penn State career). Only 20.4% of D.J.'s 318 made two-point field goals in a Penn State uniform came off an assist from a teammate.
Basically, he hasn't needed much help scoring his 1,108 points in his two seasons of playing both on and off the ball. Newbill's game is attacking the rim off the bounce with 82.7% of his career points coming from 2-point field goals and free throws.
This is a stark contrast to Penn State's last elite scorer in Talor Battle, who saw his shooting efficiency improve when Tim Frazier's arrival allowed him to play more off the ball. Battle was a streaky shooter with unlimited range that scored 43% of his career points from beyond the arc. His move off the ball was in the best interests of his game as it created more catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Newbill's scoring wasn't likely to be hindered regardless of who ran the point, because he scores his baskets on his own. However, the move to point guard will certainly decrease his three-point opportunities. One of DJ's weaknesses has been his perimeter shot, and that's likely why he's not even considered a top-20 NBA draft prospect in the Big Ten by the most credible of NBA draft gurus, DraftExpress.com. He will never be an NBA 2-guard with the limited range on his jumpshot.
I think sacrificing Newbill's three-point chances to shift him to point guard is the right decision, not only for his future NBA prospects but for the program's best chance to win this year. While D.J. made some timely threes in some important victories last year (mainly @ Ohio State comes to mind), that's never been his strength. He's only been a 30.6% three-point shooter with 66 made treys during his 2-year stint as a Nittany Lion. Is it worth saving such a small part of his game for that kind of subpar efficiency, since 74.2% of Newbill's made threes were assisted on? Not in my mind, especially since some of Newbill's timely threes could also be considered more of a clutch gene than deadly accuracy.
D.J.'s greatest challenge at point guard will be making those around him better by giving them the right kind of opportunities to score. It's hard to judge how well he'll be able to distribute, because the one year he played point guard, he was flanked by a woefully inadequate supporting cast. The lack of firepower on that team is no more prevalent than in Nick Colella's 8.9% possession% while playing 66.2% of the season's minutes. Unknowns abound with this year's crop of players, but it should be safe to assume the situation will not be as dire as in 2013. Brandon Taylor, Donovon Jack and Geno Thorpe should be able to consume more scoring possessions, hopefully with the same efficiency they showed last year (and even better 3-point results).
The offense will go where D.J. drives it now that he's the point guard, but that was going to be the case regardless of what position you wanted to slot D.J. into. His scoring shouldn't be impaired, and he's been pretty respectable with maximizing possessions (only 13.1% TO% last season). His high usage will also allow Devin Foster and Shep Garner to slowly integrate themselves into the rotation, if they do indeed make the cut.
Now it's up to him to take his brothers to the promised land and complete the Philadelphia-to-Penn State hoops movement with a meaningful postseason berth. Considering D.J. has already faced such immense adversity in his life - the loss of his single mother, the loss of his high school mentor, the Buzz Williams screw-job and somehow graduating and passing the NCAA Clearinghouse in one of PA's worst urban high schools, Strawberry Mansion - navigating an 18-game Big Ten schedule can't be that bad, right?