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Penn State Basketball Postseason Grades: Josh Reaves

Through two seasons Reaves has established himself as one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten conference, if not the entire country.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Reaves entered the Penn State program as one of the more highly-regarded incoming recruits in recent times. ESPN had him rated as the 74th-best player in the nation coming out of high school. Scout ranked him 2nd in the state of Virginia. It was never projected that he would be a consistent scorer; his strength is in his overall game, more leaning toward the defensive side.

As the 2016-17 season wore on we saw glimpses of what his game may become in the future. While scoring in double-digits only six times out of 28 games played, Reaves made an incredible impact from baseline to baseline, hounding opponents with smothering defense.

Reaves has the ability to steal an otherwise routine pass and take it the other way for the dunk. He also does a pretty good job of offensive rebounding, for a two-guard, soaring far above the rim when needed.

Here are his grades and a few areas that he could improve during the off-season.

Offensive Grade: B

Points Per Game: 7.7
Assists Per Game: 2.1
Turnovers Per Game: 1.9

Reaves had a glaring weakness in his half-court game as a freshman. He shot 3 of 39 from behind the arc, a success rate of 7.7%. It was clear that among his many skills, a natural feel for the deep ball is not one of them. Some of that can be attributed to nerves but his form improved as a sophomore as well. He shot 19 of 59, 32%, which is a solid step forward for a player that has had to learn the skill at the NCAA level. In his final ten games he shot a very respectable 8 for 19, 42%. It would be nice if he came back for his junior season on the same hot streak that he finished last year with, but something between 32% and 42% would add a dimension to his game.

Reaves’ strength offensively comes in transition, usually following a solid defensive play. He has shown the ability to dunk, get to the foul line, or find a trailing teammate for an assist. It’s easy to forget that Reaves will be just a junior next season; he has played a great deal of meaningful minutes for the Lions already. One reminder of his youth is his decision-making. At times following a great defensive play, he pushes the ball up the court carelessly, leading to a turnover that could have been avoided.

Defensive Grade: Caps Lock

Steals Per Game: 2.1
Blocks Per Game: 0.8
Rebounds Per Game: 4.0

The numbers don’t jump out off the page but they are solid considering he has two more seasons remaining. His steals per game was first in the Big Ten this year after finishing 6th-best as a freshman. Other than that if you were to look at the numbers, it wouldn’t tell the story of Reaves’ contribution.

He rebounds well for a guard and his near block-per-game pace through two seasons is noteworthy.

Giving Reaves a grade such as A+ would not do his play this season justice. There is no statistic for fear caused in your opponent. He inspires his teammates to play harder, there is no statistical reward for that either. His performance was better than an A.

Giving him a grade such as AAA or A++ seems to cheapen the grading system. He is a lock-down defender, a human straitjacket, a partner with which no opposing guard wants to dance the tango, but then, if there were just one player or team on the court there would only be offense. It takes two to defense.

Reaves deserves something better than an A, so he will receive the highest award possible, the Caps Lock. It’s a double-sized button on the keyboard, signifying a contribution on both sides of the court. Also, when you press with Caps Lock, it makes every Penn State player on the court as big as they can possibly be. Chambers’ squad will capitalize on many plays made by Reaves in the next two seasons that will be credited on the stat sheet to another player.

He is also a lock to be a captain of the team next season. This honor would be based on his demeanor and contributions off the court, but his on play on the court, particularly on the defensive side, can carry the team through difficult stretches of a game or season.

Overall: A-

It’s hard to criticize his offense since he spends so much energy on defense, but if his scoring numbers can tick upward a couple of notches it would be enough for an A rating.

Offseason To-Do List

Work on ball-handling- In the half-court setting Reaves could improve his ability to lead teammates into scoring chances while he is driving through the lane. That would increase his assist rate but also open his own shot up more as the opponent would have to worry a little bit more about him dishing it off. In the transition game, his decision-making sometimes leads to turnovers, but other times it is simply mechanical error. That is something that he can improve, in part through repetition. He can also decrease his turnover rate by realizing that when he has made a great defensive play, it isn’t always the best decision to push the ball up-court or pass to a streaking teammate.

Stay Healthy- Reaves has missed a handful of games in the past two seasons, first with mono during his freshman season and then a lower-leg injury that held him out of the first five games of 2016-17. His role will be critically important next season and the nature of his game increases the wear and tear on his body. It is important for him enter the season healthy and ready to go. The good news is that the 6’ 4”, 210-pound defensive menace should continue to heal quickly when he gets the occasional twisted ankle since he is incredibly young for an incoming junior. He will turn 20 years old on June 4.

Shoot the ball- His improvement in three-point shooting needs to continue, if it does, it will open up the lane for passing and dunking, as opponents will need to run out at him when he is standing flat-footed behind the arc. While the off-season prescription is to shoot as many shots as possible, during the season Reaves’ shot selection will be important. He shot more than 2 three-point shots seven times this season. In those games, where he was letting it fly, he hit 15 of 28, good for 54%. The rest of the season he took two or fewer attempts and shot 4 of 31, bad for 12.9%. The good news is that he knows when he is feeling it, and has the discipline to limit his deep-balls when he is not. If he can improve his technique and comfort level, it may improve his game-to-game consistency as well as his overall shooting percentage.