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Penn State Basketball Postseason Grades: Lamar Stevens

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There isn’t much that the front-court menace can’t do.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Penn State vs Nebraska Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We knew coming into the season that Lamar Stevens would be expected to play a great deal of minutes due to the Lions’ front-court numbers. Only Tony Carr and Shep Garner played more than Stevens’ 27.8 minutes per game pace. Carr and Stevens were the only two Penn State players that started each of the 33 games. We found out that the large forward from Roman Catholic High School is durable.

While it is not expected that Stevens will play the center position very often moving forward, the 6’7”, 218-pound freshman was given that task early in the season. As Julian Moore became more productive, Stevens was allowed to play power and small forward, where he is more suited to play. Next season, with the addition of two low-post defenders in Trent Buttrick and Satchel Pierce, Stevens should be able to play his more natural position the majority of the time.

Stevens is the Swiss Army knife on the team; he’s able to fill out the stat sheet and take on just about any role that is needed. He can take the ball up the court to help the guards handle pressure, and if the opposing team does not stop his dribble, he will take it all the way to the rim. He shoots mid-range shots, turn-around post jump shots off the glass, three-pointers and floaters in the lane. He also has a corkscrew at his disposal when there is a can of whoop ass that needs to be opened.

Here is a half-court dunk over Caleb Swanigan, accompanied by some stealth trash talk while getting back into his defensive position.

Offense: B

Points Per Game: 12.7

Rebounds Per Game: 5.5

Assists Per Game: 1.7

While averaging the second-most points on the team his performance was inconsistent until the final stretch of the season. This can be attributed to the expected freshman growth trajectory and also the fact that he struggled to keep his fouls down in stretches. While fouling out only three times, in several games he had to miss time to avoid fouling out.

He put up 20 points or more five times. Through five games, Stevens hoisted six three-point attempts, missing all of them. It appeared that the coaching staff directed the youngster to focus more on the game inside the arc, as he didn’t attempt a deep ball for 17-straight games after his slow start. For the final 11 games, he opened it back up, attempting at least two long-balls per game. He finished with a shooting percentage of 34.4% from behind the arc, but in his three-point shooting reincarnation, the final 11 games, he was 11 for 28, good for 39.2%.

Stevens made 2 or fewer field goals in ten games. For a scorer of his caliber, this is something that can be corrected with diligent coaching and mental focus, as well as staying out of foul trouble. In the ten games which he disappeared offensively, he averaged almost four fouls per game.

That being said there are few things that Stevens is unable to do on the court. No, he can’t play point-guard, but he can break the press with his dribble and passing abilities. He won’t play much two-guard, but if he is left standing flat-footed behind the arc, he will drain 40% or more with regularity. Other than that, he can play all three front-court positions.

He also showed the ability to get to the foul-line, racking up 146 attempts, making them at a rate of .767%, which was good for 10th in the Big Ten. He was forced to play the post on defense more than was hoped but he also filled a void from behind the arc. Davis Zemgulis, Nazeer Bostick, and Isaiah Washington combined for 6 of 34 from three-point land compared to Steven’s 11 of 32.

He was being stretched both ways, big and small, due to the team’s needs. Next year those same skills, defending the opposing center and shooting three-point shots, may not be as uncomfortable for him as he continues to grow as a player.

Defense: B-

Rebounds Per Game: 5.6

Blocks Per Game: 0.7

Steals Per Game: 0.8

In 10 of 33 games he finished with four or more fouls. Part of this was due to his playing slightly out of position, taking on larger, more experienced low-post defenders due to Penn State’s lack of numbers. It is expected that moving forward, it is the opposing team that will be dealing with a match-up problem, as Stevens will only play center when it benefits Pat Chambers’ team, not out of necessity.

His rebound numbers were very solid, as were his blocks and steals per game. Continual improvement in all areas of his defensive game, ticking each of the categories upward slightly in the coming years, will make Stevens one of the most balanced players in the Big Ten.

Overall: B

As well as Stevens played this season, it is encouraging to see that he can make improvements in his game. There isn’t one glaring aspect that he has to correct; even the sporadic foul trouble is easily explained away. He simply needs to continue to work on every part of the game, sparing no detail, as he may still discover a talent that has not yet shown itself. His three-point shooting late in the season was a discovery of sorts, there may be more surprises next season for opposing teams to deal with.

Offseason To-Do List:

1- Correct the foul trouble- There is reason to believe that this will be easier for him than it is for most low-post players. Part of the correction will come from understanding his importance on the offensive side of the ball. The addition of Pierce and Buttrick will allow him to move to small forward at times to avoid foul trouble. Playing his natural position will help. If he can stay on the court for a few additional minutes per game, it is easy to believe that his entire game, productivity-wise, will continue to advance.

2- Ball-handling and passing- His ability to dribble the ball up the court can take a great deal of pressure off the guards. Like most tall guys, he could improve his protection of the ball in the half-court. He also can continue to work on finding his teammates when he is being double-teamed with the ball. His understanding of the flow of the offense, in addition to mechanical repetitions in practice, should take his passing and driving abilities to another level, which should be very scary for Big Ten teams to imagine.

3- Become a leader- The most productive players are not always the leaders of the team on the court and in the locker room. With Garner and Reaves returning to take the Lion’s share of leadership duties next season there is no rush for him to grab the torch and run with it. But the following two seasons, he and Tony Carr will be expected to be the face and shoulders of the team. His demeanor on the court as a true freshman demonstrated that the ability to lead is within him, but it is something that must be nurtured. He has a great chance to assume a more active, if not vocal, leadership role in the coming years.