Even if Penn State’s basketball team accomplishes all of its goals in 2017-18, there’s not going to be a lot of fanfare for Josh Reaves. This squad has its star players, and Reaves isn’t one of them. That much was made clear when he was overlooked for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year last season despite posting more than two steals per game while creating transition opportunities for the Nittany Lions. However, just because he’s not a star doesn’t mean that Reaves isn’t a very valuable member of the team.
What he did last year
His offensive game didn’t explode the way we would have liked, but Reaves was an all-around better player in 2016-17 than he was during his freshman season. Compared to his debut campaign, Reaves was even more adept at locking down opponents and creating turnovers. The biggest improvement, though, came in Reaves’s three-point shooting. As a freshman, he went a putrid 3-for-39 from beyond the arc, including an 0-for-11 mark in Big Ten play. He’s not going to be mistaken for Kyle Korver anytime soon, but it was great to see Reaves go 19-for-59 on three-pointers as a sophomore. If opponents have to respect him as shooter, it’s only going to open up more opportunities elsewhere on the floor.
Despite the big shooting improvement, Reaves averaged just 7.7 points per game in 2016-17 with four double-digit scoring efforts during Big Ten play. There are a lot of mouths to feed on offense, and Reaves doesn’t have to score to be successful, but there’s no reason why a player with his athleticism and improving skills shouldn’t average more than 10 points per game.
What to expect this year
Reaves is already an elite defender, so we’re looking for more improvement on offense in 2017-18. If he takes another step forward in his three-point shooting, there should be more lanes open for him to drive in and finish with authority. With Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens around, Reaves doesn’t need to be the focal point of the offense, but he should be more aggressive in cutting to the basket this season. Last year, he drew fewer than three fouls per 40 minutes, which points to him being a little too shy around the bucket. One player who drew more fouls than Reaves in 2016-17 was Payton Banks, a three-point shooter who played like he was allergic to the paint.
Reaves is a big part of Pat Chambers’s plan to turn opponents over and finish possessions quickly, but he also has the potential to help out in the troublesome half-court offense. If Reaves can attack the basket more often this year or become a more consistent three-point threat, it will go a long way towards building a Penn State offense that showed a lot of promise last season.