Roar! The long basketball offseason has begun, but we’ve still got plenty of content coming your way. Yesterday, Eli got our Postseason Grades series underway with an in-depth review of Deividas Zemgulis’s 2016-17 campaign. I’ll try to keep the train rolling today by blogging about Julian Moore. The 6’10” center out of Philadelphia came into the season with the chance to seize a major role thanks to the graduations of Jordan Dickerson and Donovon Jack, but he was quickly surpassed on the depth chart by redshirt freshman Mike Watkins.
Instead of becoming a key cog in Pat Chambers’s rotation, Moore saw his minutes drop from 15.5 per game in 2015-16 to 14.9 per game in 2016-17. He also scored one fewer point per game and was mostly used to soak up fouls in the paint while Watkins was either resting or in foul trouble himself.
It didn’t take Penn State fans long to see why Watkins had replaced Moore as the starting big man on a team built around athletes slashing to the bucket. Watkins was a more efficient player than Moore due to his ability to finish at the rim with authority and provide a big target in the paint off the pick-and-roll. Moore might have Watkins beat with his post-up game, but last season it didn’t take a big leap over where it was in 2015-16, and thus Moore’s shooting percentages stayed about the same.
It didn’t help that Moore still hasn’t developed a mid-range jump shot that could have helped him create pick-and-pop opportunities or at least keep defenders from playing off him away from the hoop. With a limited offensive repertoire, Moore wasn’t much help in those frustrating games in which the Nittany Lion guards haplessly missed jump shots.
Moore was praised by Pat Chambers this past season for his communication on defense, but he was far from a dominant playmaker. While Watkins and Josh Reaves made big blocks and steals to keep Penn State in games, Moore often committed too many fouls to make a big impact. He averaged 5.3 fouls committed per 40 minutes, which means if Chambers just left him in every game, he would always foul out.
The good news is that Moore improved his block percentage from 4.0 percent in 2015-16 to 5.2 percent in 2016-17, and he did a better job grabbing offensive rebounds as well. He was second on the team in both categories, but Moore came up short in the defensive rebounding game, where he was outperformed by Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens in defensive rebounding percentage.
In short, Moore was a decent help defender last year, but when locked in one-on-one matchups, he too often fouled opponents and lost battles for rebounds.
Penn State’s lack of depth was a huge problem last season, as there weren’t any reliable scorers coming off the bench. Even though Moore didn’t perform up to expectations, he was still a useful asset due to his size and ability to block shots. However, if he had improved his offensive game at all, Chambers may have been able to experiment with both him and Watkins on the floor at the same time, but the team needed the shooting ability of Stevens and Payton Banks at the power forward spot.
Offseason To-Do List
1) Post-up game - Moore might not be capable of the highlight dunks that Watkins served up in 2016-17, but he’s still capable of helping the offense in other ways. Perhaps he can work on his post game to include something other than an awkward hook shot? Something like an up-and-under move or even a fade-away jumper would help the offense tremendously.
2) Jumper - Speaking of a jumper, it would be nice if Moore could nail a shot from 15 feet out when given some breathing room. Penn State as a team was miserable at shooting last year, and it’s easy to point at the guards and tell them to practice their three-pointers over the summer. These days, though, basketball is about spacing the floor and making sure that even the big men can be threats from the perimeter.
3) More efficient defense - Penn State fans got used to seeing their big men in foul trouble last season, as Watkins and Moore had trouble staying in front of skilled centers like Nick Ward and Caleb Swanigan. Even if those opponents are going to get their points no matter what, it would help if Moore could cut down on fouls so that when Watkins inevitably gets into foul trouble, Chambers can give him a proper rest. By learning to be more technically sound on defense, Moore can make himself more valuable as a bench piece.