Beach: Lineup changes benefit veterans as much as newcomers

A change in the starting rotation was exactly what Wichita State needed.


Manny De Los Santos

Freshman Landry Shamet (11) helps up junior Darrall Willis jr. in the second half of Wednesday’s game against Tulsa.

Four missed free throws landed junior Zach Brown a seat on the bench in Wichita State’s matchup with then-ranked No. 24 Michigan State after only a few minutes.

Brown’s four off-the-mark foul line shots essentially put the game in Tom Izzo’s hands right when the Shockers had a chance to tighten the gap before the half closed.

Brown, as well as other veterans on the roster, are valuable pieces to Gregg Marshall’s team — a team that is benefitting from a quality source of depth. Marshall’s bench leads the nation in points averaged — something that’s sure to blossom when you routinely give playing time to 10 players.

But in basketball, you’re limited to five guys on the court at a time. And at some point you have to start the guys who give you the best shot to get ahead and stay ahead.

It would only be fitting that the starting lineup would be tinkered with following two consecutive losses in the Bahamas.

In Saturday’s first true road game, Daishon Smith, Landry Shamet, Markis McDuffie, Darral Willis, Jr. and Rauno Nurger were put onto the floor to first handle the Rams of Colorado State. This is a fresh look for WSU as Shamet and McDuffie were the only two in this rotation to have collected starts last season. Together they combined for less than a handful of starts in the 2015-16 season.

A fresh lineup can bolster all kinds of benefits. For WSU, the change was only fitting.

Saturday it became clear that Smith was the starting point guard. He’s a sparkplug. He brings urgency every minute he’s on the floor, igniting an offense that sometimes goes stagnant. On the other end, he also leads with an average of 1.4 steals per game.

Smith’s current mark of 6.4 points per game will only continue to grow as his minutes grow past their 17-minute average.

Conner Frankamp, a redshirt junior, made a couple of three-pointers coming off the bench in Saturday’s game. He shouldn’t fully relinquish the point guard duties until he matches the skillset Smith brings on both ends.

The skillsets of newcomers may be best showcased in the starting lineup, but it should be observed that the veterans are benefitting change, too.

Redshirt junior Shaquille Morris is a proven veteran. He’s often looked to for early scoring, but he plays more effectively when those duties are handed off. With fellow junior forward Rauno Nurger’s developing offensive prowess and defensive skill set, Nurger can hang with the best of them in the starting rotation.

Morris is clearly playing more comfortably. He hasn’t been forcing his shots, yet he’s still being aggressive. He finished with 13 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes against Colorado State.

These are the type of numbers he should be producing. He’s too big and too talented to be a non-factor, but he can continue to be a game-changer even outside the starting lineup.

Brown probably wants the starting role more than most of hs teammates. But his stagnant offense and missed free throws shouldn’t honor him a place in the starting five.

Brown’s mistakes have hurt him. It’s honorable that Brown has become more aggressive, but it’s only honorable when he can translate that aggression into points. Otherwise, his lengthier, more productive counterpart, McDuffie, warrants the role.

McDuffie has become the Shockers’ most prolific scorer. A starting role was only a matter of time — one that was probably dragged out much too long — for the reigning MVC Freshman of the Year.

Brown led all WSU scorers on Saturday with 16 points. He’s benefitted from a boosted drive having playing second to McDuffie.

Shamet should remain in the starting lineup. He deserves to do so.

He’s the most versatile player on this roster. His confidence remains even when the shots aren’t falling. This team needs that.

Swapping junior college transfer Willis for junior forward Rashard Kelly should only be seen as a minor change. The difference between the two is offense and defense.

One way or another, Kelly hasn’t brought the offense this year. Willis has.

Willis is second on the team in scoring averaging 9.8 points per game. While Kelly brings valuable defense and rebounding abilities, Willis brings the essentials necessary at this point in the season.

What WSU has been successful in time and time again is defense — that skillset has become second-nature for each member of this 16-man team.

But to move into a better direction in the scoring category, WSU needs to stick with a new rotation.

It’s a great boost when you can bring a second series skillsets off the bench. WSU has that ability with its veterans and from its newcomers — the only challenge now is to use them at the right time.

Marshall is a good enough coach to understand the right time. Should he remain open to change, this team will be open to winning.