The traditional positions of basketball are becoming less and less important but there is still a need to have guys who fit the mold of those posts, even if they also have the skills to play elsewhere on the floor. Therein lies the biggest problem that could be facing the Cincinnati Bearcats now that Logan Johnson is thinking about transferring.
Last season, the Bearcats had three players who could play point guard and really four if you count Jarron Cumberland, who had an incredible usage rate and was the team’es best distributor. In terms of traditional point guards, however, they had three guys who were perfectly suited for the role. Seniors Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome both had great handles and were solid at getting the ball to the best possible scoring options. Johnson was the third-in-line for the point guard mantle and provided some solid play as a reserve, often in limited minutes. With Jenifer and Broome both graduating this spring, logic said that Johnson would ascend to the starting role. If Johnson leaves, however, there isn’t a clear replacement.
Head coach John Brannen is facing plenty of challenges as it is and without Johnson, finding a starting point guard will be another item on his to-do list. It will be a pretty important one as well. If Brannen hopes to spark renewed efficiency on offense, he needs players who can handle the ball and who can orchestrate an offense. Without Johnson, there really is no player that is perfectly suited for that role. Johnson had an 18.1 percent assist rate last season, while Jenifer, Broome and Cumberland were all above 20 percent. No other player had a rate above 10 percent and the next best contributor was Trevon Scott, who already has plenty to do in the froncourt now that Nysier Brooks has transferred to Miami (Florida).
With so few “true point guards” to lean on, Brannen may opt to go with a rotation that is without defined roles. Instead of having one player run the offense, we could see lots of passing and lots of movement with very little isolation plays. Keith Williams would probably be the primary ball-handler in pick and roll situations or when they need someone to just get a shot by himself, but his skill set just doesn’t match the point guard mold. That could change, of course, as we saw Cumberland establish himself as a willing and highly skilled passer last season, but betting on what could happen isn’t the same as having someone who is already established.
Speaking of Cumberland, as he continues to test the NBA Draft terrain, the Bearcats very clearly need him back more than ever. It’s possible that neither he or Johnson will leave, but if they both go, then the Bearcats need an answer at the point. Cumberland isn’t the traditional point guard either, but that type of antiquated thinking really disappears when you remember that he had a 32 percent usage rate and led the team in assist rate (25.6 percent). Like Williams, Cumberland wouldn’t be a point guard in 1980 but unlike Williams, he has the skill set to make up for it in 2019. Add in the fact that we’re talking about a potential NBA Draft pick who was named the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year and its pretty clear that Cumberland can do anything he wants. That includes playing as the de facto point guard.
We still have a while to wait before we know what Johnson and Cumberland are going to do. As I mentioned, they could both come back or just one could and then the point guard question is effectively answered. However, if neither do, the Bearcats will need to figure out a way to play without a point guard. It can certainly done, but for a team with so much changing this spring, adding another element of difficulty isn’t ideal.