For better or worse, the Texas Longhorns are now Kerwin Roach Jr.’s team.
Shaka Smart inherited the house that Rick Barnes built, but 2015-16’s entire starting cast and some has now left the 40 Acres—tasking the ‘Horns head coach with constructing a tournament team around his second-year foundational building block.
In the wake of a mass exodus headlined by Isaiah Taylor’s season-early departure, the closest thing Smart will have to a star talent comes in the form of a baby-faced bundle of athleticism that is said to have taken the expected step forward following his freshman campaign.
As part of a Texas All-Access feature, assistant coach Jai Lucas said of Roach, “It's kind of like a switch has been flipped in his head and he is a superior athlete, but right now he's becoming a better basketball player and a much better leader."
Considering the seemingly limitless potential jam-packed into Roach’s 6’4, 175-pound frame, such praise indicates the ‘Horns are in good hands going forward.
Even as a true freshman in a conference loaded with familiar faces and NBA-bound talent, Brent Musburger ventured to say Roach, “may be overall the best athlete in the Big 12.” But as a newcomer averaging only 17.8 minutes of nightly court action amid a roster chockfull with three- and four-year mainstays, Roach’s hyper-athletic flare was enough.
The same won’t be sufficient in 2016-17.
As the headliner of 2015’s class—one now joined by a fifth-ranked 2016 class featuring a pair of former McDonald’s All-Americans—Roach will need to be much more than a highlight dunk and catch-and-shoot 3-point threat for Texas.
During Roach’s earliest opportunity to display what he’s reaped from an offseason of sowing—the Texas Tip-Off—the sophomore provided glimpses of what an offensive-minded, supreme athlete can do with a better grasp of utilizing mismatches.
Great understanding and use of the PnR by Kerwin Roach. Saw the mismatch he wanted and attacked it. Great burst to get to the rim, too pic.twitter.com/ClEIB4K63j— Cody Daniel (@CodyDanielSBN) October 24, 2016
Considering Roach’s 24.1 percent usage rate will see a significant uptick without the presence of a bonafide ball-handler in Taylor, being able to exploit one-on-one matchups should prove essential for Texas after losing its two leading dime-droppers.
Finding and creating his own points should never be much of an issue for the explosive sophomore, evident in his 16.7 points per 40 minutes as a freshman—an effort greater than the 15.9 per 40 contributed from senior Javan Felix last season.
Simply put, Roach possesses considerable potential as a pure scorer.
As a freshman, Roach’s true shooting percentage (.546) was the most among all Texas guards, as was his 68.6 field goal percentage at the rim in transition—something it seems Roach will continue to excel at as a sophomore.
The concern following his debut season was never Roach’s upside as a point producer—far from it. But with Taylor’s departure came uncertainty surrounding Texas’ floor general vacancy and if Roach will be capable of efficiently orchestrating the offense.
To this point, there’s been little indication of that, which is a concern considering what Roach brings to the table on a roster clustered with youth.
Of the three guards that assumed bulk ball-handling duties last season—Taylor, Felix and Roach—Roach was owner to the lowest assist percentage (14.0) and the highest turnover percentage (18.8). He was also the only of the bunch with a negative ratio (-4.8). Not much changed in the Texas Tip-Off, as Roach’s two assists were overshadowed by four turnovers, which tied for a team-high.
Fortunately for Texas and Roach, though, Smart landed an All-American guard in Andrew Jones, who looked more than capable of serving as the primary floor general, compiling eight (mostly impressive) assists with only two turnovers.
As the two split distributing duties, often alongside each other in the backcourt, Roach should reap the benefits of a competent guard putting the sophomore in position to do what he does best—score.
Throughout his freshman season, Roach connected on 19 3-point attempts—89.5 percent of which were assisted on, per Hoop-Math, while 100 percent of his transition threes came off of an assist. Considering 33.7 percent of Roach’s shots as a freshmen were from the perimeter (58-of-172), having an assist-man sharing the court with him would aid in magnifying Roach’s strengths, while reducing the demand for efficient facilitating at a high rate.
As a freshman, Roach played 1,001 possessions, including 580 with Taylor, 496 with Felix, and 228 with Taylor and Felix both joining him in the backcourt, per HoopLens. In total, Roach played only 153 possessions (15.2%) without another proven ball-handler and facilitator alongside him. Much of his inefficiency as the primary point guard can be credited to a lack of experience, so having Jones to share the wealth with should to be a significant asset for Smart, but the proof is in the pudding—Texas is simply better with Roach on the floor.
When Roach was on the court, regardless of position and teammates, Texas scored 1.08 points per possession and the defense allowed only 0.96 points per possession; both improvements from when he’s on the bench, as seen above. Roach’s PPP on offense and defense were also better than that of Taylor, who clocked 1.06 and 1.03, respectively.
More impressively, Roach’s PPP differential of 0.116 was the highest among all major contributors on the team, excluding Cameron Ridley (.206), who missed the majority of the season with injury.
Impact plays like this help to that end:
Now set to begin his sophomore season, it’s unclear exactly who Roach can be as the focal point of a program entering 2016-17 ranked No. 22 overall and picked to finish third in the Big 12.
The evidence of his potential as an all-conference talent is certainly available, though.
For better or worse, the Longhorns now Roach’s team.
Is the sophomore ready to take Bevo’s reins?