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In search of a third scorer

Any team that really wants to be good has to have at least three legitimate scoring options -- preferably three that are consistent. One of the reasons the Cougs were so good last year was that you knew on any given night, you were going to get 10-15 points each from Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low, and then another 10-15 from either Taylor Rochestie or Aron Baynes. It was a formula that allowed the Cougs to be one of the more potent offenses in the country. (It's true -- their 115.9 adjusted offensive efficiency was 26th in the nation last year.)

But so far this year, the offense has shown signs of trouble. It's been inconsistent, thanks largely to its over-reliance on jumpshots. The three games the Cougs have shot above 52 percent eFG% (what's that?) have resulted in offensive efficiencies of 119, 133.7 and 113.5. The other four, in which the Cougs shot under 48 percent eFG%, have produced just 86.8, 106.3, 90.9 and 73.7. Only one above average performance in the bunch, and that was because we dominated the offensive glass (48.0 offensive rebounding percentage) against Canisius.

Part of the issue in my eyes is that this team has yet to discover a legitimate, consistent third scoring option. Aron Baynes has been startlingly efficient in the interior, averaging 11 points on just seven shots in only 22 minutes. And Klay Thompson has been stunningly consistent, scoring 14 or more points in four of the past five games (his seven points against Pitt on 3-for-12 shooting being the notable exception).

But they've really been the only two guys we can count on, something that was exposed by Pitt when the Panthers were able to take both Thompson and Baynes out of the game (just 14 points combined), resulting in an offensive efficiency that was a season low by a wide margin. As the season goes on, more and more opponents are going to be able to match up with the Cougs physically, and they are going to do everything they can to take at least one of those two away and dare the rest of the team to beat them.

So, who can step up and be that guy, the guy who makes defenses pay? In my mind, there are three plausible options, and if this team is going to be successful, at least one of them has to step up and be a legitimate, consistent double-digit scorer on a night-in, night-out basis.

Taylor Rochestie

It was thought that Rochestie would be a shoo-in for that role, hitting the occasional 3 and using his craftiness to get to the bucket. After all, he averaged 10 points last year while sharing the rock with Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver, and it seemed inevitable that his production would increase with the extra shots that would be available.

But that hasn't been the case. His overall scoring average is only down a tick, but that's largely due to a couple of 17-point outings against Sacramento State and Canisius. In the rest of his games, he's shooting just 24.4 percent and averaging only 7 points, capped by a miserable weekend in New Jersey against MSU and Pitt.

The scary part is that while he's got this reputation with us for being a Husky killer, he's developing a scary trend of disappearing as a scoring threat in big games against more athletically talented competition. Consider his performances last year in the NCAA tournament and against the upper half of the Pac-10, working backward from the end of the year:

  • 2 points (1 of 8) against UNC,
  • 6 points (2 of 8) against Notre Dame,
  • 5 points (2 of 3) against Winthrop,
  • 11 points (4 of 10) against Stanford,
  • 9 points (3 of 7) against Stanford,
  • 10 points (1 of 10) against Arizona State,
  • 13 points (4 of 9) against USC,
  • 7 points (3 of 7) against UCLA,
  • 7 points (3 of 10) against Stanford
  • ... you're starting to get the picture.

Some of these performances aren't terrible, but he certainly didn't step up as a scorer against these teams, save the USC game. Can Rochestie still be that third scorer? I think he can, if he concentrates on letting the game come to him and making whatever play is in front of him, whether it be a pass, an outside shot or a timely drive to the basket. But I'm a heck of a lot more skeptical now than I once was, and to be honest, I'm not sure I want him pressed into that role anymore. I'm beginning to think the best thing for this team is for another guy to step up and Taylor to be the guy he was the last two years.

Daven Harmeling

Harmeling makes the list because of his shooting ability. Unfortunately, that might be the reason he's not going to be that third guy. He's a one-trick pony, and while that one trick can occasionally be exceptional, it's not too tough for a team to take away that one trick. No better was that on display than when he scored 19 and 10 against USC and UCLA, then in five of his next six games scored 6, 4, 8, 3 and zero.

If Harmeling is going to be that third guy, he needs to do one thing, and one thing only: Start shooting without a conscience. To step up, he would need to be taking 10 shots per game, six of them from 3-point range. I don't know if it's in his nature, and I don't know if Tony Bennett would turn him loose that way. But if neither of the other two guys on this list can give the team what it needs, TB might need to roll the dice with Daven.

Nikola Koprivica

Nik, of course, is the wild card. He looks like he's finally fully recovered from his knee injury, but the increase in production you would expect just hasn't been there. Yes, his points are up from 2.5 to 6.6, but his minutes are up from 11 to 26, so the jump is natural. He's shooting better from outside, but not well enough to be considered a legitimate outside threat. He's driving to the basket, but he's shooting the same number of free throws per game right now as he was last year in 2.5 times the minutes. So he's a bit of an enigma.

Of the guys on this list, Koprivica developing into that third guy is my best case scenario. He seems to be the most dynamic, and he's the one guy on this list who can actually score some points attacking the basket consistently. If he can get on the same page with Rochestie on some of those Princeton cuts he's so darn good at, and start getting rewarded for his aggression with some trips to the line, he may yet develop into a 10 ppg guy. But now that the knee is no longer an excuse, we need to see Nik starting to consistently deliver on that potential he showed two years ago.

Everyone Else

Is there another guy on the roster who can do it? I just don't see it. Of the other guys in the eight-man rotation, Caleb Forrest can't create his own shot, and Marcus Capers and DeAngelo Casto are too raw. Abe Lodwick looks like he could do some damage someday, but that day does not appear to be here yet. So that leaves us with the original trio.

It truly doesn't matter which guy it is, but one of them has to step up. If not, I'm afraid we're going to be doomed to an offense that is going to be maddeningly inconsistent. We'll still win a lot of games on our defense alone, and a few more on hot shooting nights, but there will be games that feel there for the taking that will slip away -- disconcerting because that's often how NCAA bids slip away, too.