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Player Breakdown: Davante Gardner

Photo by A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor

Photo by A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor

What he did well: Davante Gardner’s Twitter handle isn’t @iGetBuckets_54 for no reason. The big man from Virginia can keep up offensively with just about any center in the country, averaging 11.5 points per game this past season, the second highest mark on the team. Whenever Marquette was stalling offensively, the go-to play was, get the ball into Davante’s hands and watch him work. He can score from just about any angle under the basket, no matter how good the defense or how off balance he is. It is a treat to witness him go to work in paint.

What makes Gardner even more impressive isn’t just the fact that he can put the biscuit in the basket, it’s that he does it so efficiently. Ox ranked in KenPom’s top 40 for offensive rating, finishing the season at No. 38. It’s not easy for someone who leads their team in possessions used to also lead in efficiency but Gardner did both, posting an O-rating 10 points better than even Steve Taylor’s.

Part of what makes Gardner so effective is the way he not only draws contact, but finishes both the play and the foul shots. From our tape review, Gardner posted 22 and-ones this season, getting the hoop and the harm. His 83.5 percent free throw was the best on the team and ranked second in the Big East. I’m not done yet, though. Gardner drew 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes, the 17th best mark in the country. His 147 freebies made were third best in the conference as well. The plaudits go on and on, reinforcing the fact that Davante was deadly at the stripe, almost automatic. Fitting.

It’s also worth mentioning that he was a prodigious rebounder, particularly on the offensive glass. Yes, a good chunk came from his own misses, but it takes talent to be able to track your own shot as well as Gardner can. He grabbed 12.5 percent of offensive rebounds available, tops on the Golden Eagles, and was tied for third in defensive rebounding percentage with Trent Lockett.

What he could have done better: Here is where the same criticism will be levied on him for probably the eighth consecutive year of his life. His conditioning, though exponentially better than it was when he arrived, is still not optimal, getting winded when the pace is quick and the whistles short. Part of his offensive prowess comes from using his large body to create his own shot so you don’t want him becoming a twig, but simply being able to stay on the court four or five possessions longer could mean an extra six or seven minutes of game time for him.

Alas, his defense is still sub par, though not as awful as it once was. Gardner took a drastic step forward in learning to defend the high pick and roll, making fewer dumb fouls and learning to at least delay the ball handler when he got lost in a screen. Learning to hedge even better is a step that Gardner can take next season to move from an adequate defender to a decent one.

Finally, it’s tough to pick on the Ox’s offense when it’s already at elite levels, but if he wants to sniff an NBA roster, a long shot at best as it is, he will need to learn how to pass out of a double team much quicker and more accurately than he currently does. Gardner’s turnover rate increased by three points from last year, not a shocking development with the increase in playing time, but not a trend you’d like to continue. He’s a very good passer with great vision, his timing and decision making just need improvement.

Best performance: There’s no point in dragging this one out for suspense. There was only one game that could fit in this slot, not because Gardner didn’t have good performances, but because it was as dominant a performance Marquette has seen from a big man in at least a decade. The game, of course, was the victory over Syracuse at the BC in late February.

The stat line alone is awe-inspiring. A career-high 33 minutes, a career-high 26 points, 7-7 shooting from the field, 12-13 shooting from the line, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists to boot. Even if it had been accomplished against a cupcake, it would still be impressive, but to do it on Big Monday, against an opponent that would ultimately make the Final Four, is a performance to be savored for years to come. It was so good, it drew an epic rant from Jim Boeheim, who snapped when reporters asked why he didn’t do more to stop Gardner.

Worst performance: Davante Gardner was limited to two points scored on three occasions this season, with all three (at Louisville, at Georgetown and  at Villanova) resulting in defeats.  Still, even though he wasn’t much of a force in any of those games, the matchup against the Cardinals stands out above the rest.

Gardner was not only 1-4 from the field, but he committed more turnovers (3) than rebounds pulled in (2) and was a liability against Louisville’s press and fast break, limiting him to 13 minutes. There is no shame in having a clunker against a national title contender, particularly one whose style so drastically limits your effectiveness, but it doesn’t hide the fact that Davante went missing, making it his worst game of the year.

2013-14 outlook: A lot will depend on Chris Otule’s decision to return for a sixth year. Should Chris come back, Davante will remain the most lethal bench option in the country. He should still see 20-25 minutes a game as he did this year, but would be relegated to the bench for defensive possessions, as Buzz liked to do this season.

If Chris decides to move on, Davante’s role will change pretty dramatically. He will most likely become the starter and have 25 minutes a game as a baseline instead of a ceiling. While junior college transfer Jameel McKay has the length to play the five, there is always an adjustment period of about a year to get Buzz’s scheme down pat. Steve Taylor has played some minutes down low, but he is much better suited for the four, the same of which can be said for Jamil Wilson. That would leave Gardner as the lone, true-center. Which is not to say he would play 40 minutes, he never will, but it does increase his importance to the team.

Gardner should be as effective as ever next season and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his range expand a bit. I doubt he has the green light to shoot many threes, but he shot well above the free-throw line and can probably incorporate the elbows into his game a bit more. (This is where I point out that he should incorporate the jautis more often, as it’s fun to say and impressive to watch.) Should he start hitting those 16-foot set shots consistently, he will probably turn into Marquette’s leading scorer next season.

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Categories: 2012-13 Review, Analysis, General News, Home, Player Review

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