A Peek at Next Year: What is Lost

Written by Craig Meyer on .

Most Robert Morris news of late has, unfortunately, been focused more off the court, but with the season having ended over three weeks ago (how strange is that to think about?), it's time to turn the attention back to basketball and, specifically, what the Colonials are losing going into next season.

For those that may not be aware -- which if that's the case, I kind of admire you being on this site to begin with -- Robert Morris loses four players going into next season: guards Velton Jones, Treadwell Lewis and Shane Sweigart, and forward Russell Johnson.

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With all due respect to Lewis and Sweigart, who combined to make one field goal all of last season, the losses here to focus on Jones and Johnson, both of whom were fifth-year seniors.

Both players were valuable contributors both last season and throughout their careers. From a pure percentage standpoint, here's how much they contributed to the team:

% Points % Assists % Rebounds % Made FGs % Made 3-pt FGs Steals
Velton Jones 14.9 36.4 5.5 11.5 11.7 17.8
Russell Johnson 15.4 14.3 18.7 13.2 13.0 22.2

After seeing this slew of numbers, a few things stand out. One is that both guys were, obviously, fairly important pieces for the Colonials. To me at least, no numbers stand out more than the percentage of assists from Jones, the team's leader in assists per game, and Johnson's rebounding numbers, which put him behind only Lucky Jones.

As far as I see it, Johnson's stats don't give a full picture into just how important he was to this team last season. Statistically speaking, he regressed his junior season and got off to a slow start in 2012-13. Then something, whatever it may have been, changed. He became a more aggressive scorer, a better shooter, a more noticeable presence on the low block and a reliable rebounder.

Beginning Jan. 17 with a win over Sacred Heart, here's what Johnson's stat line looked like for the rest of the season: 13.6 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, 46.7 percent field-goal percentage, 43.4 3-point percentage. No context needed -- those are some pretty gaudy numbers.

Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, Robert Morris went 14-4 over that span, one that helped it capture the NEC regular season title and a spot in the NIT.

In a strange way for Robert Morris, there's something tragic about the timing of Johnson's graduation. Here was a player that struggled with consistency at times in his career and then when he gets on a roll and becomes a valuable contributor on a regular basis, his eligibility runs out. If he were returning next year, there could be that hope that what he exhibited at the end of the year would continue into next season. Alas, no such reality exists.

When looking at Jones' season, it gets a little problematic. Much of that comes from the fact that he played sporadically through injuries, some of which limited his ability when he actually was on the court, reducing him to a more limited role. As a result, his numbers look less impressive on paper and represent a clear dip from his previous seasons.

This is my first year covering the team, so I don't really have a similar Robert Morris player to compare this to, but I think Jones is unquestionably the biggest loss this team will face for some time.

Where traditional numbers fail, possession-based numbers help exemplify how important Jones was to the Colonials in both his senior season and throughout his four (playing) years at the school, which were among the most successful in program history.

From the most basic standpoint possible, Jones will be an important piece to replace because, as a point guard, the ball was in his hands the most. He used 28.5 percent of the team's possessions, by far the most of any Robert Morris player (with Johnson actually a distant second at 23.2 percent). The Colonials have not had to replace that kind of a figure since Tony Lee graduated in 2008 after using 29.5 percent of the team's possessions. What happened the following season is basically what I think will happen next year -- as opposed to one person trying to shoulder the full load, a few players will all average around 25-26 percent of the team's possessions.

It's also what Jones did when he had the ball that made him so valuable. He led the team in both assist rate (43.8) and fouls drawn per 40 minutes (5.3), with his assist rate ranking him among the top four players in Division I. No other player on the team was remotely close to him (Anthony Myers-Pate was next at 23.4) and it was the highest assist rate from a Robert Morris player in a single season in the 10-year history of Ken Pomeroy's rankings.

In short, the guy's pretty important and his loss will be felt.

In the coming week or so, I'll look more into who is returning and how the void left by Johnson and Jones can be made up for. From a pure numbers standpoint, Robert Morris is not losing way too much and there's certainly a lot of talent coming back (and coming in) to the program, but those that are leaving will be difficult to fully and adequately replace.

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