Bears utilizing depth by bringing talent off the bench

By Shehan Jeyarajah
Sports Writer

In the past, Baylor basketball has been a team that has relied on one or a small group of stars for much of its production. This season, that has changed with the dynamic depth of the 2013-14 Baylor Bears.

Over the past five seasons, Baylor has had 13 players who played 30 minutes or more per game, an average of 2.6 per season. This year’s team does not have an individual player who has reached that mark.

This year, eight players on Baylor’s 2013-14 team average 17 or more minutes per game. The Bears on average have had less than six players each season reach that mark.

“It must be complicated for the coaches to make a rotation this year,” sophomore forward Rico Gathers said. “There’s almost too much talent on this team. Even some of the young guys aren’t really young guys, they’ve been in a lot of basketball situations.”

The uptick in talent on the Bears this season has meant that Baylor has had an edge in experience and veteran savvy.

Senior guard Brady Heslip started at guard for all 36 games of the 2012-13 season, but has been moved to the second rotation this year to accomodate Baylor’s wealth of talent.

After averaging 8.6 points on 38.9 percent shooting from the field and 38.6 percent from three last season, Heslip has improved to 11.2 points per game on 46.6 percent from the field and 48.1 percent from the three point line this season. Heslip’s minutes are down to only 22.4 per game, but his production and efficiency are the best of his career.

The aforementioned Gathers managed to put up a solid season in limited opportunities during his freshman campaign. He averaged 5.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in only 16.7 minutes per game. Many expected him to start this year before both sophomore center Isaiah Austin and senior power forward Cory Jefferson opted to pass on the NBA Draft and return to school.

The Bears start Austin and Jefferson together in the frontcourt. While he does not have the height and length of those two, Gathers brings a new dimension that neither of the others do: pure muscle.

“Gathers is built like a Mack truck at 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds,” CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein said. “He’s the nation’s best frontcourt reserve. This guy would be a star if he didn’t play behind Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin.”

In his sophomore season, Gathers has improved his production to 7.7 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game in only two more minutes per game. Gathers is third in the nation at rebound rate. He averages 16.3 boards per 40 minutes. Gathers also leads the Big 12 in offensive rebounding and is fourth in overall rebounds per game. He has expressed a desire to lead the nation in rebounding.

“This frontcourt has everything we need,” Gathers said. “We have power, we have skill and we have athleticism. When you have those three things on one team, the sky is the limit.”

Baylor lacks a player like former guard Pierre Jackson who would take the burden to win upon himself for entire games. That is not necessary on this team. All eight rotation players for Baylor average at least 6.2 points per game. The Bears have four players who average double-figures. Despite graduating a guy who averaged nearly 20 points per game, Baylor has increased their offensive output this season.

“We have players on our bench who we can go to at any point,” sophomore forward Taurean Prince said. “You don’t want to be a detriment to your team off the bench, you want to come in and contribute.“

While the Bears do miss the dynamic individual scorer that they have had in years past, this rotation will give them the consistency and options they need to reach the NCAA Tournament once again.