With big shoes to fill, freshman JaQuan Lyle became the all-around player for the Ohio State Buckeyes, but with his sophomore campaign approaching will he be able to ascend to another level?
The Buckeyes endured a rough 2015-16 season, but Lyle proved to be the saving grace of the sporadic squad and his contributions helped benefit them to the slim successes they actually had. Before we get to the main question, you must understand his rise to prominence first.
I mentioned earlier a guy's shoes he had to fill so let's talk about that guy who happened to be the No.2 overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft-- D'Angelo Russell. Russell exploded onto the college scene as a 'true freshman' turning the heads of coaches, scouts, fans and others on his way to a statistical season for the college ages. The Buckeyes enigmatic point guard averaged a season total of 19.3 points-per-game, 5.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting (.449) from the field and (.411) from free-throw.
He didn't only have success on the court but during the awards season too where he was also named to the Consensus All-American First Team.
No this is not about Russell, but this is the void he left when he opted for the NBA. His void was quite noticeable and Lyle happened to be the guy taking over this position. Russell was actually the one who officially broke the news via Instagram that Lyle would be committing to Ohio State.
Last season Lyle averaged 11.2 points-per-game, 4.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. A respectable average for a freshman tasked with following up the player before him. They are both bigger (6-foot-5), unselfish complete point guards, but despite the similarities they also have glaring differences.
One difference is in the shooting efficiency game. Lyle's field-goal percentage (.397) was decent for a freshman, but his three-point percentage (.252) needs a lot of fixing. This could be the product of a player getting used to the college game or something else entirely, but to reach the level of his predecessor, which he's discussed in the past, he must continue making drastic improvements in this specific area.
Where he excels at is on the defensive end of the floor. His length, physicality and speed helped him average one steal-per-game while disrupting other team's game plan's in the process. Like I said he's an all-around player.
So back to the original question, can Lyle make the sophomore leap?
I think the simple answer is yes he can and it's because history has shown us at Ohio State it's possible to do so.
Lyle cannot be the same player from a season ago, making repetitive, nuance freshman mistakes. With a full season down, as the lead guy for head coach Thad Matta, he must now control the game. History has shown us what it takes to be the lead guard for Matta, with examples like Mike Conley, Aaron Craft and Russell over the years.
The key idea to remember is each of those guys implemented their own style of play in how they led the team and this year it's Lyle's turn to showcase his. The opportunity is right there for JaQuan Lyle to take advantage of and he has the talent to reach those statistical heights, but regardless if he does or not they need him to make a big step forward with his on-court production this season.
If Lyle can make the leap in 2016-17 it would be key to Ohio State bouncing from last year’s disappointing season.