Looking forward to parts II and III - FlaGators.
Andy has the definitive reaction on the end of the season—and if you've somehow missed it GO READ IT NOW—so I'm not going to clumsily retread over how to feel about the Gators' bittersweet multi-act drama. Instead, I'm going to give you what I consider my best: a review of the Gators' up and down season complete with facts and data and other bits of nutritious et cetera. I consider this to be a large task, because watching basketball provides a lot of raw data to analyze and smart people on the internet provide a lot of different tools to use to quantify that data, so I'm going to try and do this in a few equal-ish parts. Today I'll cover the starting guards, Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Bradley Beal. Next I'll look at the front court, then finally the bench.
If at any point this becomes TL;DR, just skip to the end and there will be ARBITRARY SCORES THAT TOTALLY DEFINITIVELY REVIEW THE PLAYERS IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY.Erving Walker
31.3 MPG 12.1 PPG 39% FG 36% 3FG 81.5% FT 4.6 APG 2.9 RPG 1.0 SPG
Walker posted career highs in assists and free throw percentage, despite a slight dip in minutes and a major slip in points per game, down from 14.6. It wasn't that Walker had a worse year than his hot shooting 2011 season, he simply tweaked his style. Instead of being UF's primary scoring option, he became a facilitator. Last year, Walker got away from passing, and a large percentage of screen action became Walker isolations where he'd either shoot a rolling 3 pointer off of a screen or drive the lane for a scoop layup. For a 5'8" player, he was ridiculously effective at playing what is essentially an NBA 2-guard's game, but he definitely wasn't maximizing his potential.
Billy Donovan recognized this and challenged Walker to see the plays as a passer instead of a shooter. The coaching move worked, and UF's offense thrived under Walker's leadership with the Gators second in the SEC in points per game and leading the conference in assists per game. Additionally, despite shooting lower-than-2011 percentages across the field, Walker posted his highest offensive efficiency ever.
It wasn't a perfect season for Erv, his defense was miserable and he lapsed into me-first Erv too often, but he put together a year that provided the right kind of finale for what is likely UF's greatest career PG while still feeling quintessentially Erving Walker. The "I can't miss" swagger was responsible for 0-7 against Kentucky, but also drove the dagger into Marquette late in the Sweet 16 matchup. And though he went ice cold along with the rest of the Gators against Louisville, Walker put on a passing and dribbling clinic that Florida hasn't seen since the Jason Williams days. Walker did not have the Gators' best season, but because he had his best season, Florida survived longer than 338 other NCAA Division 1 teams.
31.6 MPG 15.9 PPG 44% FG 40.7% 3FG 75.4% FT 2.7 APG 2.6 RPG .8 SPG
It took 4.5 months for Brad Beal to finally surpass Kenny Boynton as Florida's best player. It took until last weekend for that to no longer be a serious argument. That says as much about Beal's growth and potential as it does Boynton's rise from afterthought in Brandon Knight's recruiting class to serious contender for best player in the SEC. Boynton, who finished 2nd in the SEC in points this year, got significantly better in every offensive aspect of basketball.
Most analysis on Boynton's 2011-2012 season will focus on his 3-point shooting. His 110 made 3s this season rank second in Florida history to Lee Humphrey. Despite closing the season 9-40 from downtown, Boynton still shot above 40% from three, 7.6 percentage points higher than last year's mark. He also shot 5.5 points better from the field, raising his effective FG% from 47.6% last year to a eyebrow raising 56.9% this year. That's the kind of stat line expected from a 5-star shooting guard.
Thanks to his production, Donovan trusted Boynton more often as the primary ball handler. Nobody will confuse Kenny with Erving Walker, but he cut down his turnovers and increased his assists, especially in the tournament where he posted 17 assists and 8 turnovers. He also was a competent on ball defender against true guards because of his footwork and athleticism and because his height wasn't hugely detrimental to defending against jump shots. From a technical standpoint, he is UF's best defender. However, 6'1" may be a long way from 5'8" but it's still on the short side of basketball players. Boynton regularly got screened onto combo forwards who negated his work by simply elevating. He also seemed to have more trouble defending against isolation drives this season, though that could've just been matchup problems that were exploited by select teams.
Ultimately, Boynton gave UF what they hoped for when he selected the Gators back in 2009, a hot shooting, high motor player who forced teams to spread the court or get killed deep. Even through his year-ending slump Boynton remained UF's best offensive player. I don't know if he'll stay another year, but I do know that if he does, the Gators will be well on their way to a third Elite 8.
34.2 MPG 14.8 PPG 44.5% FG 33.9% 3FG 76.9% FT 2.2 APG 6.7 RPG .8 BPG 1.4 SPG
If Beal chooses to enter the 2012 NBA draft, a choice that nearly everyone considers "wise", his legacy will be among the greatest Gators to ever play. In my opinion, Beal is the most talented player to ever play for the University of Florida. The year he put together rivals Horford's 2007 season and Chandler Parsons' 2011 season as the most impressive thing I've witnessed in Florida basketball history.
Brad Beal lived up to every bit of hype he carried into this season AND he shot about 10 points lower than expected. Florida fans who followed his recruitment expected a John Jenkins deep-range assassin. Instead we got Dwyane Wade and more rebounding and athleticism than anyone could have predicted. Beal couldn't hit his shot, so he found new shots.
Early in the season, Beal out-athleted everyone. When he got to SEC play, he quickly realized that he couldn't play that way every night. Instead of driving to hit the crazy layup, he began to drive to force contact, and Beal forced a lot of contact. He finished the season 2nd in the SEC in free throws, and raised his FT point percent, the percentage of a players total points that come from the free throw line, from 19.8% in late December to 26.7% at the end of the regular season (whistles go quiet in the tournament and Beal's final FT point% was 24.3, still good enough for 15th in the SEC).
I've barely even touched on Beal's rebounding too. Florida has never seen anything like that from a SG. I doubt many teams have. Beal finished the season 8th in the SEC in total rebounds, and third in defensive rebounds. Beal is a guy who did not play a single minute of back-to-the-basket ball and who started most of his rebounding attempts crashing from beyond the arc. Chandler Parsons had the feel for offensive rebounds. His driving put backs were one of the greatest things to happen in Florida basketball history and a major reason why last year's 38th overall pick is currently starting for a playoff contender. Beal's carries that same sixth sense but on the other end of the court. He's also between 5 and 7 inches shorter than Parsons (Parsons was also an excellent defensive rebounder, but for different reasons. He positioned himself prior to the shot and used his height and athleticism to pull down the ball). There's a good chance that Florida fans never see anything quite like Bradley Beal going after a rebound again; it was just that special.
The rest of Beal's defense was up to par with his crazy rebounding as well. After Yeguete went down, Beal became UF's lockdown defender, and he excelled in that role. Beal finished the season with 51 steals, 14 more than next best Erving Walker, and with 31 blocks, 6 less than team leader Erik Murphy. Beal couldn't replace a lot of the non-statistical things that Yeguete did, but he did a damn good job of replacing everything else. Again, this is a 6'4" shooting guard covering for a 6'7" stretch-forward.
There is no precedent for Beal's "I can do everything"-ness. Giving him the team MVP would sell him short. Beal should be awarded the equally fictitious "Team wouldn't have survived without me" award. Besides Boynton, Beal was the only other volume scorer on the team. He was the volume rebounder. He was the volume on ball defender, and one of the team's two volume blockers. He logged over 100 more minutes than anyone on the team, and 289 more minutes than Yeguete and his two replacements, Cody Larson and Casey Prather combined.
In the end, Beal didn't have his Carmelo moment. His shot betrayed him, and Louisville got their chance at revenge against Kentucky. Beal doesn't need that moment to validate what he meant to Florida though, the ultimate do-everything guy who played about 5 inches out of position and still came within a made 3 pointer of the Final Four and the most talented, if not best player to ever where orange and blue.
TL;DR TOTALLY ARBITRARY BUT ESSENTIAL GRADES THAT TELL YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THESE PLAYERS AND SAVES YOU LIKE 1500 WORDS OF READING
Erving Walker- 8/10 of a fullsized player with 21/3 of a full sized heart
final grade: 83
Kenny Boynton- 4.2 of 5 Rivals stars
final grade: 88
Brad Beal- +3 draft picks after Anthony Davis
final grade: 96