Due to the virus-imposed hiatus that has been in place since December 30th, the Saint Louis Billikens have been unable to get in on the A-10 mayhem that has marked the first stretch of conference play. Nonetheless, the Bills are still being heralded as the class of the Atlantic 10 in our weekly power rankings and are currently ranked #24 in the most recent AP poll. To fill the void, I took it upon myself to breakdown the play style of Travis Ford’s most consistent quintet and identify comparable NBA counterparts. We’ll start at the point guard position.
Yuri Collins: Rajon Rondo
Yuri Collins epitomizes the purpose of the point guard position. By using his superior basketball IQ, Collins is able to act as an extension of Coach Travis Ford in navigating and facilitating offensive sets. His tendency to pass-first and distribute high quality offensive chances to his teammates is the dictionary definition of the point guard’s purpose. Similarly, 2 time NBA Champion Rajon Rondo is renowned for his intelligence and has been one of the premier floor generals in the league throughout his 15 year career. Both players savvy decision making and ability to make difficult, sometimes flashy passes yield impressive assist to turnover ratios. Collins leads all power conference players in the metric at the moment, while Rondo ranks 5th all time at the professional level. Despite their smaller statures, neither player has an issue taking the ball to the rim effectively when necessary, adapting their game to compensate for their inconsistent 3 point strokes. The similarities aren’t limited to their offensive prowess, however. The pair use their aforementioned knowledge of the game and quickness to act as disruptive forces for opposing ball handlers, with Collins averaging 1.9 steals/game and Rondo having a steals title on his laundry list of achievements.
Jordan Goodwin: Eric Bledsoe
Jordan Goodwin is a unicorn. It is next to impossible to find a player whose impact can or has replicated that of the Saint Louis (Metro East) native. Still, I have to try for the sake of this article. My quest to find a player with the attributes of intelligence, athleticism, and tenacity packaged into a 6’3ish frame led me to former Kentucky Wildcat, Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe has been dubbed a “Mini-Lebron” due to his ability to impact the game in all facets. He can score, defend, rebound, and pass: each at a high level. In each of the past two seasons, he’s been named to the NBA All-Defensive team. Does this sound familiar? For the second straight season, Goodwin is averaging a double-double of points and rebounds. It’s difficult enough for an undersized guard to produce that stat line substituting assists, let alone rebounds. JGood does this while playing defense at an all-conference level, racking up steals, blocks, and other defensive plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Both players can get to the basket and finish among the giants in the paint, as their only true weakness is their perimeter shooting. I was tempted to compare the SLU senior to the great Oscar Robertson due to his prowess on the glass from the guard position, but in addition to his double digit scoring and rebounding outputs, Big O casually averaged 11 assists. Just unparalleled excellence. In total, Goodwin’s game cannot be compared to a single player’s skillset, rather an aggregation of multiple players’ strengths.
Javonte Perkins: Kobe Bryant
Disclaimer: There is only one Kobe Bryant. That said, it’s difficult to watch the 6’6″ St. Louisan and not see shades of Bryant in his game. Whether he’s hurting you from beyond the arc, from the elbow, or at the cup, Javonte Perkins is going to score points. The rare 3-level scorer, Perkins possesses the ever-elusive shooter’s touch from anywhere on the floor. He moves with a grace and confidence on the offensive side of the court that few can match. With the modern game aggressively favoring the 3 point shot, very few harness the soft touch in the mid-range that which Kobe and MJ built their illustrious careers. Javonte Perkins is the perfect blend of old and new school, which is likely why his game is so reminiscent of the Black Mamba. Kobe was the last great player who crossed paths with the stars of the 90s and also the stars of the late 2000s. It showed in his game, as he added more modern skills like the 3 point shot later in his career to pair with the Jordan-inspired mid to high post game of the 80s and 90s. Kobe approached the game with a level of seriousness and focus to which few others can stake claim. To a lesser extent, the Billikens bucket getter exhibits a strikingly stoic disposition whilst pouring on the points.
Gibson Jimerson: Danny Green
When finding a comparison for the Montverde alumnus, it’s tempting to limit the search to great 3-point shooters. While Jimerson is lethal from deep, his game isn’t completely one dimensional. I chose the longtime Spur Danny Green in large part because of his production on the defensive side of the ball. Whereas Javonte Perkins leans into old school tendencies to generate his value, Jimerson is as modern of a player as they come. Fulfilling the “3 and D” archetype, the now healthy redshirt freshman (thanks NCAA!) has provided much needed spacing and depth to the Billiken offense while giving Travis Ford meaningful minutes defending the perimeter. While both players utilize their lengthy frame to disrupt opposing passing lanes and contest shots, their primary source of value is in their spot-up shooting from beyond the arc. Holding the record for 3-point FG made in an NBA Finals, Green and his quick release are the perfect blueprint for what Saint Louis wants from Jimerson. The game-breaking potential from either to catch fire from deep is enough to warrant defensive attention, but their team-first mentalities and willingness to fill their role allows their teammates to get better looks and have more space to operate on offense.
Hasahn French: Bam Adebayo
The anchor of a tough Billiken defense, Hasahn French’s rare blend of versatility and athleticism make him stand out every time he steps on the court. With shoulders broad enough to land a plane, it’s easy to ignore his lack of height as a 6’7″ rim protector. But due to his pogo stick hops, no shot is safe from being swatted by the Dominican defender. He’s not just a presence in the paint either. When opposing guards get switched onto French on the perimeter, they instinctually look to “exploit” the apparent mismatch with the larger defender. This does not end well for opposing players. With quick feet and long reach, Hasahn disrupts and stifles even the best of scorers. If you watched the NBA playoffs this past summer, Bam Adebayo starred in a similar role for the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat against the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, and Anthony Davis. At 6’9″, Bam was often tasked with defending taller players, but like French, taller doesn’t always mean bigger. Adebayo’s mix of speed and strength vaulted Miami past some of the best teams in basketball. While each player makes his biggest impact defensively, neither is a slouch on the other end of the court. As elite rebounders, both utilize their strength and jumping ability to create chances on the offensive glass and capitalize for key second chance points. In the half-court, their refined footwork and soft touch at the rim allow them to be highly efficient scorers. In the same way each can defend the perimeter, they can operate as playmakers with the ball in their hands as well. Functioning as “big guards”, French and Adebayo are comfortable and knowledgable of their respective offenses, setting up high percentage chances for their teammates. In addition to these fundamentally crucial aspects of their game, I can’t neglect their propensity for thunderous dunks and high flying finishes. Like this #JAMTIME from Hasahn last year.