It's September, and Bruce Pearl is already talking about how much he loves Auburn's depth
The Tigers lost two of the best players the program has ever had to the NBA. But they look like they'll be deeper, more versatile — and, potentially, just as dangerous.
C Dylan Cardwell and SG K.D. Johnson (Auburn Athletics)
This is becoming an annual tradition.
It’s September, and Bruce Pearl is already talking about how much he loves the depth of his team.
“I don't know, I just don't think there's gonna be that much separation,” Pearl said earlier this week, before his annual Bruce, Barkley and Basketball fundraising golf event. “I really don't. I think we're gonna have two really good centers, two really good big guards. We're gonna have two really good wings, two really good scoring guards and two really good point guards. I see us playing 10.”
Let’s run that down, piece by piece.
Two really good centers: Auburn is replacing National Defensive Player of the Year Walker Kessler with Johni Broome, the Morehead State transfer big man who was an elite rim protector and inside scorer last season, then scored at least 17 points in all three games of the Tigers’ Israel tour — including the finale against the senior national team. Dylan Cardwell, the human energy drink off the bench, returns after finishing third behind Kessler and Jabari Smith in several advanced metrics last season.
Two really good big guards: “Big guard” is the perfect way to define the role of Yohan Traore, the 5-star freshman from France who has an incredibly versatile and athletic game at 6-foot-10. He was instant offense in Israel. Then there’s Jaylin Williams, a senior who has worn a lot of hats on Auburn’s roster already and has a cool smoothness to his game that few can replicate in the SEC.
Two really good wings: Auburn is looking for 2022-23 to be the revenge tour for Allen Flanigan after he struggled to get his offensive game going consistently after missing considerable time with an Achilles injury. But even if Flanigan isn’t completely back to his old self, Chance Westry is still one of the highest-rated recruits in Tigers’ history and put on quite a show with his playmaking and two-way impact on the Israel tour.
Two really good scoring guards: The off-ball spot on Auburn’s 2022-23 roster will be the most fascinating one. K.D. Johnson has the ability to completely take over games, and his trademark tenacity on both ends of the floor is a lift to everyone around him. Zep Jasper might be the best pure on-ball defensive guard coming back to the SEC next season, and he looked more confident and comfortable with his offensive duties as a shooting guard during the Israel trip.
Two really good point guards: All signs are pointing for Auburn to turn the show over to Wendell Green Jr. this season after he posted some ridiculous offensive numbers as a sixth man who basically got key starter minutes in the last campaign. Behind him, the Tigers are already breaking in Tre Donaldson, another smaller point guard in Pearl’s preferred mold who brings the instincts and physicality of a former quarterback onto the hardwood.
And that 10 doesn’t include what the Tigers could get at times in veteran reserves Chris Moore — who Pearl said “had a great summer” that featured a great finale against the Israel senior team — and Stretch Akingbola. There’s also sharpshooter Lior Berman, who snagged minutes early last season on the wing.
“I feel really good about the 13 guys that we got,” Pearl said. “And I feel really good. Now, do I feel great? Who am I going to feel great about? And that's what this preseason is designed to do. Who is going to get the last shot? Who is gonna be able to step up and make the big plays? When does the cream separate itself?
“When do guys go from being really good to great? Who does that?”
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