July 30, 2007

The top penetrator: Who's your pick

Pick your penetrator.

Who's the guy who can get it in the lane for you? Which player can break down anyone off the dribble and create his shot or get an easy one for someone else?

That's the question we posed this week to Rivals.com Basketball Editor Bob McClellan and staff writer Andrew Skwara. If each of them had to pick someone who could maneuver past the best defenses in the land, who would it be?

After careful consideration, here's who gets the nod from each as the player who can create the best scoring opportunity, for himself or someone else, by penetrating the lane.

  • Cast your vote for the top penetrator

    Skwara's pick: Mississippi State guard Jamont Gordon

    There are plenty of guys who can get into the paint in college basketball. But, nobody does as much once there as Mississippi State's multi-dimensional star Jamont Gordon.

    Need someone to drive and dish? Gordon is your man. He averaged 5.3 assists a game last season, the most of any returning player in the SEC. You can't do that without being unselfish or a good passer.

    Need someone to create their own shot? That's where Gordon really excels. The junior averaged 16 points a game last season. Only one returning player in the SEC did better: Tennessee's trigger-happy Chris Lofton (20.8 ppg).

    But, it's how Gordon scores his points that really reveals how great a penetrator he is. Gordon made 42 3-pointers last season (a low number for a guard who averages well into double figures). Most of his damage came from inside the arc. Well, actually from the free-throw line to be more precise. Gordon led the SEC with 222 free-throw attempts. That tells you he is constantly attacking the basket and creating contact with defenders.

    Gordon's size and strength give him an advantage over the rest of the nation's top guards. A few are faster and you might even be able to find a couple who are more athletic. But, none is as strong as Gordon, who possesses a muscular 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame. He overpowers smaller defenders and blows past bigger ones. And when it comes to what's next, it doesn't matter if the situation calls for a tough pass around a double team, a burst of speed to the hoop or an off-balance jumper. You won't find anyone better than Gordon.

    McClellan's pick: UCLA guard Darren Collison

    I'm going with speed over size. Darren Collison (6-0, 160) is a whippet. He can get by anyone in college basketball. I'm not worried about someone being physical with him because you can't pound on someone you can't catch.

    The Bruins point guard averaged 5.7 assists last season, the most of any returning player in the Pac-10. Arron Afflalo and Josh Shipp got open looks because defenders had to cheat and/or help on Collison. He makes Ben Howland's offense go.

    Like Gordon, Collison isn't necessarily a huge threat from 3-point range either (he made 51 treys last season), but he shot it much better than Gordon from long distance (44.7 to 34.7 percent). That tells me you can play off Gordon and dare him to shoot rather than let him pierce the defense and get in the lane. You've got to honor Collison beyond the arc, and that creates a lot of space for him to create havoc.

    Collison also is a better decision-maker than Gordon. He averaged fewer turnovers (2.9 to 3.5) and shot the ball better from the floor (47.8 to 41.9 percent). Collison also is the better free-throw shooter by 10-plus percent.

    The Mississippi State guard is a terrific player, but the numbers reveal that a little too often he's trying to make a play when none is there.

    So if I have to "settle" for faster and steadier, I'm OK with that.

    Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.
    Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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