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Meeting the 2021-22 FSU Basketball Roster: Guards

The first of three previews looking at FSU's 2021-22 roster.

We’re a little under two months out from Florida State Basketball returning, and with the schedule being announced, what better time to get acquainted with this year’s version of the team than right now? In the past, I’ve split this up into two separate articles with one highlighting the returners and the other focusing on the incoming talent, but this year I’ll be splitting it into three parts: Guards, Wings, and Bigs, all of which we will cover over the span. 

For guards, this will be anyone that will do the majority of the ball-handling for the team, so your point guards and one two-guard (he’s really a combo guard, but we’ll get to that).

This team is losing an enormous amount of production from last year’s Sweet 16 team: 65.7% of scoring is gone, as well as 70% of assists, 55.1% of rebounds, 60.4% of steals, and 59% of blocks. Some of it was expected. MJ Walker was a senior and Scottie Barnes was a highly touted 5-star prospect who ended up becoming yet another top-5 pick for the Seminoles. A few losses were unexpected. Balsa Koprivica shocked a lot of people by declaring early, RaiQuan Gray turned an excellent season into being drafted, while Sardaar Calhoun and Nathanael Jack transferred to Texas Tech and Cleveland State, respectively. If Gray and/or Koprivica came back for another season, you’re looking at a team with very few weaknesses and a ton of experience, but they were both drafted in the NBA, and FSU is now looking at a guard-heavy team, which is almost a complete turnaround from last season.

Ball handling was absolutely Florida State’s biggest weakness last season. As a team, Florida State had 363 assists and 359 turnovers. The team desperately missed Trent Forrest’s presence from a season ago and didn’t really have anybody that could settle the Seminoles down and get everyone together. A lot of forced drives, communication errors on passes, and not as many lobs as we’re used to seeing from a Leonard Hamilton coached team. I think that absolutely changes this season.

We’ll start with the returning players and work our way to the new guys at the end.

Returning Players

#0 RayQuan Evans, Senior

Last Season: 5.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.3 BPG 36.6/36.0/84.8

Evans is a touchy subject for a lot of fans. There were times last season where he looked like such an incredible player, such as when he had a career-high 24 points against NC State in early January or when he had three steals in the first game against UNC. Then there are other times where he has four turnovers against Michigan or disappears for five straight games at the end of the season without making a single field goal.

What Florida State needs most from him is consistency and leadership. He can’t come out and shoot 36% from the floor again or have an assist to turnover ratio of 1:1. Evans has to have a firm understanding of the offense, get people in the right spots, and make the right passes on time. He won’t be relied upon as much this season; last season, FSU just needed ANYONE that could handle the ball. If he can be like the 2019-20 version of himself where he’s getting to the free throw line and providing a steady 12-18 minutes of hard play, that’s really what the 'Noles need the most.

Season Stats Projection: 5.7 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.3 BPG 40.7/38.3/87.6

#12 Justin Lindner, G, RS-Sr

Last Season: 0.7 PPG, 0.3 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 SPG 30.0/0.0/NA

I haven’t discussed Lindner in seasons past because he hasn’t been a part of the main rotation as a walk-on. This offseason, there was a surplus of extra scholarships given COVID-19 “Super Seniors” not counting towards a team’s scholarship limit, and with a few extra scholarships to play with, it made sense to give one to Lindner, who has a lot of respect from people all around the program. He’s a talented player too; he had some interest from low and mid-majors had he wanted to transfer, but he stuck with Florida State and FSU is returning the loyalty. He also won’t count towards 2022-23’s scholarship count since he’s a senior.

He likely won’t be a needle mover this season, I don’t see him playing more than 3-5 minutes per game, barring injuries. Lindner's biggest impact has always come off of the court, where he can dissect game tape and help other guards see things from another perspective. His knowledge of the system is extremely important, especially in a season with six new players that figure to work their way into the rotation. Lindner can explain things in a way that the coaches can’t, and that’s a huge boost for some of these players. Lindner’s a better shooter than my projected stats may indicate, but it’s extremely hard for players to get a rhythm when they’re only getting 10 total shots in a season like last year.

Season Stats Projection: 1.1 PPG, 0.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.3 SPG 37.5/30.0/75.0

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New Players

#4 Caleb Mills, RS-Sophomore

Last Season (Houston, 4 games): 9.8 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.3 APG, 1.3 SPG 44.8/25.0/100.0

There are some big shoes to step into for Mills. Here are the last three players to wear number 4 at Florida State: Scottie Barnes, Patrick Williams, Dwayne Bacon. Three pros, two guys that won 6th Man of the year, and two guys that went in the Top 5 of the NBA draft. No pressure, Mills. Fortunately, he’s likely going to be Florida State’s best player this season. Don’t put a ton of stock in his stats from last season at Houston. It was only four games before he went out with an ankle injury and then transferred once he realized Houston was taking the ball out of his hands more than he liked. Look at his freshman season when he was 13.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG, and 1.1 APG on solid efficiency and went into last season as the AAC Preseason Player of the Year. This is a player with a ton of talent and a lot to prove after watching his former team go to the Final Four while he sat on FSU’s bench. He’s going to be hungry to prove that Florida State belongs in that conversation.

Mills is at his best is in transition. If you go back to his freshman year, he scored a blistering 1.2 points per possession. On a team that will want to get out and run as much as Florida State will, this is a perfect fit. If he needs to operate in the half-court, he’s able to do that as well, scoring 1.006 PPP on spot-up opportunities, which was in the 75th percentile among all players in 2019-20. He’s not the ideal isolation scorer, but part of his inefficiencies were a product of Houston’s clunky offense and lack of shooters; as a team they only shot 33.7% from 3 and Mills was one of only two players to shoot better than 36% from 3. Spacing has always been an issue for Kelvin Sampson coached teams. He’ll also need to improve in the pick-and-roll, but for someone that wants to get to the NBA and as much as FSU runs screens, he’ll have ample opportunity to improve there.

While I haven’t mentioned his defense yet, he’s more than capable on that end of the floor as well. Sampson’s Houston teams have been stingy on defense the last few seasons, and Mills was a part of that. He has great length to challenge passes and shots, and is not afraid to defend the rim in transition.

From what I’ve heard from practice reports, he’s better than advertised. This is a guy who’s going to provide EXACTLY what Florida State has been missing since… Braian Angola? Toney Douglas? He’s a much better ball handler than Angola though, and a much more natural scorer than Douglas (though not the defender Douglas was). A combo guard that can put the ball in the basket whenever he wants is dangerous for a team like this that has so many versatile defenders and players. I’m a little concerned he may be Florida State’s only true go-to scorer, but we won’t really know until we see more of Matthew Cleveland in a college game and see the improvements Anthony Polite makes. I’m expecting BIG things from Mills this season. He also gets a little bit of a boost since he was able to be in practices and on the bench for home games the last month or so of the season, so he was able to learn the system more than your usual transfer.

Season Stats Projection: 15.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.1 BPG 41.7/34.6/81.1

#1 Jalen Warley, Freshman

Last Season Stats (High School): 15.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 7.0 APG

Warley comes with a lot of high praise and fits into FSU’s “Big Guard University” perfectly. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, he has the size and skill to play the 1 or the 2 and guard most 3s and 4s in college basketball, exactly what Florida State wants. The goal is for him to end up as a player similar to Trent Forrest, and they do have very similar skillsets: can finish at the rim with either hand with ease, are able to use their size and length for offensive putbacks, and the game goes at their pace, Warley especially will not get too sped up unless he’s in transition. There are some impressive alley-oop passes on Warley’s high school tape, something that will fit right into FSU’s offense.

His shot looks fluid, and while he was never asked to be a catch-and-shoot 3-point kind of guy, I don’t have any doubts that he could become that and be efficient with it if he really needed to. Warley is also an incredibly pesky on-ball defender. There are times on his high school tape where he just attacks the ball-handler and comes away with the steal. Against stiffer competition, he’ll have to reign in on the big chances and stay away from reach-in fouls, but this is a player with very natural instincts. His freshman year may look a lot like Forrest’s where he’s not putting up a ton of stats, but the potential and charisma will be obvious.

Season Stats Projection: 4.7 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.3 APG 1.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG 46.7/32.2/79.5

Overall

Florida State improved massively here, bringing Jalen Warley and Caleb Mills to the room, giving them multiple options to score and pass. This is an important thing, as the recent elite teams of college basketball have had elite guard play. Last season’s national champion Baylor ran deadly three-guard lineups with Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, and MaCio Teague, Virginia had Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome in 2019, Villanova had Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo in 2018 and Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Brunson in 2016, Duke had Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, and Grayson Allen in 2015… really the only recent national champion that wasn’t completely reliant on guard play was 2017 UNC and even they had Joel Berry.

As great a talent as Scottie Barnes was, he wasn’t an ideal point guard which is what FSU needed more than anything last year. Now they have a true, young point guard in Jalen Warley, who can grow into an all-time great in Tallahassee, they have a certified bucket getter in Caleb Mills, and experience in RayQuan Evans and Justin Lindner. It may take a little bit of time for it to all come together, but there is a lot to love in this group.

On Wednesday, we’ll be right back with a preview of the Wings.