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 wings, this will be anyone that isn’t handling the ball as much, and will be more relied upon for their perimeter defense or shooting.
If you missed Monday’s article on the guards you can read it HERE.
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 come 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.
Wings have been Florida State’s bread and butter with their success in the last 5 years. Between Jonathan Isaac, Terance Mann, Dwayne Bacon, Devin Vassell, Patrick Williams, and RaiQuan Gray, FSU has been able to turn over this roster year after year with repeated NBA talent. This year is no different, though there isn’t as much wing depth as normal on this year’s team.
#2 Anthony Polite, G, RS-Senior
Last Season: 10.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.4 SPG, 0.4 BPG 50.0/43.6/66.7
Polite’s development took a massive step forward last season, going from 5.8 PPG on a 40.0/35.4/67.9 shooting split his sophomore year to 10.1 PPG on a 50.0/43.6/66.7 shooting split. He’s the perfect “complimentary” player, given his stoutness as a perimeter defender, with a steal rate of above 3% each of the last three seasons and has great size at 6’6” and 215 pounds. He can handle the ball in a pinch, and has no issues guarding the opposing team’s best guard.
I still think he’s an extremely underrated player despite the success he had last season. His offensive rating of 122.3 was 69th highest among all players in Division 1 basketball, his 1.066 points per possession (this is for all possessions, not just on one certain style of shot) ranks in the 91st percentile, and his 1.25 PPP on spot-ups ranks in the 94th percentile. Florida State was just a much better team when he was on the floor because of his shot making from 3 and his rigid defense. And even while the eye test may not suggest he’s in the top 7% for pick-and-roll or on cuts like the analytics suggest, the glimpses are there for him to turn into an incredibly important player in college basketball this season.
As much as I’ve talked about Polite’s offense, his defense is where he really shines. His defensive rating is best of all returning players that received main minutes last season for Florida State, as are his defensive win shares, steal rate, and is second in defensive box plus/minus. His defense is so respected among opponents, that he was the main defender on PnR Ball Handler situations (possessions where the pick and roll ball-handler shoots) on just 21 total possessions throughout the season, and held them to .524 PPP in shots out of the pick and roll. For comparison, Sardaar Calhoun, who only played 63% of the minutes Polite played, was in 26 of these types of possessions.
At times Polite can still over-dribble and there’s not really an excuse for him to be a below 70% free throw shooter, but given the better guard play FSU will have this year, he won’t be as relied upon to handle the ball. If he can become a 75-80% free throw shooter this season, it’ll really round him into a player with very few holes in his game. Polite will also have to be much better in transition, his 1.0 PPP only ranks in the 47th percentile. For a team that wants to get out and run as much as FSU, he’ll have to convert these chances at a higher rate for him to really take that next step. Overall, he is the prototypical 3-and-D player that modern basketball just absolutely loves, and has a chance to turn into a major player in the ACC this season.
Season Stats Projection: 11.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.9 SPG, 0.6 BPG 52.6/45.7/72.3
#31 Wyatt Wilkes, RS-Senior
Last Season: 3.9 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.4 APG, 0.3 BPG 40.7/38.1/80.0
Wilkes, like much of Florida State’s roster, had a very up and down season. For reference, he had four games with 3 made 3s, while also having 5 games with 3 or more misses from 3. For a guy that only takes about 3.5 shots per game, this is a high degree of variance. When he’s on, he’s as good of a shooter as there is in the ACC, and his 1.156 PPP on spot-ups was good for the 89th percentile nationally. There are times where he gets outmuscled while he’s on defense and on rebounds, but he plays hard, is an extremely underrated passer, and his knowledge of the offense and knowing where people will be is extremely underrated.
What FSU needs from him is consistency. No more stretches of games where he’s 1 for 8 from 3, or he closes the regular season and starts postseason play shooting 36% from the floor. If he’s a low-volume, high-efficiency player, that’s what Florida State will need. His 13.7 minutes per game last year was a career-high, and it wouldn’t shock me if that jumps to 15-16 minutes per game this season without a lot of solid options at the 4.
Projected Season Stats: 4.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.4 BPG 42.5/40.0/83.5
#21 Cam’Ron Fletcher, Sophomore
Last Season (9 Games, Kentucky): 1.7 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.6 SPG 53.8/25.0/0.0
Fletcher went through one of the weirdest situations I have ever seen a player go through during the season, when Kentucky coach John Calipari just sent him home in the middle of the season, tweeting the following thread as a statement:
You just do not see high profile programs just sending tweets out saying “we’ve asked this player to step away from the team.” Essentially what happened, Fletcher was extremely emotional over a loss and may have said and done things he wasn’t supposed to. He went to Kentucky to win, and at the time of this incident, Kentucky was on its way to a 1-5 start. This is a young, passionate player who made a mistake, eventually rejoined the team, and has learned from it. Coach Calipari said this of Fletcher after his intentions to enter the transfer portal were announced:
“Cam came so far as a teammate and as a player this season. He improved in all areas and I wish he would have had more opportunities to show everything he worked on. He matured as a person this season and I know he will have great success in whatever path he chooses. I support his decision and I will do anything to help him with his career.”
Fletcher came into Kentucky as the 71st ranked player in the 2020 class, and now comes into FSU with a chip on his shoulder, a bad reputation after his outburst, and a ton to prove. What Florida State wants to do defensively is exactly what Fletcher wants to do, get in your face for 94 feet, and make a ball-handler’s life a living hell. His shooting touch needs work, and judging from offseason workout videos and practice reports, his shot looks much more fluid and consistent. It’s a low-risk, high-reward addition for Coach Hamilton and his staff, but this is the type of player who can really set the tone defensively, and grow into a very productive offensive role. His stats won’t pop off of the page, but he’ll be one of those players that I think gains a lot of trust within the staff as the season progresses.
And he should win more than he was winning at Kentucky last season, so that can’t hurt things either.
Projected Season Stats: 2.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG
#35 Matthew Cleveland, Freshman
Last Season (High School): 22.8 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 2.6 APG, 2.0 SPG
Of all of the players on this year’s roster, I don’t think there’s anyone I’m more excited to see than Matthew Cleveland. Everything you think of as a Florida State basketball player is Matthew Cleveland, just take a look at some notes in his scouting profile: “Explosive athlete with top notch body control”... “top notch rebounder for his position”... “good length for a wing scorer”... “specializes in making tough shots”... “the best finisher in the 2021 class.” Not bad for a kid who somehow didn’t get invited to the McDonald’s All-American Game, despite being a five-star and the 24th ranked prospect in the class.
There will be some things that Cleveland has to improve on at the next level. First, his outside shot has to become more consistent. He can make it, but there are a lot of times in high school and AAU where teams are just daring him to shoot, standing three or four feet away. His team defense will have to be more active, like many high school systems his guy will pass the ball and he’ll just stand there instead of being on weakside help, and I think he can be a better passer than he has shown. That being said, he’s still a talented prospect with an incredibly bright future ahead, and he should be one of FSU’s leading scorers this year.
Projected Season State: 10.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.7 BPG 43.7/31.6/73.0
I don’t know that this group necessarily got better, but it’s certainly a solid group. Is a wing rotation of Polite/Cleveland/Fletcher/Wilkes (and Mills will spend a lot of time at the 2 as well) better than last year’s grouping of Polite/MJ Walker/Calhoun/Wilkes/RaiQuan Gray? Only time will tell, but I do think there is a higher ceiling.
This is a group with a ton of potential but needs to find that potential fast, especially with Cleveland. If he comes out of the gate and is a consistent scorer and contributor, Florida State will get off to a really hot start. If he comes out struggling, where else does scoring come from? Caleb Mills and Polite should be able to do a lot of scoring, but it’s great having a third option to bounce off of. If Wilkes finds the consistency the staff has been yearning for, he’ll be a very important player for this team. Fletcher and Polite should be able to shut down any opposing team’s wing scoring.
I could have thrown names in here like Malik Osborne and John Butler, who will both spend time at the 4 this season, but I think their best play will be at the 5 position, so we’ll talk about them in the next article with the bigs.