Sports

Projecting Auburn’s lineup with Johni Broome on board, one scholarship left

lastseason, Bruce Pearl brought in four transfers and only one freshman to reload his roster. This time around, the Tigers could end up inserting one transfer to four freshmen, as Pearl and his staff might be in the process of assembling the top recruiting class in program history.

That’s wild to say, considering the best recruit Auburn’s ever signed and possibly the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, Jabari Smith, was part of last year’s class. But the Tigers have five-star big man Yohan Traorefour-star wing Chance Westry and three-star point guard Tre Donaldson signed, along with what looks like a strong replacement for Walker Kessler, via the transfer portal. And there’s one more scholarship available, as all eyes turn to five-star forward julian phillips. Adding Phillips would give Auburn the No. 5 class in the country.

With Morehead State’s Johni Broomearguably the top big man transfer on the market, now on board and signed with Auburn, here’s a stab at what the Tigers’ 2022-23 lineup could look like — with one scholarship spot open, which Pearl would prefer to be used to add Phillips .

1/POINT GUARD

zep jasper

Wendell Green Jr.

Tre Donaldson


(Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports)


Considering offseason practices have yet to begin, Pearl doesn’t know what kind of production and impact he’ll get from his freshmen, and even Broome. But in the case of Donaldson, formerly a dual-sport signee with football whom Pearl clarified will only be playing basketball, he could do a lot worse than serving as a breather for Auburn’s top two point guards.

Green Jr. and Jasper both played 23-plus minutes last season, with Green Jr. coming off the bench but still playing the third-most minutes on the team. Donaldson, a crafty offensive passer and shot-maker from Tallahassee, Florida, could play somewhere between 8-12 minutes per game to take the load off the other two point guards and allow them to exert more in their time they’re on the floor — especially Green Jr., whose strength was to shoot out like a cannonball from the bench and start attacking immediately on the offensive end.

Now entering his second season with the program after transferring from Eastern Kentucky, Green Jr. finished third in the SEC in assists per game. His pick-and-roll game with Kessler was lethal during the meat of the SEC schedule, and he’ll be looking to establish a comparably productive rapport with the Tigers’ newcomers in the frontcourt this year.

Jasper, who chose to return for his sixth college season, will presumably be the starter once again. One of the best individual defenders in college basketball last season, the College of Charleston transfer also finished the season No. 1 in the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio.

2/SHOOTING GUARD

K. D. Johnson

Chance Westry


(Grant Halverson, Getty)


Consistency will be the name of the game for Johnson heading into his junior season. The Georgia transfer finished second on the team in scoring behind Smith, and was capable of offensive explosions, both attacking the basket and from beyond the arc. But he also worked himself into occasional scoring ruts—though his productive days far outweighed the struggling ones, as he scored in single digits in only nine of 34 games.

Considering Pearl might not have room to add 3-point shooting to the roster in the transfer portal, improvement in that department from Johnson would be big for the Tigers’ offense. He was a 29.0% shooter from downtown, good for fifth on the team. Pearl is going to put his faith in his experienced guards to step up this season.

“I wanted to bring in some quality, young guards to challenge those guys,” Perl said. “I’ve decided to do that with freshmen rather than transfers because I think those returning guys deserve to be the elder statesmen. But at the same time, these guys (freshmen) have a chance to push them.”

Westry, a 6-foot-6 small forward from Arizona, is no slouch as a recruit, either; he’s currently the fifth-highest rated signee in program history. He brings plenty of athleticism to the table on offense, plus he handled the ball as a point guard at the high-school level, too.

Fitting in position-wise at Auburn, Westry should find himself with plenty of minutes contributing as a wing at both the 2 and 3 positions. Even if the Tigers land Phillips to play the 3, there’s not an overload of depth.

3/SMALL FORWARD

Allen Flanigan

Chance Westry

Chris Moore


(Adam Sparks/Inside the Auburn Tigers)


This position obviously carries the largest asterisk at the moment. Phillips would be one of the most talented recruits in Auburn history, so it would be intriguing to see whether he would overtake the veteran Flanigan for the starting role here.

A rising senior who started 20 games at small forward, Flanigan missed Auburn’s first 11 games of the season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn Achilles.

His offensive efficiency (48.2% from 2-point range and 20.5% from deep) fell off from his standout sophomore campaign, where he was one of the SEC’s most improved players at 14.3 points per game, though he was still one of the Tigers’ top on-ball defenders.

“You’ve got to feel for him,” Pearl said in February. “And I want our fans to feel for him. … You talk about catching an injury that takes you out three and a half months in September and, obviously, working his way back from it — not the same player he was a year ago offensively. That can wear on you.”

A rising senior from Arkansas, Flanigan entered his name into the NBA draft process last month, though it’s unlikely he’ll keep his name in, considering he’s not a draft projection at the moment. Entrance into the draft process is now much more common, given the rule changes a few years ago that allow for an easier return to school. Even if a player isn’t projected to be drafted, or even a high-profile undrafted free agent, he can still receive feedback from the league in workouts and evaluations to get a clear understanding of where his pro prospects currently stand, and what he needs to improve in the coming college season(s).

In 2018, for example, Auburn saw Jared Harper, brice brown, austin wiley and Mustapha Heron all dip their toes into the draft waters. All four returned to school, though Heron opted to transfer.

Moore, who’s currently recovering from an offseason procedure on his shin, played in 25 games during Auburn’s SEC championship run this past season. The 6-foot-6 forward was the No. 10 player in Auburn’s rotation in terms of average minutes per night, and scored 1.7 points per game to go with 1.4 rebounds.

4/POWER FORWARD

Jaylin Williams

Yohan Traore


(Todd Burandt/Adidas)


Traore’s talent could very well lead to a starting nod at some point, but Williams’ experience — plus Pearl’s sentiment at the end of last season that more of Auburn’s offense would be focused on Williams in 2022-23 — will be tough to overlook.

But in reality, it probably won’t matter who starts at the 4 spot. Both Traore and Williams will have substantial roles on this team — as an ultra-athletic “combo forward” and a fundamentally sound two-way player on the inside, respectively.

Williams played his best basketball toward the end of last season, scoring a combined 20 points in Auburn’s two NCAA tournament games. The former four-star recruit from Georgia was commended for his patience and team-first attitude, as he went from a starting role as a sophomore to a backup behind Smith. Williams averaged 5.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game.

Listed at 6-foot-10 by Auburn, Traore’s open-court athleticism is rare, and his ability to attack on both ends of the floor is one of the prime reasons he became such a coveted prospect.

“He has so many guard skills in his body,” Kyle Weaver, Traore’s coach at Dream City Christian, told Auburn Undercover last month. “His ability de él to handle the ball at 6-11, his ability to stretch out on the defense at 6-11 — he gets off the rebound to push in transition. There aren’t many 6-11’s that can do it.”

5/CENTER

Johni Broome

Dylan Cardwell

(Auburn Athletics)

How do you replace the nation’s shot-blocking leader and one of the most efficient interior players in the country? The No. 3 shot-blocker and the No. 5 2-point scorer doesn’t seem like a bad place to start.

Auburn not only landed Broome’s commitment on Saturday, but the 6-foot-10 junior from Tampa, Florida, also signed with the program later that day.

“He has a strong back-to-the-basket game that we will take full advantage of,” Pearl said. “What’s also exciting is that he has the ability to face up and guard all five positions on the floor. He moves well for his size from him. assistant coach Steven Pearl did an outstanding job building trust and a relationship with Johni. It played a key factor in Johni’s decision.”

Broome, last season’s Ohio Valley Conference defensive player of the year, averaged 16.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks per game. I have finished with 23 double-doubles on the season and shot 55.5% from the floor.

As Pearl alluded to, Broome’s offensive skill set as a post player will be unlike any Auburn has had in recent seasons. Kessler could be a force inside, but he was at his best being fed the ball in optimal spots heading to the rim. Broome was one of the best in the country in creating his own shot on the inside.

Cardwell, a rising junior and former four-star recruit, backed up Kessler last season and served as a consistent hustle player in the frontcourt. Per 100 possessions, he was Auburn’s second-best rebounder behind Kessler, and he finished tied for sixth in the SEC in blocks per game (1.3), despite averaging the fewest minutes of any player in the top 20 in the conference in blocks.

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