The main starting frontcourt for Tennessee basketball this past year will all be gone. It could be the NBA Draft, and it could be the transfer portal, but they won’t be with the Vols next year.
Olivier Nkamhoua and Julian Phillips have both already entered the portal and are still testing the NBA waters. Now, Uros Plavsic, who started 20 games at center, is following suit. Plavsic announced his intentions to play pro ball on Twitter Monday.
As crazy as it sounds, this is good news for the Vols for two reasons. Let’s start with the easy reason. Plavsic, who had played four years but had a year left due to the COVID eligibility ruling, was a liability.
Despite being 7’0″ 262 pounds, Plavsic never mastered the art of being a true center. He always brought the ball down on rebounds, even on offense, and he got caught up in too many situations.
Last year, Plavsic averaged just under five points per game and under three and a half rebounds. He saw his minutes go down, and while he shot 63.6 percent from the field, it didn’t matter since his free throw shooting fell to 34 percent.
Part of the reason that Tennessee basketball did not have a successful inside-out game last year was opponents stayed on the perimeter. They didn’t respect the post. Plavsic was a huge reason for that.
Jonas Aidoo, an athletic center who is three years younger, had a higher PER, Box Plus Minutes, more win shares and a higher win shares per 48 minutes average. He became more productive down the stretch.
Plavsic leaving allows Aidoo to blossom, and it makes room for incoming freshmen J.P. Estrella and Cade Phillips. Simply put, talent alone is a reason to celebrate Plavsic leaving along with all the scuffles he started.
Then there is the Rick Barnes philosophy. We have written extensively over the past two months about Barnes’ appearing to change his philosophy, which was desperately needed.
Given what he did in the transfer portal, the focus seems to be on a transition from an inside-out game with a size advantage to elite three-point shooting. Plavsic, who couldn’t shoot at all, helps add to that by leaving.
Part of what has held the Vols back significantly was Barnes’ commitment to this old-school philosophy of having just enough shooters who could stretch the floor for the bigs, many of whom were only midrange guys. It’s a style from the 1980s.
With Phillips and Nkamhoua gone, though, Barnes’ willingness to abandon that seems even more clear. Now, the only question is what will happen with Josiah-Jordan James, who also has a year of eligibility left.
If James returns, Barnes will have lots of flexibility given the fact that Santiago Vescovi is also back, but James’ departure won’t really limit what he can do. He now has an arsenal of weapons in the backcourt.
Perhaps Barnes would still have stuck to the inside-out game that involved limited success from the outside had Plavsic stayed. However, this departure gives him and Tennessee basketball no choice, and Vol fans should celebrate.