It’s never easy watching your best player, the undeniable heart and soul of the program, wrap up his final year of college eligibility and move on with life. Billy Donovan is in his 16th season coaching at Florida, where he’s sent a handful of top draft picks to the NBA and dozens more to pro leagues overseas. It’s safe to say the man has felt the uncertainty that comes from replacing a consistent presence in the lineup a few times before in his career.
But until this past season, Donovan had never actually coached an SEC Player of the Year. It seems implausible going all the way back to ’96, from Jason Williams to Mike Miller to David Lee to Joakim Noah to Al Horford, and not finding a single guy that was unanimously tabbed the best player in the conference in any single season.
That is, until Chandler Parsons won the award in a landslide this past spring.
Gone but hardly forgotten, there were many times during his underappreciated senior campaign when the 6-foot-8 Parsons was the best shooter, passer, rebounder and three-point marksman on the floor for the Gators. His rare ability to serve as the part-time initiator of the offense and still go inside to grab boards made it easier on the development of the younger guys around him, and the stellar stat-line he produced, 11.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists, put him in elite company. Anyone who watched Florida extensively would agree: Parsons was the guy who made things tick on both ends.
And now he’s in the NBA.
As expected, Florida’s lineup in 2011-12 has a bit of a different look. Productive big men Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin graduated with Parsons, paving the way for sophomore Patric Young to man the middle exclusively. Another future NBA prospect, true freshman Brad Beal, assumes the third guard slot for Donovan, while long-awaited Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario will almost assuredly flourish as instant offense off the bench. Filling the incredible void that Parsons’ graduation created, however, was the one big question mark.
But if a few brief albeit intriguing early season sequences are going to tell us anything, it’s that 6-foot-10 junior Erik Murphy will do an admirable job making fans forget the guy he’s replacing. Murphy, clearly a different type of player than his predecessor, adds a new dimension to the offense with his deadly accurate stroke from the perimeter and notably high release point.
As Parsons alternated between roles last year, guards Kenny Boyton and Erving Walker, who are by and large erratic shooters, were too often getting the ball kicked out to them for a pressure jumper, instead of the other way around. Since Murphy isn’t the type to actively put the ball on the floor and try to make plays as often as Parsons did, his presence in the lineup alone flows well with the addition of a type-A player like Beal, and should only help them going forward.
The floor should be wide open for Boyton, Walker and Beal to penetrate this season, and high screens with Murphy will be what opens things up. It will take a disciplined defense to check Murphy AND shut off the lane to these lightning quick Florida guards on successive possessions, so it’s pretty likely that we’re looking at one of the highest scoring units in the country, even if Murphy hovers in the 10-12 ppg range. Against Ohio State on Tuesday the Gators came out dominant from the perimeter, and it’s not a surprise why. Here a look at one of the first possessions of the game, where Murphy (No. 33) sets two high screens and affords himself a pair of solid looks at the hoop:
Though Murphy didn’t choose to let it fly on his first touch, he easily could have. The fact that Ohio State was moderately slow in its recovery here was enough. The Gators went right back to the well on the opposite side of the court and ended up getting Murphy a much better look. Ensuing trips down the floor only yielded more of the same:
There are plenty of reasons why the Gators are widely viewed as one of the country’s best basketball teams. And yet none of those seem to be taking into account the type of impact Murphy will have on the way Florida actually plays offense. His seamless transition into the role of Florida’s high ball screen, three-point specialist will allow the explosive guards on this roster to do what they do best and create positive plays instead of haphazardly tossing up shots like in past seasons. That’s why it’s not impossible to envision Billy Donovan’s team being more complete when it counts in 2012 than it was in 2011. And no, he probably won’t win SEC Player of the Year, but Murphy’s specialized value as a starter could be what gets Florida back to the next level in March.