Inside Smart’s pecking order

Junior Treveon Graham drives to the basket during the Rams’ 68-53 victory against the University of Rhode Island on Thursday, Feb. 6. Photo by Audry Dubon.

Colin Kennedy
Sports Editor

It’s a term head coach Shaka Smart uses frequently to describe the hierarchy of shot taking on the VCU men’s basketball team. An intangible, nonexistent totem pole of sorts, “the pecking order” helps determine an offensive game plan for arguably the deepest team in the Atlantic 10.

Right now, junior Treveon Graham stands alongside senior Juvonte Reddic atop Smart’s imaginary list. And though that upper echelon isn’t going to change any time soon, there’s good reason why Smart continually references “the pecking order.”

“There’s a pecking order on offense. Juvonte and Tre got the most shots,” Smart said after a 68-52 victory against the University of Rhode Island on Thursday, Feb. 6. “That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”

There’s really nothing concrete about it. Any given player could lead the team offensively on any given night. But the psychological impairment of an artificial hierarchy helps fuel the fire for competition on an immensely talented basketball team.

You might call it a double-sided motivational technique. It provides structure, yet generates endless uncertainty. Some clarity resides among the top tier today; statistics will support that, but there are constantly moving parts as players strive to take their game to the next level.

Through 23 games in the 2013-14 season, Graham leads the team with 353 points on 269 shot attempts. Reddic slots in behind him with 282 points on 211 field goal tries and Melvin Johnson ranks third with 233 points on 209 shots.

Next in line is probably senior guard Rob Brandenberg, who has pitched in 216 points on 195 attempts, while junior Briante Weber fits in behind him at 216 points on 156 tries.

Below Weber is where things get a bit fuzzy for the Rams.

Redshirt freshman Jordan Burgess and true freshman JeQuan Lewis have attempted 105 shots apiece; however, Lewis has been much more efficient in terms of percentages. Ironically, it’s Burgess who has started 13 games for the Rams so far this season, but Lewis’ near-46-percent field goal percentage thwarts Burgess’ 33 percent conversion rate. The mark ranks second on the team only to Reddic’s 53 percent.

Not far behind them is a collection of players who comprise the lower section of Smart’s pecking order. Redshirt senior Terrance Shannon, redshirt freshman Mo Alie-Cox, junior Jared Guest and freshman Doug Brooks have all attempted at least 30 shots on the year, but you might be hard-pressed to draw a definitive order of offensive production from the group.

And that’s why “the pecking order” is effective.

Except for Shannon, Reddic and Brandenberg, every player on the current roster is expected to play in a VCU uniform next season. Consequently, each individual has an opportunity to improve his position or decrease his status on the tenuous train of priority.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Graham is going to maintain his status as top dog on VCU’s team while he likely contends for A-10 Player of the Year in his senior season. Beyond him, “the pecking order” remains largely unclear for 2014-15.

Smart says Johnson is a likely candidate to take over Graham’s post once he graduates, and Weber’s shot attempts are only going to increase as his offensive skill set improves. Lewis and Burgess are two more names expected to climb the ranks in coming years. Smart said he thinks Cox has one of the highest ceilings on the team.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s important to note that this list will likely be rearranged before season’s end. In fact, it could be changing on a daily basis for all we know.

String together a few impressive practices, and your stock might leapfrog a couple of names. Run into a multi-game cold streak and you could slide down the ranks.

Surely Smart knows his team better than any spectator, fan or member of the media. And I firmly doubt he’d ever give any clear indication as to how he ranks his players in terms of talent and potential.

But every coach is paid to evaluate player performance and compose a game plan that gives his team the greatest chance to win.


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