Observations from Swish league

The Swish League Pro-Am has been going on for awhile. Many current and former Aztecs have been playing in games. It is a good opportunity for current Aztec players to develop their skill set in an organized environment that isn’t just the team practices. As such, AztecBreakdown has been glued to the action.

A few weeks ago, the offseason priorities for player development was posted. Swish league is our first chance to see how that development is progressing.

Full disclosure, while Swish League is great, it is not the most competitive atmosphere. Think of it like a preseason game, or a spring training game in baseball. It’s an opportunity to get game reps for things the players have been working on. The defense isn’t as intense as it will be during the conference season. Players make “business decisions” to save their bodies from injury. The talent level is solid, with many Division 1 players and players that play professionally overseas. They don’t go at 100% though, so any observations need to be taken with a grain of salt.

In addition, the sample size is really small. I can only watch games that have been posted to YouTube, and Swish hasn’t posted games for about a month (so potentially 8 games for each player I haven’t been able to see). These observations reflect what has been posted.

Matt Bradley – #5 White

Matt Bradley has overall looked good. His scoring has been as advertised. He is scoring well from all three levels, and looks like a player who will be able to carry the scoring load throughout the season.

He has also been a willing passer. He will draw double or sometimes triple teams, and pass the ball to an open player. It doesn’t happen every time, as Bradley is a score first guard. His instinct is to score over a double team. It’s encouraging to see his willingness to pass though, and he should be even more willing to pass in the season as he’s able to build chemistry with his teammates.

Bradley’s defense needs some work. Remember players aren’t always trying their hardest on the defensive side, so some of the issues may be attributed to lack of effort or focus. Bradley was rated as a positive defender in the analytics last season. So far in swish league though he’s looked like a below average defender. He gets eaten up by screens and can get shaken by shifty ball handlers. That isn’t going to work playing for a defensively focused team such as the Aztecs. Bradley has mentioned in interviews that he is focused on improving his defense. Players generally improve their defense when they come to SDSU, so his defense shouldn’t concern fans, but it will be something to keep an eye on through the rest of the offseason.

Trey Pulliam – #25 Dark

Coming off of the Covid shortened 2020 season, I thought Trey Pulliam needed to be more consistent, and more aggressive. Midway through the 2021 season, those attributes still hadn’t seemed to show up, and it frustrated many Aztec fans, to the point that many thought Butler should start over Pulliam.

At the end of the season Pulliam really started to pull it all together. To the point that people like myself, our own Kyle Kinslow, and the guys over at showlumni all thought Pulliam should’ve been the MW tournament most valuable player. The biggest change was that he was being more aggressive, forcing the defense to react to him rather than reacting to the defense. The question was whether that would carry over into the following season.

So far Pulliam looks like the player he was to end the season. He is attacking the basket off the dribble, passing to weakside shooters, and being a pest on defense. He seems to have improved confidence in his handle and it is helping him shake defenders both in the pick and roll as well as in isolation, allowing Pulliam to finish at the rim. Penetration, or lack thereof, was arguably the biggest issue in the loss to Syracuse. If Pulliam can continue his aggressive play it will help shore up that deficiency.

His 3 ball has been falling at an improved clip as well. Shooting from deep shouldn’t ever be Pulliam’s first choice, but if he can hit them more consistently it will help stretch out the defense for him to break it down even easier.

His defense at the swish league has been a mixed bag. He had one good game defensively, and another where he would get eaten up by screens and give up open shots. He was one of the best defenders on the team last year though, so fans shouldn’t worry about his defense showing up when the games count. Below he jumps a passing lane and gets the ball to Matt Mitchell for a dunk.

Keshad Johnson – #0 White

Early on Johnson looks like the player who’s improved the most this off-season. In his first game at swish league he scored 20 points, to go along with multiple rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. He was the star of the team, and was obviously looking for his shot.

Keshad showed off increased ball handling abilities, made at least three shots from deep, and even ran a few pick and rolls. With so many players able to play the power forward spot, Keshad needed to add some perimeter skills to get significant playing time on this Aztecs team. Early on he’s shown it.

He also continued to show the defense and athleticism that got him playing time last season. The first play his team ran was a lob play to Johnson. He had a block where he rotated from the weakside as well, and continued to be aggressive in chasing rebounds.

It was just one game, but it’s more than Keshad has been able to show up to this point in his college career. If he continues to improve his ball handling and shooting abilities he’ll be able to play either the small or power forward positions and be a terror for opposing teams.

Keith Dinwiddie – #25 Black

Keith has been a bit of a mixed bag in the games at Swish league. The issue has been his effort and focus. They’ve been too inconsistent from game to game and even possession to possession.

To start with, he can still shoot the ball, and scored 20+ points more often than not. This is nothing new, but it’s nice to see he can still score in bunches.

He hasn’t been the most efficient though. There have been a few games where his shot attempts were greater than his points scored. That’s not the mark of a good offensive player. Moreover, his high usage and ball stopping take everyone out of their rhythm on offense. For the most part, when Dinwiddie has gotten the ball he’s shot it, there’s no mare passing once he touches it. It’s a double edged blade, because on one side it speaks to the confidence he has in himself and his shot. That’s a good thing. However, more often than not players that don’t move the ball tend to hurt their team.

Defensively Dinwiddie has looked much better. Especially his on ball defense. He was able to stonewall the much bigger Matt Bradley in the post on more than one occasion. In the clip below he plays great positional defense and ends up forcing a shot clock violation.

Dinwiddie has shown the talent that makes many, including myself, drool over the possibilities. I still believe Dinwiddie has the talent and mindset to be the first 20 ppg scorer for the Aztecs since the 80’s. He’s looked so disinterested at Swish league though, so it’s hard to take much away. In my notes watching one game I wrote, “Why is he here? He doesn’t look like he wants to play the game.” Maybe that’s more reflective of Swish league than it is of Dinwiddie. All we can do as fans is hope he is more interested and attentive in practices.

Lamont Butler – #10 White

Butler still has some work to do, but the work he’s been putting in this offseason has shown up at Swish league. He’s kept his aggressive playstyle, but his shot looks improved. The most impressive play he had was this behind the back pass for an assist.

Butler had two main tasks this offseason. HE needed to improve his shooting, and reduce his turnovers. It’s still early, and obviously a small sample, but it looks like he’s been working on his outside shooting. Shots off the dribble are the hardest to pull off, but watch as he waits until his screener is eating up both defenders, and then hits a 3 off the dribble.

The patience he shows to wait for his defender to make a mistake is impressive, and I have no doubt that if a defender had closed out harder he would’ve attacked the rim.

His defense has continued to be good as well. That’s not surprising though, considering what he showed as a freshman.

Lamont Butler is the type of player that will lead SDSU to another Sweet 16 appearance. He won’t lead the team this season, because he’s still young, but over the following 2-3 seasons, provided he has help, it’ll happen. Take that to the bank.

Nathan Mensah – #1 Dark

Nathan has been pretty consistent in his game as an Aztec. He is going to anchor the defense, swat shots, collect rebounds, and put up a couple points from alley oops, putbacks, and things of that nature. What he needed to do to take his game to the next level was improve his offense.

His defense has still been great. He was running around blocking shots with ease at Swish league. There’s not much to be said about his defense that hasn’t already been said.

It’s hard to say whether his offense is ready to take the next step forward. It’s shown flashes at swish league, but it’s shown flashes before as well. There are a couple promising signs though.

First, watch how quickly he attacks the basket after his defender overplays. He knows right away what to do. Usually that read would take an additional split second and another defender would be able to rotate over. The quickness shows that he is more aggressive in looking to attack the rim and score, which is promising.

Lastly, look at the range he shows on this shot. It’s not a 3, definitely not a college 3, but it’s about 18 feet. It wasn’t the only 15-18 foot jumper he made this game either. If he can consistently hit those 15 foot shots from the elbows, it will cause defenses some headaches. It will pull opposing rim protectors away from the basket, and will help the Aztecs torch zone defenses.

Even if the offense still doesn’t consistently show up, Nathan is still a great player. Hopefully the offense is more consistent this season though.

Summary:

Ultimately, Keshad Johnson has been the most improved Aztec so far. He has a real chance to push for a starting spot. All the players that have had video’s posted to YouTube have looked at least a little better than last season, although once again, the intensity isn’t super high. Regardless, it’s been fun to watch the guys go at it. If Swish posts more videos to YouTube I may do another post about how the guys look.

Leave a comment if you feel I missed something or if you had a different takeaway from the games.

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