By now we've all digested the news that Dwayne Bacon is returning to Florida State for his sophomore season. We've fist bumped. We've made our bacon jokes. We're ready.
Now we can think about why it's important.
The short answer is that he was the highest scoring freshman in FSU history, so duh.
The long answer is a bit more complicated.
With multiple exciting freshmen, Xavier Rathan-Mayes' evolving role, the emergence of a healthy Devon Bookert, a frustrating season, etc... it was easy for fans to get caught up and overlook everything the staff was asking Dwayne Bacon to do. To get at this, we chart a statistic called "%Possessions," which is how often a team's possession ends with a particular player. That includes a shot, an assist, a trip to the line, or a turnover.
Going back a decade, only two Seminoles used more of their team's possessions than Bacon: Al Thornton as a senior, and Toney Douglas as a senior. Even in 2014-15 when the entire offense was "give it to X and see what happens", XRM didn't use as many possessions as Bacon did this year.
Bacon attempted 327 2s, with the next closest player (Malik Beasley) attempting 251. He attempted 154 FTs, which was most on the team, and more than Montay Brandon, Devon Bookert, and Jarquez Smith combined. He was 2nd behind Boris Bojanovsky in offensive boards, and easily led the team on the defensive glass.
It's clear the coaches wanted him to be the 'the guy,' but as he told the media yesterday, one of the things it took a while to learn is that freshman can be leaders. In other words, he wasn't always 'the guy.'
In that same interview he stated that a primary skill to work on for next year is to develop as a team leader. And a critical component of leadership is doing it by example.
There were moments last year when Bacon would just out-man the other team. During film reviews, I had dozens of occasions where I would rewind to try and see how Bacon would go up in a crowd of opposing players and somehow come down with the rebound. There were moments in transition where he'd be 70 feet from the rim, and you could already tell he was going to get there, and it didn't really matter who else was on the court.
However, there were also too many moments when he'd disappear. He'd ignore box outs. He'd take foolish gambles jumping the passing lanes. He'd get the ball in space, late in the shot clock, but not look to attack.
And that's what needs to change. Bacon doesn't have to be perfect. But the effort needs to be there. All the great players have it - a steady drum beat of desire to win. It doesn't matter if it's the first game of the year against a horribly over-matched opponent, or the final minutes against Virginia. There's a right way to play the game, and he can make major strides towards getting there. And if your best player is also your hardest working player, everyone else gets in line.
A common part of FSU's half court offense this year was running Bacon off a high ball screen to get him to the center of the free throw circle. It puts the defense in a bad spot. His jumper is solid out to 17', and he's probably the most adept finisher around the rim FSU has had since Al Thornton. However, I'm not really sure Bacon understands what an issue this is for defenses. He needs to better understand that - in the eyes of opposing coaches - he's a problem.
The art of offense is knowing when to put up a so-so shot. If you have a contested 18' jumper with 20 seconds on the shot clock, that's a bad shot. With the clock running out, it's not a bad shot. Bacon's understanding of time and score - like all young players - needs to improve dramatically. People will focus on other parts of his game which need to improve, such as 3-pt shooting (yeah, no kidding) and boxing out (yeah, no kidding), but at this point, his development as a player is more mental than physical.
Time and score always dictate how you play and define shot selection. To be 'the guy', you have to understand these things. Bacon needs to plan on living at the free throw line next year. He was 15th in the ACC this season at drawing fouls. That's good, but he needs to be top 5. He has the skill to do it; he just needs the attitude.
So when we're talking about development, that's what I'm looking for. Obviously I want his jumper to improve. I want his FT% to improve. I want his defensive positioning to improve. But most of all, I want Bacon to play with an attitude.