- Matt Cox
Key Returners: Payton Pritchard
Key Losses: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher, Dylan Ennis, Kavell Bigby-Williams, Casey Benson
Key Newcomers: Elijah Brown (New Mexico transfer), MiKyle McIntosh (Illinois St. transfer), Paul White (Georgetown transfer), Troy Brown Jr., Victor Bailey Jr.
Postseason Projection: 5 - 8 seed
Outlook: Had everything fallen into place this summer, Oregon might be the unanimous favorite to win the title this year. Unfortunately, after Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey and Jordan Bell all opted to take their talents to the NBA, Dana Altman was forced to improvise on the fly in order to replenish the roster quickly and effectively. Taking advantage of an increasing supply of grad transfer talent on the market, Altman lured in two of the best available on the wire – Elijah Brown (formerly of New Mexico and Butler) and Mikyle McIntosh (formerly of Illinois State).
Brown’s path to Oregon is long and windy, but he is nonetheless a high-major caliber player that has shown flashes of brilliance over his collegiate hoop tenure. Refer to his first season at New Mexico (2016) when he poured 22 points a game in a hyper-efficient manner, displaying a knack to consistently draw contact around the rim which earned him ~8 free throw attempts per contest (think of a poor man's James Harden):
Brown is a scorer’s scorer and should fit nicely on the perimeter next to the uber-skilled sophomore Payton Pritchard and incoming stud freshman Troy Brown.
After seamlessly stepping into a rotation already loaded with offensive firepower last season, Pritchard is now line for a breakout sophomore campaign. He’s had the privilege of playing with top-notch talent this offseason on the U19 USA team, giving him more experience at running an offense with multiple scoring options around him. So while Brown and Brown will certainly be beneficiaries of running with Pritchard, the dynamic playmaking duo will return the favor by generating a ton of open looks for Pritchard himself.
The freshman Brown arrives in Eugene pegged as a lead guard with competent handles and excellent vision, which should make him tailor-made for Altman’s style of offense. Similar to a lot of NBA offensive sets, Altman gives his guys a vast amount of freedom to make plays offensively, often looking to exploit individual 1-v-1 mismatches when available. These opportunities were certainly in high supply last year - playing Brooks at the 4 created endless spacing on the floor, which enabled continuous drive-and-kick action in the half-court. With two deadeye shooters in Pritchard and Elijah able to command the undivided attention of off-ball defenders, the younger Brown should find plenty of open driving lanes to attack the paint area. He could be especially lethal spearheading the fast break, where his long 6'7 frame should allow him to see and make passes over the defense in the open floor.
McIntosh, on the other hand, is a less dynamic offensive player than the aforementioned Brown, Brown and Pritchard, but he should cast nicely as the 4th or 5th option as an opportunistic slasher and serviceable 3-point shooter (he connected on 36% of his 3s last season at Illinois State). Anything he provides the Ducks offensively will more or less be a “bonus” for Altman, given the other end of the floor is where he should really turn some heads. Coming from Illinois State, McIntosh has been groomed to play team defense the right way in Dan Muller’s stout man-to-man defensive system - he should quickly assert himself as the Ducks’ primary defensive stopper and fits the mold of an ideal point man to insert at the the top of Altman's 1-3-1 zone.
The major question facing Altman is how to apportion the minutes at the 5 position this season with Bell, Boucher and Bigby-Williams no longer in the mix. Redshirt freshman Michael (“MJ”) Cage possesses a relatively polished offensive skill set, but doesn’t project as a superb athlete which may limit his upside as a defender. True freshman Kenny Wooten, on the other hand, is a more gifted athlete, but he is still raw in many facets of the game. Both of those top-150 recruits, along with senior Roman Sorkin, should consume the bulk of the minutes at the 5, but Altman will likely play only one of those three on the floor at any given time - this will maximize the offensive spacing that turned out to be so tough to guard last season. The takeaway is that Altman does appear to have three solid options to work with down low, but given how important Bell was on the defensive end, it's hard to envision a scenario where the team's rebounding prowess and shot-blocking production don't regress this season.
Finally, it's worth mentioning another piece of the puzzle whose outlook is wildly unpredictable: ex-top-50 prospect and Georgetown grad transfer Paul White. This article highlights the unique scenario in which White decided to transfer to Oregon, specifically the fact that he chose to take an official visit while Altman and the team were in Spain for an exhibition tour. Based on Altman’s commentary, it doesn’t appear as if White is expected to get major minutes right away, but his recruiting pedigree is a good reason to be optimistic.
Bottom Line: Don’t overreact to all the new faces on this year’s roster. Sure, the frontcourt uncertainty is a valid reason for concern, but the talent and fit of the new perimeter pieces – at least on paper - should give Altman the assets he needs to quickly reload. The Ducks should once again find themselves in the upper-echelon of the Pac-12 standings when it's all said and done, with a 3rd or 4th place finish being a fair barometer of success (behind Arizona and USC and comparable to UCLA).