Letters From Camp: Gibbs expands game
June, 27, 2011
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com
Letters From Camp are my dispatches from this weekend's Nike Skills Camps in Chicago, with more to come tomorrow.
CHICAGO -- Ashton Gibbs flirted with the NBA draft. The NBA draft did not flirt back.
At first glance, this dynamic might be difficult to understand. After all, Gibbs was a First Team All-Big East selection in 2011, an honor the Pittsburgh guard won thanks primarily to brilliant outside shooting. He was one of the most efficient scorers in the country last season. His offensive rating of 127.9 ranked him among the country's 20 best offensive players. Gibbs got the foul line frequently. His turnovers were infrequent. For the second straight year, his shooting was a lethal weapon, one that helped lead Pittsburgh -- one of the nation's best (and somehow most underrated) offensive teams -- to a Big East title and a No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
Despite all that production, NBA scouts shared concerns about Gibbs's size, athleticism, ability to penetrate and create for teammates and -- perhaps more than anything -- whether or not Pittsburgh's lethal two-guard could play the two in the NBA. What about point guard? Could Gibbs make the switch?
After a couple weeks spent testing the waters (and a confusing miscommunication about his desire to stay in the draft), Gibbs realized he would have likely been a late second-round pick. So he returned to Pittsburgh for his senior season with an earful of feedback from NBA scouts and general managers.
That feedback helps explain Gibbs's presence at the Deron Williams Skills Academy Saturday, where Gibbs teamed up with -- and competed against -- a blend of the best returning and incoming point guards in all of college hoops. (About freshmen Marquis Teague and Tony Wroten Jr., who will attend Kentucky and Washington respectively, Gibbs said: "Those guys got a lot of confidence." Indeed they do.) The camp is heavy on strategic instruction designed for guards who spend lots of time with the ball in their hands -- the sort of tips Gibbs seemed to soak up like a sponge.
"It's all the little things," Gibbs said. "When to go and when not to go. How to read the defense. Learning how to make reads off of pick and rolls. Decision-making is big."
This seems like a minimal adjustment, but it's not. In his past two seasons, guard Brad Wanamaker has facilitated much of Pittsburgh's offense, while Gibbs has been the Panthers's designated knockdown shooter. Gibbs comes off screens as well as anyone in the college game, and his lightning-quick release meant the ball experienced only brief stopovers in the shooting guard's hands before it began its arcing departure toward the rim.
Now, with Wanamaker gone, Gibbs will likely be called on to facilitate his teammates' offense as much as his own. He'll play some combo guard, some pure point guard, and some pure shooting guard as junior guard Travon Woodall steps into a larger role in the backcourt and the Panthers incorporate two highly ranked freshmen centers Khem Birch and Malcolm Gilbert into a frontcourt that still includes Nasir Robinson but lost rugged forwards Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee to graduation.
Fortunately for Gibbs -- or for his draft stock, at least -- Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon's new lineup will require Gibbs to be more aggressive. He'll have to get to the rim. He'll need to initiate offense. But he'll also have to do what he does best.
"You still have to knock down open shots, and that's what I do," Gibbs said. "But it's about doing a lot of the little things differently."
It's a series of subtle changes. But if Gibbs can recalibrate his game ever so slightly -- if he maintain his production while introducing new tools to the arsenal -- then Pittsburgh is in for a much-needed monster season from the talented senior.
And when Gibbs initiates his second contact with the NBA in 2012, maybe this time the interest won't be quite so one-sided.