Happy Hump Day everybody! If you’re just joining us, we began the week looking at Auburn’s Point Guards and Shooting Guards. Today, we begin our transition towards the frontcourt and look at Auburn’s Shooting Forwards.
Auburn will look to replace last year’s leading scorer Mustapha Heron, who transferred to St. John’s in the offseason so that he could be closer to his mother living in Connecticut. Last Friday, the NCAA ruled in Heron’s favor on his waiver to be eligible to play this year instead of sitting out a season. While Heron will be missed around here, the Tigers have the depth to be able to make up for his departure.
As of right now, it’s unclear who will start at this position on opening night. Danjel Purifoy is suspended for the first 9 games of the season. Also, Auburn could easily elect to start games playing three guards which would likely mean Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Samir Doughty would be starters. Or, they could elect to go big with Austin Wiley, Anfernee McLemore and Chuma Okeke. Auburn could also go with the hot hand on any given night at this position. Regardless, Auburn has several options of who they want to play at the 3 at any time.
#4 Malik Dunbar, Senior, 6’6”, 230 pounds, North Augusta, South Carolina
Note that Dunbar will be wearing #4 this year instead of #14. I think Malik will end up being an energy guy off the bench, just as he was last year, but I also think he could start opening night. Dunbar is listed as a guard-forward so there’s a chance he could end up spending some time in the backcourt as well. But for the purpose of this preview, we are considering Dunbar a forward.
Dunbar averaged 5.4 points and 2.4 rebounds a game last year while averaging about 14 minutes per game. He shot 41.9% from the field and 34.6% from the 3-point line. Malik started 3 games last year and played well in all 3 of those games. He scored 7 points and 6 rebounds in a spot start for Bryce Brown against Georgia in Athens. His other two starts were for Mustapha Heron against UAB and Alabama. He scored 9 points and 6 rebounds against the Blazers but had his best game last year against Alabama. In a 90-71 win on February 21st, Dunbar had his season best in points and rebounds with 14 and 7 respectively, including this monster dunk.
OH MY GOODNESS pic.twitter.com/aRv3STmZdV— Skye Underwood (@SkyeUnderwood) February 22, 2018
One other game from last year where Dunbar made a major contribution was his performance on the road against Murray State. In a game where Auburn was struggling for points early, Dunbar came off the bench and scored 9 straight points, on 3 3-pointers, that really settled Auburn down in a game which the Tigers eventually won 81-77.
Dunbar was one of my favorite guys on the team last year for the energy he brought to the team while coming off the bench. He also gave Auburn another 3-point option off the bench as well. But let’s be honest, we all love Dunbar for his ability to fly...
h wow! #WarEagle pic.twitter.com/1ndqffXzvV— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) December 14, 2017
Or like this....
#SCtop10 Desean Murray with the steal and pass to Jared Harper who lobs it up to Malik Dunbar who jams it home pic.twitter.com/tFPXoekOwX— Skye Underwood (@SkyeUnderwood) January 28, 2018
Or to quote Rod Bramblett, “vehemently” block shots like he does at 1:02 in this next clip...
Check out all of the high-flying action from tonight's W over Gardner-Webb. #WarEagle pic.twitter.com/B4LKdhDT9O— Auburn Basketball (@AuburnMBB) December 7, 2017
To conclude, Dunbar will once again fill that role as a high flyer that will bring energy to this Auburn basketball team on and off the court. I think he’ll play about 12-15 minutes a game this year and play primarily at the 3, but also have the flexibility to play one of the guard spots if Coach Pearl elects to play him alongside the big guys.
#3 Danjel Purifoy, Junior, 6’7”, 230 pounds, Centreville, Alabama
And now we get to the biggest wild card on this year’s Auburn team. If there’s anybody on this team that deserves to be on the court, it’s Danjel Purifoy. It feels like an eternity since we have seen him in uniform for Auburn and we will have to wait 9 more games before he’s able to get out on the floor. By all accounts, Purifoy will likely make his season debut in mid-December, likely the UAB game December 15th in Birmingham.
I could sit here and write a book about my thoughts on him having to serve any more of a suspension. He sat out his first year here due to a low test score. Then, while he was able to play his second season here, he sustained an injury early in SEC play that put a damper on his season. Then of course, he had to sit out all of last year due to the FBI Investigation. Here’s the fact of the matter: hasn’t he served enough of a punishment last year by sitting out the entire season? Many players involved in the FBI scandal did not. On top of seeing several guys become immediately eligible for this season, seeing him having to sit for 9 more games is ridiculous, but let’s move on.
Purifoy was expected to be one of the focal points of last year’s team. He averaged 12.5 points on the trip to Italy last summer and it looked like he was going to be one of Auburn’s best players. However, he and Austin Wiley were suspended indefinitely before the season and were never cleared by the NCAA.
In 2016-2017, he averaged 11.5 points, and 4.7 rebounds a game. He was a 39.8% shooter from the field, 36.9% from the 3-point line, and a 87.9% shooter from the free throw line. He scored in double figures in 8 of the team’s first 9 games that season. He got hurt against Ole Miss early in 2017 and missed the next 3 games. Upon Purifoy’s return, it took several games for Purifoy to regain his form but over the team’s final 10 games, he scored at least 11 points in 7 of those 10 games.
Here’s a reminder of how good Purifoy can be when he’s on the floor. In this game against Boston College, Purifoy tied his career high with 27 points in a heartbreaking loss at Madison Square Garden.
Purifoy will be a great piece to add to Auburn’s lineup in the middle of the season. He could very well jump into the starting lineup, or be a valuable piece off the bench. While he will miss the Maui Invitational, it looks like he will be available for Auburn’s big road non-conference test at North Carolina State on December 19th. I can’t stress enough how fascinating it will be to see what lineups Coach Pearl puts out on the floor, especially when SEC play starts, because of the depth this team possesses this year.
Six players down, and four to go. Tomorrow, we will go deeper into the frontcourt and look at the Power Forwards. War Eagle!