For the first time since the Bruce Pearl’s first season on the Plains, Auburn will go into the year without Bryce Brown playing at the 2. In his four seasons with the Tigers, Brown tallied 378 three-pointers, good for second most all time in the conference. Brown will be a player fans look back on fondly decades from now as one of the guys who helped kickstart the overhaul of Auburn basketball. But the sharpshooter is no longer in Auburn, and is now fighting for a change to make it to the NBA while playing for the Boston Celtics’ G-League team, the Maine Red Claws. So now what?
Auburn’s sixth man from last season, senior Samir Doughty will slide into Brown’s former role this season. Whereas Auburn only had three guards between the point- and shooting-guard positions last season (Jared, J’Von, Bryce), there may be five or six guys getting playing time this year, with Jamal Johnson, Devan Cambridge, and possibly Allen Flanigan backing up Doughty. It’s not impossible that we might see Issac Okoro play at the 2 some as well. I expect Bruce to experiment with different combinations early this year before settling on a rotation down the stretch.
#10 Samir Doughty - Senior, Philadelphia, PA
Samir transferred to Auburn before the 2017-18 season after two seasons at VCU (redshirt in 2015-16, played in 2016-17). Under now LSU coach Will Wade, Doughty was an unpolished scorer but solid all-around contributor at guard, where he averaged 9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, and 2.1 apg. Honestly, I won’t comment too much on his days with the Commonwealth because I didn’t see him play, and I’m not sure how much it tells about his game now.
When Wade left to go to LSU in 2017, Doughty took the opportunity to transfer to a young but talented Auburn program. While sitting out his transfer year, the Tigers exploded onto the national scene by winning the SEC and making the Tournament for the first time in a decade and a half. While the team was having tons of on-court success, though, I kept hearing about a guard who played tough defense and was an SEC-ready slasher. Doughty helped form the best scout team in the country with Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy sitting out the season, something that I’m sure helped keep the rest of the team sharp and ready to play all season.
Last offseason, Auburn was completely unsure about what the roster was going to be for 2018-19.
“Would Jared, Bryce, Mustapha, or Austin be testing the NBA Draft waters?”
“They’re all coming back!”
“Desean Murray and Davion Mitchell are transferring?”
“Wait, Mustapha isn’t going pro, but he’s transferring??”
After all of the drama, Doughty settled in with Malik Dunbar as the guys who would handle things at the 3, Mustapha’s old position. Samir started off the season on fire, posting double digit points in each of the team’s first three games. He would cool off, but he and Malik Dunbar formed an effective 1-2 punch supporting the other stars on the team. Doughty would finish the season posting 7.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in about 24 minutes per night.
This season, Doughty will be asked to go from complimentary-piece to offensive leader. If the team attempts even a fraction of the threes they took last season, they will have to rely on #10. Doughty had the best percentage from three on the team last year with 43% shooting, although on only about 30% as many attempts as Bryce. If Samir can keep that percentage above 40% on double the attempts, he could become a dominant scorer, particularly with his strong game in the paint.
In looking at the highlights from his best games last year, I noticed the bulk of his threes came from the corner. Excuse me for referencing this game at all, but I felt it deserved mentioning that Samir had one of the best performances on the team against Virginia, including this three when points were hard to come by in the first half.
Doughty’s defense shouldn’t be forgotten about, either. As good as Bryce was playing on-ball defense last season, Samir rated out better than him in most of the advanced stats categories. In fact, Samir was the top ranked non-big in both defensive win shares and defensive BPM according to Sports Reference. He also contributed decent steal and rebound numbers, which hopefully will continue to lead to fastbreak points like this bucket against Washington’s star last year.
All-in-all, this team will miss Bryce this season, but luckily we have a veteran who played plenty of minutes in this system last year to ease the transition. Samir will have the opportunity to be the focal point of the offense this year, but he’s shown he can contribute even when he’s not scoring.
#1 Jamal Johnson - Sophomore, Birmingham, AL
Jamal Johnson will likely be Samir’s primary backup, at least to start the season. In fact, Johnson will be in a similar position this season to Samir last year. Johnson, a former 4* who Auburn recruited heavily out of high school, transferred in before last season from Memphis, where he started 26 games as a freshman in 2017-18. Johnson also played high school ball with Austin Wiley at Spain Park, which I’m sure influenced his decision to come to Auburn.
Johnson is a true 3 point volume shooter, and he’ll likely be asked to play that roll for Auburn against teams they feel they can beat behind the arc. At Memphis, just over 70% of his attempts from the field were from three, and he was a 33% shooter. Compare that to Bryce, who shot 37% from 3 with a 77% 3-pt attempt rate as a freshman.
At 6’4”, Johnson can contribute some on defense as well, though I’m not ready to call him a plus defender without seeing him in person. At Memphis, he averaged 7.4 rebounds per 100 possessions, similar to Samir last year and almost double Bryce’s rebound numbers.
It would be a folly to think Johnson won’t be a better player now than he was at Memphis, though. With a redshirt season and full offseason, he knows what Bruce Pearl expects out of a shooter, and he got a front seat to seeing one of the best to ever do it in the SEC last season with Bryce Brown. Johnson is one of the players I’m most excited to see next week, and if he can contribute 10 minutes/game with decent 3P% numbers, he will be a huge boost to this team.
#35 Devan Cambridge - Freshman, Nashville, TN
Devan Cambridge was the last addition to this season’s roster, signing with the Tigers in July. He’s a bit of a raw talent, but he was a well-regarded 3 point shooter in high school. Combined with his 6’6” frame and athleticism, it’s not hard to see why Bruce took a shot on him. After being undersized on the perimeter for the last several years, he should add some good size for the Tigers in the backcourt.
Cambridge received some buzz from teammates in the offseason, but a stress fracture in his foot caused him to miss the preseason and Tipoff at Toomers. Bruce has said he’ll be ready in a few weeks, but I would expect the team to give him as long as he needs to get toally healthy before getting into games.
If you look closely, you might recognize who’s throwing those lobs to Devan.
With three guys slated for the 2, I don’t imagine many other guys will get playing time here. That being said, if Samir is needed at point guard or back at the 3, you might see Auburn lean on the depth they’ve accrued at the position. Allen Flanigan, son of assistant coach Wes Flanigan, is listed as a guard on the roster, though he might end up redshirting this season if he’s not needed. You could also see Issac Okoro slide in at the 2 if Auburn wants to go big with Wiley, McLemore, and Purifoy. Overall, I think you’ll see Samir play the majority of the minutes here, but one of the interesting things to watch with this team is seeing which newcomers make their mark.