Cameron Wright- The 6'5" fifth year senior had his best season last year with 10.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, and 1.8 spg. Not bad numbers on the surface but when you look further, you can see that Wright's shooting, especially at shooting guard, leaves a lot to be desired. Wright shot 45.6% from the field, which is good for a guard, but that was mostly because most of his baskets came in close or in transition. From three point range, Wright shot an anemic 23.3%, which is awful for a starting shooting guard. His 67.0% from the FT line was also below average.
Wright is at his best in transition and when he's not called on to be a big offensive threat. That's not ideal for a starting shooting guard, and there's no denying that in the half court offense Wright has been a mediocre offensive threat at best. If he can suddenly find a more consistent jump shot he would end his career as a good all around player. If not, he will continue to be a solid player and nothing more.
A broken foot in the preseason will probably prevent Wright from playing in the first six or eight games, including the important Maui tournament, but if he has no setbacks he will likely be back in the starting position by mid-December.
James Robinson- The 6'3" junior came into Pitt with high expectations, and many are losing hope that he'll ever reach those lofty expectations. Those people may want to be a little more patient. As a sophomore, Robinson improved in every category, but for the most part fans still were looking for better offense. That could come this year. Jamie Dixon wants Robinson to look for his offense more, and this could finally be the year that he becomes more than just solid.
As a sophomore, he averaged 7.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.1 apg, and 1.5 spg. His free throw shooting was a solid 79.4% and a barely respectable 34.3% from three, but he shot just 40.1% from the floor. The numbers are (here's that description again) solid, and that's petty much how Robinson can be described in his Pitt career this far. He doesn't shoot often and when he does it's not good enough to be a plus. His defense is solid in most cases, but not good enough to compensate for his lack of offense. His assists stats are good, but for somebody who concentrates mostly on quarterbacking the team, they should be significantly better. His turnover ratio is one of the best in the country, but it's mostly because he rarely attacks. I think you get the point. Robinson has some good points, just no great points.
On the bright side, however, he's now a junior and will start for the third season. He's lost weight to get quicker and as I stated before there's more expected from him this season. If he's ever going to make a significant jump into an elite player, the time is now.
Josh Newkirk- This is where things get interesting. The 6'1" sophomore has more natural skills than both Robinson and Wright, and now that he's no longer a freshman he has a chance to take major minutes away from the veteran duo. With Wright injured, Newkirk should get the start at shooting guard, and if he lives up to his potential, Wright will have trouble getting minutes back.
As a freshman, Wright averaged just 4.6 ppg, but in the last seven games Wright got more minutes and averaged 8.0 ppg over that span. His only major weakness is his free throw shooting where he shot 44.7%. That's a number that obviously has to change if he wants to be on the floor at the end of the game. The rest of his game shows great promise, however. Newkirk shot a great 46.3% from the field and 43.4% from three. If he can continue his excellent shooting to pair with his blazing speed, it will be hard to keep him off the floor, especially if Robinson and Wright continues to struggle offensively.
Chris Jones- The redshirt sophomore has an impressive, athletic build at 6'6", and a sweet stroke. Now that he's in his third season with the program it's time to see if he is capable of capitalizing on those traits and turning himself into a bigger contributor. Last season he got just 7.4 minutes a game and if he doesn't improve significantly he's still going to be behind Robinson, Wright, and Newkirk. He did shoot 80% from the line last season so he has that going for him.
Jones will get his shot to impress in the first half dozen games or so. With Wright out, Jones will be the third guard, and he will have to produce against some good teams. If he excels he will battle for more minutes, but more than likely he will go from the third guard to the tenth player on the team once Wright comes back.
Durand Johnson- This 6'6" redshirt junior is my pick for the most important player on this team. A knee injury cost him the second half of last season but in 16 games he showed his skills by averaging 8.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, and 1.4 apg. He also shot a fantastic 85.3% from the line. His reputation is that of an excellent three point specialist, but his 33.8% from beyond the arc was not at an elite level. But there were games when Johnson lit it up from deep. Against Savannah State (3-6), Lehigh (5-8), and Maryland (3-4), he showed that he's capable of being a dominating force in that regard.
Johnson is more than a three point specialist, however. He can drive and dunk, pass, and rebound a little. If he spent more time driving and using his excellent free throw shooting he has the potential to average well into double figures. That will also give him more space when he unleashes from three point range. But all of that is depends on his rehabbed knee. If he's healthy and lives up to his potential he should start at small forward and could reach 13-14 ppg this season.
Michael Young- The starting power forward started as a true freshman last year, too, but there's no doubt that he mostly struggled in his first year. He averaged just 6.0 ppg and 4.1 rpg, and shot 41.3% from the field, thanks mostly to not being aggressive or confident in the paint. But I expect a better season from him this year.
Young has a very impressive skill set on a 6'9" 235 pound frame. He has excellent range for a big power forward and shot 35.7% from the three point range. His very good range for the position is why he's better off at the four than the five. An occasional three pointer from Young will clear the paint for his teammates.
But make no mistake about it, Young needs to spend most of his team near the basket. His strong body is a major asset if he uses it as a weapon instead of being unaggressive. That should come this season with more experience and confidence. With that confidence he could easily be a 12 ppg and 8 rpg player this season.
Early word is that Young has a completely different attitude brought about by a year of going through the ACC wars, and he's approaching the season with renewed confidence. If he can stay primarily at the four and keeps his confidence, he should make a big jump in production.
Jamal Artis- Another true freshman last year and even though he didn't start he actually had more good moments than Young. On the season he averaged 4.9 ppg and 2.9 rpg in just 15 minutes a game, and he also shot a very good 46% from the field. He also added 70.8% from the line. He shot just 29.6% from three but with more minutes that number should rise.
The bulky 6'7" sophomore has a high ceiling because he has the potential to be good at every facet of the game. His size helps him in the paint, but he also has good range and is an exceptional passer.
Artis played a lot as a backup to Young at the four last season, but it's more likely that he'll be more at the three this season. Ideally he will back up Johnson, but if Johnson's knee is not healthy he could find himself starting for awhile, and at the very least he should get more minutes.
Sheldon Jeter- The 6'8" Vanderbilt transfer has come back home to play for the Panthers, and his vast array of skills will help the team a lot. The redshirt sophomore showed a lot of promise as a true freshman in the SEC with 5.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and an impressive 47.1% from the field and 39.1% from three. He also had six double digit scoring games including five in SEC play.
After transferring he worked on his game so that he can be more versatile and play some three, something Dixon prefers in his players. His game is still mostly as a stretch four where he can rebound like a four, but shoot like a three.
He's long and an explosive athlete but putting the ball on the floor is still something he needs to work on. Even so, he can rebound, shoot, and pass. If he expands his game with defense and ball handling he will reach a higher level in his career. For now he will probably back up Young.
Cameron Johnson- The 6'7" true freshman was a bit of a surprise over the summer, and he has a lot going for him. He's not a great athlete but he is long, can shoot, he's an exceptional passer, and he even scraps for rebounds. He could be a very good contributor in his career, but barring injuries of those in front of him, he may be due for a redshirt this season. Not that he can't play some this year, but rather because he has so many more experienced players in front of him.
Ryan Luther- The local true freshman is listed at 6'9" officially which means he's probably 6'8". The good news is, he could legitimately end up 6'9" or 6'10" which changes his upside significantly. A 6'10" forward that can shoot, rebound, and pass has a nice future. Right now, however, he is slated for a redshirt.
Derrick Randall- The 6'9" 240 pound senior has been a bit player thus far in his career, but this is his last chance to make a major contribution. Being a senior he may get the start at the beginning of the season, but it's doubtful that he will get a ton of minutes. One of the main reasons is because he's a fouling machine. He does play all out, which helps him defensively and in rebounding, but he's not a great athlete and subtlety is not his forte.
As a junior, Randall played just 8.6 mpg, and averaged 2.1 ppg and 2.4 rpg. He's expected to be one of at least three centers that get minutes, and Young may be a fourth. For that reason his stats again probably won't be significant. But if he plays well in 10 minutes a game and controls his fouling then he will help out in his last go around.
Joseph Uchebo- This may prove to be the biggest story of the season. The 6'10" 245 pound junior was all but written off by fans and everybody else because of a badly injured knee before he even came to Pitt, but to his credit he has battled back to the point that he may help the Panthers significantly this season.
Uchebo's limp is not as noticeable as it was last season, and even though he says he's in pain it isn't slowing him down. Rebounding is his best skill. He is long, large, and he attacks the ball like it owns him money. He can't jump as well because of his knee, but his long arms, hustle, and width make up for that. His defense is also solid and he even has developed a nice drop step in the paint.
It wasn't long ago that people thought about who would replace him after he asked to leave the team. Now he may be a legitimately good center and will likely get the most minutes at center.
Tyrone Haughton- A junior college transfer, the 6'9" junior is thin, but he's athletic with very long arms. His offense is virtually non-existent but he's a good rebounder and a superb shot blocker. Because he wasn't with the program when they went to the Bahamas, he's a little behind the others, but he could eventually get some minutes this season due to his rebounding and defense.
Outlook: I like this team and I think they are going to be even better in the next two years. The core is very good, and young, but not too young. Players 1-5 may not a top 25 teams, but players 1-10 are. And that's the main storyline of this team. Many fans worry about who will be the main offensive options, but they shouldn't worry. The offense went through Lamar Patterson first last year, then Talib Zanna. They are gone, but others will pick up the slack. Young, Robinson, Wright or Newkirk, and Johnson are all capable of being double figure scorers this season. None may be a 15 ppg scorer but if Young gets 12 or 14 , Robinson gets 10 or 12, Wright or Newkirk gets 10 or 12, and Johnson gets 10-12 then they'll score enough. And then players like Artis, Jeter, and even Uchebo could add another 6 or 8. Does that mean again that Pitt won't have a go to scorer now with Patterson gone? Maybe. But good scoring, excellent defense, and outstanding rebounding will win Pitt a lot of games. Look for this to be the first of at least three excellent seasons in a row.