The storyline of VCU’s offseason has centered around one thing: The departure of former head coach Shaka Smart for Texas and its impact on the Rams for both this next season and beyond. There’s no denying that VCU has a lot to prove now that it is without its most successful head coach in program history, but the one area of media coverage that has been relatively light has been discussion regarding this team and how they can perform during the 2015-16 season.
The Rams could be set for a transitional year next season, but don’t be fooled. Even without Shaka Smart, there is still a lot of talent on this roster. In fact, there is more than enough talent for this team to compete nationally and make the NCAA Tournament. One of the key pieces on the roster that could make some noise if VCU does indeed continue to play at a high level is Melvin Johnson.
Johnson is coming off the best season of his three year college career at VCU and very well could be the player to watch for the Rams heading into the program’s first season without Shaka Smart since 2009. Not only was Johnson the team’s leader in total minutes last season, but he is the team’s leading returner in points, field goal attempts, 3PT attempts, and assists. He has put up a ton of stats for VCU during his career and could be primed for one major run in his final season with the program.
One of the biggest things that implies that Johnson could be set for a huge 2015-16 is the incredible growth he has underwent during his career with the Rams. Often, when analyzing players, experts talk about “high ceiling” types of players. These are the type of prospects that may not be a polished product from day one, but have the long-term potential to be great players. Johnson was and remains a high ceiling player and has shown it during his career. Just take a look at his growth.
Melvin Johnson’s Career Stats at VCU:
The interesting thing is that although his increased production aligns with his increased playing time – Johnson went from playing 41.8% of the team’s minutes as a freshman to 68.0% as a junior – there are also some data points showing that his efficiency also improved during this period. Just take a look at his player efficiency rating (PER) and his offensive rating during his career.
Melvin Johnson’s Career Player Efficiency Rating at VCU:
Melvin Johnson’s Career Offensive Rating at VCU:
The trend is pretty clear from these numbers and it’s definitely one of growth and development. Johnson played more each year, became more efficient, and thereby, continued to trend up in his overall production. What’s perhaps even more impressive is that Johnson did this all while playing with several other key contributors that got the ball every bit as much as him while on the floor. Just take a look at how the top five players for VCU compared last season in usage.
2014-15 VCU Rams Usage:
Johnson was definitely one of the more used players on VCU’s roster last season, but it wasn’t as if he dominated the offensive possessions by any means. He was a key piece of the lineup, but it was a team approach for VCU that involved several players last year. This is important because it means there could be more opportunities for Johnson to explore, especially considering that both Graham and Larrier left the program in the offseason. There should be a whole lot more available possessions to use and Johnson could very well elevate his status even further if he continues to grow similarly to how he has over the last few seasons.
The media’s coverage of VCU has largely revolved around the departure of former head coach Shaka Smart and for good reason – he won over 200 games with the program in just six seasons – but one storyline that could quietly be developing is the potential for a breakout year from Melvin Johnson. He’s already proven plenty with the Rams, but if his past growth and the new availability of new opportunities have shown anything, fans could be in for a special treat with Johnson and perhaps one even big enough to ease the loss of the program’s best coach in school history, at least for one year.