AUBURN — Following a 21-win season and another NCAA Tournament appearance, Auburn basketball could look very different heading into next season, or it might not look that different at all. That’s the nature of modern day college sports when you take into account the transfer portal and NIL opportunities available, and Auburn is no different.
One thing to keep in mind throughout is this: things are very fluid. Every college basketball program is dealing with similar things, but this time of year is fluid in terms of roster management.
Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to transfers. Every season, Bruce Pearl and his staff will seek the best transfers available that fit the specific needs needed at the moment. Transfers aren’t necessarily brought in to be a three-year answer. That’s possible, but not always doable. That’s important to keep in mind.
And about transfers and Auburn’s approach, right now it’s about evaluating and making contact. Because of the uncertainty around the Tigers’ roster, there aren’t a ton of hard decisions being made. It’s about finding transfers of interest, gauging how quickly they want to make a decision and going from there. Pearl and his staff certainly know better than anyone what direction things should move in the current environment with a million moving parts.
Having said all that, let’s talk about this Auburn basketball roster, and we’ll try to summarize some things at the end.
Point guard position
The biggest question? Will Wendell Green Jr. return? Green Jr. is three years into his college career, the last two at Auburn. He took over the full-time point guard duties this season after coming off the bench in 2021-22. Green Jr. averaged around 14 points, four rebounds and four assists per game on his way to earning All-SEC second-team honors. There’s two things I’m thinking about here: One, has Green Jr. reached his ceiling at Auburn, and two, are Green Jr.’s individual ambitions interfering with his ability to the best facilitator he can be for the Tigers’ offense? Both are fair questions, and the answers might impact whether he’s on Auburn’s roster next season. And if he does return, there’s no guarantee that he will hold onto his starting position over incoming McDonald’s All-American point guard Aden Holloway.
Shooting guard position
The biggest question? Will K.D. Johnson return? Johnson, like Green Jr., is three years into his college career, the last two at Auburn after transferring from Georgia. He started 31 games last season, but didn’t start any games this season, accepting an important role coming off the bench. Johnson averaged double figures in his first two seasons, but his average dropped to just over eight points per game this season. There’s two things I’m thinking about here: One, is Johnson’s personality, approach and inconsistency still a good fit, and two, would Johnson rather be starting somewhere? Johnson is talented, that’s not within question. But is Johnson best served by remaining at Auburn, and is Auburn best served by having to work through Johnson’s inconsistencies for yet another season?
What might happen: Like Green Jr., the chances Johnson returns are at best 50-50. With Zep Jasper graduating, this position is wide open. Hello, transfer portal! Denver Jones from Florida International is one to watch. Also, Auburn is seriously considering Blue Cain, a 4-star and On3 Consensus No. 90 overall prospect who recently decommitted from Georgia Tech.
Small forward position
The biggest question? Will Allen Flanigan return? It’s been quite a journey for Flanigan at Auburn. He was a true freshman on Auburn’s post Final Four team that finished second in the league. He was really good as a sophomore during Auburn’s only season with a losing SEC record in the last six seasons. Then the achilles injury happened before last season and Flanigan was subpar to put it kindly. But give Flanigan credit. He battled back and was productive, scoring 10 points per game and averaging five boards per game this past season. Flanigan has entered his name into the NBA Draft evaluation process. The deadline for early entry for underclassmen is April 23. Flanigan is a senior, but could use his Covid year and return.
There’s two things I’m thinking about here: One, after spending four years at Auburn, does Flanigan think returning to Auburn would improve his ability to be drafted, and two, could the future of his father Wes impact his decision to hang around? Assistant coach Wes Flanigan has aspirations to be a head coach again. Flanigan is talented, but like Green Jr. and Johnson, inconsistencies on and off the court make him a puzzle that’s hard to figure out sometimes.
What might happen: Flanigan isn’t likely to receive an evaluation that says he’ll be drafted, so what will he decide? While things have trended towards Flanigan not returning, at the moment, it’s hard to predict what Flanigan might do. Meanwhile I do expect Chris Moore to return for his senior season, and Lior Berman could very well return for his fifth year.
Power forward position
The biggest question? Will Jaylin Williams return? Like Flanigan, Williams has entered his name into the NBA Draft evaluation process. Williams just finished his senior season, but could exercise his Covid year and return for a fifth year. Every season seems to have brought forth a different Williams. He scored just under three points a game as a true freshman, busted out for over 10 points per game as a sophomore, took a step back with the arrival of Jabari Smith Jr. averaging just five points per game, and then got back on track this season with 11 points and five rebounds per game, including a career-best 35 percent mark from three. What I’m thinking about with Williams is if he does return, can he flip the switch and become a more assertive player? The talent is there, but the aggression and desire to dominate isn’t, at least not yet.
Next biggest question? Will Yohan Traore return? The former 4-star and On3 Consensus No. 23 overall prospect in the 2022 class, Traore didn’t live up to expectations during his true freshman season. He played less than 10 minutes per game and hit just five of 26 three-point attempts on the season. Traore is talented and possesses a high ceiling, but it didn’t come together during Year One. There’s really one thing I’m thinking about: If Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome return, where is there room for Traore? That’s something Traore is undoubtedly thinking about and may lead to his decision to stay or go. Does he stay and compete or go elsewhere? Traore has plenty of eligibility left, plenty of raw talent, and people around him that are ready to see him succeed, so there will certainly be serious conversations about leaving.
What might happen: Williams isn’t expected to receive a draft evaluation that projects him to be drafted, so expect Williams to return for his fifth season at Auburn. And with the rise of NIL, there’s probably a reasonable expectation that On To Victory’s presence can help make that decision for Williams easier. As for Traore, reason would point towards Traore being more likely to leave than return given the roadblocks that could exist to playing major minutes, but we’ll see what happens.
The biggest question? This position seems more stable than the others. Johni Broome, like Flanigan and Williams, will enter his name into the NBA Draft evaluation process Broome earned All-SEC second-team honors averaging over 14 points, nearly nine rebounds and three blocks per game. Having said that, all of Broome’s numbers dropped from his sophomore season at Morehead State to this past season at Auburn. His points per game dropped nearly two points, rebounds per game dropped by two, and blocks by a little over one. Broome’s field goal percentage and free throw percentage also dropped. Now, most of that is due to the massive jump in competition from the Ohio Valley Conference to the SEC. Broome is crafty around the rim, but he does lack some athleticism. There’s not much I’m thinking about here, as Broome does his part on and off the court.
As for Dylan Cardwell, he finished his junior season with about the same production as his sophomore season. About three points per game, maybe a block or two, and around three rebounds per game. Cardwell played two more minutes per game this season than last. Cardwell is what he is: a serviceable backup center. There’s talk that other programs, some in the SEC, have reached out to Cardwell, but Cardwell appears to love Auburn and not be contemplating leaving for a potential opportunity that could yield more minutes.
What might happen: Like Flanigan and Williams, Broome isn’t expected to be in position to be drafted after receiving his evaluation back. Therefore, Broome is expected to be back on Auburn’s roster next season. The same is expected of Cardwell, but I’ll say, Cardwell is a different cat. He could explore some options, but again, the expectation is that he likely returns. And then there’s Stretch Akingbola, who just finished his fourth season at Auburn. His immediate future remains unclear. He actually provides value on the scout team and with overall team culture within practice and in the locker room, so it’s entirely possible Auburn welcomes Akingbola back for a fifth season, if he chooses to take it. There’s always a need for role players.
What it all means for Auburn
I think Pearl and the staff will want some answers from Flanigan, Williams and Broome within the next three weeks on if they’re returning or not.
What I do think is fairly solid to say is Auburn won’t be adding much, if anything to the point guard position. Even if Green Jr. moves on, a transfer point guard isn’t expected to be targeted. Outside of that, Pearl and Co. will be looking at all available options in the transfer portal at the two, three, four and five positions. The Tigers have to add shooting threats, but those threats also have to be able to play defense. “Three and D” is a must.
Auburn’s roster is in a unique situation of not having any sure-fire NBA guys, having some Covid-year possibilities, and having some mid-major-caliber players that will have to decide if there’s a better option than Auburn. One thing that’s for certain, Pearl and his staff will figure out the best mix to be successful next season, and they’ll get the most out of them.
Auburn is either going to do some light rebuilding or some heavy rebuilding. Which one it ends up being is unknown right now.
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