The Stanford men's basketball team has faced criticism for several shortcomings in the young 2012-2013 season; claims that an inconsistent and bloated playing rotation has thwarted the offense's rhythm is among the most common and vocal of complaints.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the expansive rotation isn't by design.
"My philosophy on it, if you look at my history my first two years here I didn't play as many guys," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "One, we had separation of guys, two, for us we had a situation where you were able to get your numbers down and get a good rotation of eight or nine guys that you could go into."
After substituting liberally for much of the 2011-2012 season, Dawkins intended to trim the rotation this year. But a key early-season injury quashed those plans.
"This year for us we went in to the year with that in mind and then right away we lose Anthony Brown," Dawkins said. "You lose Anthony and you're searching for who can step up in that role. At different times different guys have given us stuff there, whether it's been a Robbie (Lemons), whether it be Christian (Sanders), whether it be Gabe (Harris), so what you don't want to do is close your mind to those guys and opportunities for those guys, because they all at a point in time during the season have stepped up for us and given us stability or shooting or some court savvy. So that's why we end up putting ourselves in that position."
Dawkins does hope to identify a consistent eight or nine man rotation soon. Players like Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, Chasson Randle, Aaron Bright and Andy Brown will be mainstays, while some of the Card's less established players still have a chance to prove themselves.
"Would you like to get down to a smaller rotation? Absolutely," Dawkins said. "We would, and I think we will to be quite frank. But I'm not going to at the expense of losing a young man that could help us.
Shooting woes plague Stanford
Dawkins might have an easier time identifying a stable playing rotation if more Cardinal players were able to consistently make shots. Stanford is dead-last in the Pac-12 in shooting percentage (40.3 percent) - by a wide margin. Dawkins said that at least part of the team's shooting woes can be attributed to the absence of a dynamic interior presence, like Josh Owens provided last season.
"I think you come into a year where you had a dominant inside presence in Josh Owens, and so I think we were able to free up guys a little bit better because you always had to suck in a little bit because he was there," Dawkins said. "We don't really have that as much as of yet. I think we're working towards that."
There is some evidence to back up that assertion. Stanford was actually fairly accurate shooting from distance against USC and UCLA last week, making 16-38 three-point attempts on the road trip, a 42 percent clip.
On the other hand, the Card missed an inordinate number of easy baskets in both games.
"That's just focus and concentration and having your guys understand when you're in those situations just don't take it for granted," Dawkins said. "Play like you would play in the summer or you would play just in the open gym and go in there and concentrate and you can make those plays because they've done them a million times before. Sometimes it can be contagious. At times it can be contagious both ways. Last year I thought we caught fire and it was contagious the other way, so it's just matter of staying the course and knowing that if you're getting good looks they're going to go."
Whenever a team struggles shooting, the questions of shot selection and ball movement will inevitably arise. But Dawkins said that the shooting struggles have been more attributable to players trying to adjust to new roles than the team taking questionable shots.
"I think we're getting good shots," Dawkins said. "I really do. We grade every game at the end. I think we've gotten good looks in a lot of cases. Like any team have we taken some ill-advised shots? I believe so, but our kids for the most part are taking some good looks and they're going to go. I think what you have is a number of guys who are in new roles. Talking about Josh Huestis, talking about Rosco (Allen), Powell, all those guys last year weren't starters for us. All of those guys are starters now for us so some of it is just adjusting to what's going on, but they will. You keeping believing in them, you keep putting them out there, they will get it done because they're good players."
Allen on the Boards
If the early season statistics are an accurate gauge, Stanford is far from an elite defensive rebounding team - the Card rank 10th in the conference in that category. Offensive rebounding, however, is another story - Stanford ranks first in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounds per game. Josh Huestis is of course a big reason for the team's success on the offensive glass - his 53 offensive boards are first on the team by a wide margin, but Dawkins also singled out freshman Rosco Allen for his offensive rebounding prowess. Allen averages less than 13 minutes of playing time per game, but is tied for fifth on the team in offensive boards.
"Rosco's a freshman, but every time a shot's taken you look up and he's going to the boards," Dawkins said. "Sometime as a freshman you kind of find yourself out in no-man's land a little bit, but I give the young man credit: He goes every time."
Up next: Washington State
Stanford will try to notch its first Pac-12 win of the season in its conference home opener. The Cardinal will host Washington State (9-5, 0-1 Pac-12) at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday night at Maples Pavilion. The game will be broadcast on Pac-12 Networks.