After a promising season in which Stanford men’s basketball improved by five wins and leaped to a three-way tie for third place in the Pac-12, the Cardinal are projected to take a massive step back this season.
Stanford’s projected struggles will not stem from a lack of promising returners or an uninspiring recruiting class, but rather from the gravity of the program’s departures.
Headlining the list of players departing from the program is star forward Reid Travis, who will take his talents to Kentucky as a graduate transfer. Travis declared for the draft without an agent but eventually withdrew his name and joined the national powerhouse in June.
Stanford was already reeling from the loss of graduating seniors Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey, but the loss of Travis twists the knife in the wound.
Travis has been one of the Pac-12’s elite forwards the past two seasons, earning back-to-back All-Pac-12 First Team nominations. Over the last two years, Travis averaged 18.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, finishing in the top five of both categories in both seasons.
Losing Pickens and Humphrey isn’t small potatoes either, as both seniors were invaluable pieces to Stanford’s core. Pickens was a knockdown shooter who was always good for putting points on the board, while Humphrey inhaled rebounds and helped stretch the floor.
With the loss of Travis, Pickens and Humphrey, sophomores Daejon Davis and KZ Okpala will take on most of the load, and both of them had promising freshman campaigns.
Davis emerged as one of the more versatile and dynamic young guards in the Pac-12, earning a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team.
“Jon-Jon” sent the internet into a frenzy when he nailed a game-winning 3-pointer from beyond the half-court line to defeat USC at home, but Davis is much more than a one-shot wonder.
As an outright starter, Davis averaged 10.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, one of only two players in the conference to put together those numbers last season.
Davis played the role of a true point guard, focusing his attention on running the offense, but he was effective when he let it fly, shooting 47.0 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from deep.
While most players see their numbers take a hit during conference play, Davis upped his performance. He became more involved in the offense, taking more shots, upping his per game averages and cutting down on turnovers.
Davis will have to shoot at a much higher volume as a sophomore, but if last year is any indication of the future, the guard is in for another great year.
There were 14 games in which Davis attempted more than his seasonal average of 7.5 shots per game, and in those contests, the true freshman averaged 15.2 points per game while shooting 47.7 percent from the field. Next season, Davis will be the center of attention for opposing defenses, but attracting extra help could draw focus away from his teammates and set them up for open shots.
The biggest area of concern lies in the turnover department, where he averaged an ugly 4.0 per game. While the point guard was excellent in setting up his teammates, his 132 giveaways weren’t just the most in the Pac-12, but tied for third-most in the nation.
Joining Davis in the starting lineup will be Okpala, who averaged 10.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.
His shooting percentage and turnover numbers leave something to be desired, but Okpala had flashes of excellence throughout the season, such as when he recorded 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals against UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament.
In addition to Davis and Okpala, Stanford brings in a solid recruiting class highlighted by guard Cormac Ryan and forward Jaiden Delaire, a pair of four-star recruits that will provide the team with some much-needed front and backcourt depth.
Stanford possesses both talent and potential, but finishing in the upper half of the Pac-12 again will be a tall task. This Cardinal team is incredibly young — all but four players are underclassmen — and will have to give big minutes to both freshmen and players who have only had minimal roles to this point.
The loss of Travis in addition to Pickens and Humphrey is a brutal blow for Stanford and undoubtedly transforms the program from a conference contender to a squad destined for a slide.