Penn State sophomore guard Tony Carr, a first-team all-Big Ten selection in 2017-18, has decided to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft with intent to hire an agent. It is no shock to this program or this fanbase, as speculation has been rampant for months. He has appeared on numerous NBA mock draft boards from analysts who speak with pro scouts on a regular basis, so there is no doubt that there is genuine interest in Carr.
For fans of the Nittany Lions, the next question is what impact this will have on the 2018-19 squad. There is no question that losing Carr, perhaps the most talented player the program has ever had, is a blow to their chances to take the next step from the NIT championship to the NCAA Tournament in 2019. Add in the loss of senior Shep Garner, who was excellent in his role consistently over the last few months, and there are two big holes to replace in the backcourt.
That said, there is still talent on this team. First-team All-Big Ten defender Mike Watkins confirmed that he will return, and fellow first-teamer Josh Reaves appears slated to return as well. Lamar Stevens has the ability to take over games when he finds a groove, as he displayed in his stellar performances against Marquette and Utah on his way to the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. All three will have all-conference hype entering next year.
One potential weakness seems to have been taken care of, as the loss of Julian Moore to graduation appears to have been offset by John Harrar. His play in the Big Ten Tournament and the NIT means that the team won't have to spell Watkins with minutes for the struggling Satchel Pierce, which is significant and gives the team crucial depth in the post.
Additionally, two good recruits join the rotation in the form of wing Myles Dread, the Washington D.C. high school player of the year, and Virginia combo guard Rasir Bolton. Both figure to be early favorites to replace Carr and Garner in the starting lineup.
Still, relying on two freshmen to anchor the backcourt is a shaky proposition, and the existing talent will need to step up. It will be a critical offseason for the development of Jamari Wheeler, who showed excellent defensive abilities and blazing speed, but had a difficult freshman year finding confidence on the offensive end of the floor. The coaching staff will hope that a year of maturity will improve his decision making and that he can pull his jump shot together.
Nazeer Bostick will be a junior in 2018-19, and his status on this team is still a question mark. While he saw more playing time as a sophomore, there was not a significant uptick in productivity on the whole. Add in off-the-court issues that saw him suspended for two games and then benched in the NIT Finals, and relying on Bostick for anything going forward may not be in the cards.
Depth is also a concern at the 4, as the coaching staff has been reluctant to rely on Deivis Zemgulis to step in for Stevens. Reaves is talented enough to fill in there, but it also limits his ability to find rest. Expecting Zemgulis to be more than five fouls at this point in his career is a fool's errand, as his flat three-point shot remains ineffective. Trent Buttrick was also a reserve this season, and could be expected to fill some minutes in his sophomore season.
Defensively, the team figures to still be one of the country's best. Reaves and Watkins are two elite defensive presences, Stevens' athleticism causes plenty of disruptions, and Wheeler figures to continue to make plays even if he reins in the aggressiveness.
But the bigger questions will be on the offensive end of the floor. The team did not rely on the three last season; only 33 percent of their field goal attempts were three-pointers, which was 284th in the country per KenPom. But they excelled at knocking down triples, shooting 38.7 percent, good for 33rd in the country. The leaders on the team? Tony Carr and Shep Garner, who both shot 43.3 percent.
The numbers and tape indicate that Dread is a good shooter and should be able to help the team from deep, and Reaves showed improvement once again, shooting nearly 38 percent from beyond the arc. But they will not be able to use the three as a weapon the way they did in 2017-18.
Bolton and Wheeler will bring more athleticism to the point, and while no one will expect the two of them to create their own shot the way Carr was able to, it offers different options. The tempo this past season cooled off from the more transition-heavy offense they ran in 2016-17; with more athletic point guards, it would not be a surprise to see that tempo sped back up a bit.
Penn State will in all likelihood have its first draft pick since Calvin Booth in 1999, and that is a success story for the recruiting trail. But there is no doubt that it hurts the team for the 2018-19 season, and that this will be a crucial offseason in determining the program's future.