The all-time San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team

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My All-Time Team: 

First off, what were my criteria? It got a little complicated. I started by leaning heavily towards accolades/talent. It was probably 95% accolades, 5% fit. Moving further down the lineup, it became more about fit, so that the last player(s) chosen were because they shored up some weakness if the team were to play on the court. It was more fun for me to approach it from that tactical standpoint.

Once down on paper, I created all the players on 2K, and gave the roster a trial run, making minor changes to make the players feel right. Not super scientific, but it was nice to have something in front of me rather than just thinking about it. The problem was spacing, and it was a big one. It was so hard to score because the opponent would clog the paint and dare me to shoot from outside. I got by on offensive rebounds, but it wasn’t enough, so a couple of changes were made, both to the players on the team as well as their role. I also have 14 players since that’s how many you need for a full roster in NBA2K.

With all that out of the way, here it is.

PG: Xavier Thames – The dude carried the team’s offense to the sweet 16 basically by himself. He has decent size, is a great shot-creator, can score from anywhere on the court, and is a staunch defender too. He also has the highest PIPM on an Aztec player dating back to 2005 (as far back as the ratings go.)

SG: Malachi Flynn – I considered switching Flynn and Thames since Thames is taller, and they have similar skill sets. I decided to run Flynn as a two since he’s the better shooter. Thames will help keep the team from getting Lazy and jacking up 3’s without running any offense, and letting Flynn play off the ball will get him some better shots. On any given possession, either one can run the offense or play off ball, but this is how the lineup will look to start.

SF.: Chase Tapley – This was the toughest decision for me, and literally kept me up at night. Originally I had Jamaal Franklin here. This led to a number of issues. Franklin doesn’t space the floor well, he can run the offense a little, but not as well as the two guards, and at 6’5″ he’s a bit small for a SF. He can manage due to his strength, and the team rebounding was great, but scoring was an issue. Chase Tapley doesn’t help much in terms of size, and the defense might take a small hit, but the shooting he provides offsets everything else. Having a career 39.47% shooter on the wing can jolt an offense. In terms of accolades, Chase shouldn’t be a starter, but in terms of fit, he seemed like the best choice. That may change after next season, but more on that later.

PF: Kawhi Leonard – Kawhi may be slightly undersized as a PF, but he’s long and strong enough to pull it off. He was a great rebounder during his time as an Aztec. He was good at pretty much everything except for shooting from distance. That is why I put him as a PF and not a SF. It allows him to do what he’s best at more often and minimizes his chances to do something he’s not as good at. Plus, he can run the offense from time to time too and having a 6’7″ P.F. run things while having guys like Thames, Flynn, and Tapley spot up would be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

C: Michael Cage – It’s hard to find a starting center for the all-time team because there are so many choices. Michael Cage is the only one who was a 2nd team All-American, though, and the only one to receive a POY award and did it twice. He’s the second all-time leading scorer behind only Brandon Heath and is the all-time leading rebounder by almost 300 rebounds (542 above the closest D1 competitor, Marcus Slaughter.) Cage can score out of the post. He can operate in the pick and roll, and bring enough defense not to compromise anyone else (career 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals per game.) He brings the things I look for in a center and is well rounded.

With the starting five out of the way, it’s time to start filling some holes on the roster. These players aren’t listed in any order, instead I would play them to their strengths as the situation dictated. It’s what I’ve been doing in NBA2K and has worked well.

Jamaal Franklin: Jamaal’s role on this team would be as the perimeter defensive stopper, especially if Kawhi is guarding a stretch four or taking a breather. Playing Jamaal with a defensive focus may seem like a misallocation of his skills, given how great of a scorer he was. He would still be given chances to score, but with all the scorers around him, he doesn’t need to score as much and can focus more energy on defense. He already has the 7th best D-PIPM score among all Aztecs since 2005 (behind only Skylar Spencer 3x, Malcolm Thomas, Kawhi Leonard, and Nathan Mensah.) So he can handle the defensive responsibilities. Him doing so allows guys like Flynn and Thames to focus on offense.

Credit: SDSU

Brandon Heath: All-time leading scorer definitely deserves a spot on the all-time team. He has good size at 6’4″, can create shots for himself or others, owns a career 35.2% from behind the arc. I considered making him the starting SF over Tapley but decided his all-around game could play great as a 6th man. Heath can lead the bench unit while Tapley can specialize in stretching the floor. Heath also owns a -0.05 D-PIPM, and I wanted some solid defense in the starting lineup.

Malcolm Thomas: Thomas, similar to cage, brings everything I would want in a center. He deterred shots at the rim, collected rebounds on both ends of the court, and could operate out of the pick and roll. The starting center for the first Aztec Sweet 16, and a defense that ranked 2nd in the nation in KenPom that year, and the 4th highest D-PIPM of any Aztec since 2005.  He would serve as the primary backup to Michael Cage, coming in if Cage needs a breather or if the team needed a defensive push.

Marcus Slaughter: Marcus Slaughter would serve as a center in a pinch, and a PF if I was looking for a more traditional lineup, or wanted to move Kawhi to the SF without losing any rebounding. Slaughter was active on both sides of the ball, although more so offensively. In 2006 Slaughter ranked 10th in the nation in OR%, 22nd in the country in DR%, and 13th in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. The board man gets paid, and Slaughter is the 2nd leading rebounder in the Div. 1 era. He also draws a lot of fouls, which I personally love, as I like to get the opposing team in foul trouble.

Tony Gwynn: I mentioned earlier that Tony is the all-time leader in Assists for SDSU Men’s basketball. Listening to his coaches, he was capable of much more than that but preferred to be a setup man. I wanted at least one more true PG, and it was tough between Tony and D.J. Gay. I went with tony for the shot creation, and also partly as a legacy pick. I never got to see Tony play basketball, but between everything he did for SDSU and the city of San Diego in general, I wanted to put him on the team. The legacy served as somewhat of a tiebreaker for me. The lack of shooting isn’t ideal, but if he’s surrounded by other shooters, I can make it work. Lastly, he was just a great guy by all reports and would be a significant influence in the locker room, a glue guy of sorts.

For the last four, I got really matchup specific. These players will likely only play in particular situations, or in case of injury. You can still call me an idiot for including someone who you don’t think should be included, just know that these players are super match up dependent and because of that, I went with players I knew better, as I ‘ll know how to use them in those specific matchups.

Malik Pope: Pope’s role on this team is as a stretch 4. He can realistically play the 3-5 positions if needed, but I’ll send him in when I want to stretch the floor. He would also help gather defensive rebounds and provides excellent size and length while stretching the floor, but on this team, his role on offense would simply be to stand in the corner, catch and shoot. He’s capable of more, but with all this talent, nothing else is needed.

Credit: AP Photo

Trey Kell: Trey Kell is one of my favorite players in Aztec History. A San Diego Native who ended his career ranking 5th in scoring, 20th in rebounds, and 10th in assists. He recorded a PIPM between 2.5 and 2.6 in three of his four years on the Mesa. That’s not outstanding, but it’s good, and it’s consistent. He’s a player who can play the 1-3 spots and does many things well. He doesn’t have excellent wing size, which I wanted bad, but he provides a high level of skill. The only major flaw is his shooting from deep, where he’s a 30.9% shooter. Similar to Tony, though, I can surround him with shooters and make it work. Kell may not be great at any one thing, but he is good at almost everything, and that versatility is a significant boon coming off the bench. It would allow me to mix and match him to get the right matchup.

Matt Mitchell: This one is sort of a projection. I tweeted out recently about Matt Mitchell’s status as an all-time scorer at SDSU.

I’m assuming he reaches that lofty status with this pick. I don’t think Matt has earned all-time status yet, but I believe he’ll close the gap his senior year. He makes this team because of that and because he’s another versatile player who can score, rebound, and defend all at high levels. He also adds some size at 6’6″, 240 lbs that the team needs, and a true wing presence, as there aren’t many of those. Mitchell can be used as a stretch four (career 35.8% behind the arc), although I’d prefer to keep Pope’s size in that role. Mitchell would be used as a real wing, allowing him to take advantage of his brawn to overpower smaller forwards.

Winston Shepard: I know. I know. A lot of fans were really disappointed with Winston Shepard’s career. I get it. That being said, he’s the last player on the list, and the reason I have him on the team is for matchups. At 6’8,” he can handle the ball and run the offense. He doesn’t provide shooting, but with him, on the floor, I can have the P.F. run the offense and run guys like Flynn, Thames, and Tapley, or Heath off of screens. If I want to get crazy, I can try to run Shepard out as a PG and post up against a 6’2″ guard. Shepard is incredibly versatile, being the only Aztec ever to record a triple-double. He doesn’t do anything significant but does a bunch of things well, and because of that, he could be slotted in a number of different spots depending on matchup or injuries. Only 13 players are allowed to be active in NBA2K, due to NBA rules, so Winston would only dress if there was an injury.  The choice for the 13th spot came down to Kell or Shepard. Skill or size. I went with skill. I like the idea of having a guy who can guard 1-5 being the last guy on the team, though. It’s a nice security net.

That does it. This was a fun exercise for me, and hopefully for those that contributed on twitter. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong, but please do it in a classy way.

2 thoughts on “The all-time San Diego State Aztecs men’s basketball team

  1. Whom ever picked the this Top has no knowledge of Basketball. San Diego State Basketball enjoyed more success and National recognition when Kawhi Leonard and Chase Tapley arrived on the MESA! Chase Tapley played in four (4) consecutive NCAA Tournaments and he is not Top 10? Chase is SDSU 4th Career scorer; 4th FG made; 4th 3PG made and etc but he is not Top 10? Heck, his stats and accomplishments not enough to get him in SDSU Basketball Hall of Fame!

    There is no way Thames, Franklin and Flynn should be in Top 5. This is a person’s my favorite or player I like the most list. Thames and Flynn both chose Washington State over SDSU. Obviously, they could not WIN at Washington State until they arrived on the MESA. Here’s the real Top 5. Heath, Cage, Leonard, Tapley and White!

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