Pat Chambers has asked a lot of Josh Reaves, but yet, he needs more.
Now, in Chambers’ defense, he said on Tuesday afternoon that he needs more out of everybody on Penn State’s roster, but Reaves’ production (or lack thereof) has been noticeable, both on the statsheet and to the eye test.
Sure, Reaves still leads the Big Ten in steals and is currently the only player in the conference averaging more than two steals per game. But after a season in which he averaged more than 10 points per game on a team that was filled with dynamic offensive players, the senior guard is now back to averaging under 10 points per game and currently has the worst free throw shooting percentage of his career to pair with his worst field goal and 3-point percentages since his freshman year. He’s done all of this while playing a career high 32.7 minutes per game.
“Josh is a senior. We need more from Josh Reaves,” Chambers said. “He’s gotta start playing like a senior. He’s gotta start making those reads off ball screens and he’s gotta start making that extra pass.”
Recognizing how important Reaves is to the success of this Penn State team, Chambers has begun to put Reaves in different roles to see how he responds — and how it could benefit the team. In the Penn State’s last four games, that includes Reaves playing point guard and running the offense.
Chambers made the switch for a few reasons. The first was to take some pressure off freshman guard Rasir Bolton, who plays a little too erratically at times, in order for him to focus on being the secondary scorer to Lamar Stevens. The second reason was because Chambers has let Reaves run the point in the past, including when Tony Carr was shooting well and the Nittany Lions were clicking on all cylinders at the end of last season. But the third reason is because Reaves is the senior leader and has been around Chambers’ offense longer than anyone else.
“[Reaves] was really excited about playing the point,” Chambers said. “I thought he did some good things at the point –– he looked more energized. He looked into it, knowing he was going to facilitate and make plays for others.”
On the surface, Reaves has produced while in this role, as he’s averaging a career high in assists per game. But he’s also averaging just under three turnovers per game, which is also a career high, and boasts a less than stellar assist to turnover ratio of 1.19. Chambers understands how important the point guard position is. In fact, the Nittany Lions have actually had a steady stream of quality point guard play, but that seems to have been put on hold for a year after Carr’s departure.
“The point guard spot is critical,” Chambers said. “It’s like being a quarterback. It’s like Trace McSorley. You’re the conductor.”
Whether it’s running the offense or the pressure Reaves is putting on himself, there’s clearly something that has been affecting the Virginia native’s play so far this season. Chambers thinks he has an answer.
“The issue I see is foul trouble. He’s sitting for 8-10 minutes every game and I have to play a lineup with three freshman, a sophomore and a junior, which is Lamar [Stevens].” Chambers said. “He’s getting two [fouls] quick, sometimes before the [under-12 media timeout] and sometimes before the [under-8 media timeout]. He’s the steal master. I think he’s gotta be a little more cognizant of staying on the floor. We need his big body out there and we need his leadership out there.”
Just looking at the last five games, Reaves has only been able to play more than 30 minutes in two of those contests and, uncoincidentally, he hasn’t reached double figures once in that same span.
“I think the two fouls is really messing with him,” Chambers reiterated. “[Reaves] wants to be perfect. He wants to play so hard. He wants this so badly that sometimes [he] doesn’t play as well as [he] could.
In Chambers’ eyes, the best Reaves has looked this season is in the first half against Maryland. Reaves had 17 points in the first 20 minutes of play, including three 3-pointers.
“It’s coming, he’s ready to break out. He doesn’t have to give me 17 or 15 [points] in the first half,” Chambers said. “Just stay out of foul trouble, produce, stay on the floor somehow, make everybody better, lead, don’t be afraid. He’s gotta go back to having fun.”