N.C. State’s practice finished, and Abdul-Malik Abu started to work on his jumper. The 6-foot-8 freshman forward took about 50 shots, from either side of the paint from about 12 to 15 feet out.
Abu was asked, “Can you hit those?”
Without missing a beat, the prize of Mark Gottfried’s recruiting class said: “If they need me to.”
Forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell made a living in the high-post offense with those mid-range jumpers during Gottfried’s first two seasons. Post production went on the back burner last season when small forward T.J. Warren, who played primarily on the wing, took over the scoring load.
With Warren in the NBA, and less personnel turnover on the Wolfpack roster at the forward spots, Gottfried’s counting on Abu and sophomore forwards Kyle Washington, Lennard Freeman and BeeJay Anya to increase their production this season.
“We need all four of them to play and be good for our team,” Gottfried said.
In 2012, Leslie led the Wolfpack in scoring (14.7 points per game) and added 7.3 rebounds per game. Howell averaged 10.8 points and led the team with 9.2 rebounds per game.
In 2013, Leslie averaged 15.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and Howell led the ACC with 10.9 rebounds per game and added 12.7 points per game.
Last season, the Wolfpack had to start over in the post without Leslie and Howell. The top post players ended up being Washington, who averaged 4.8 points, and Freeman, who led the bigs with 5.7 rebounds per game.
“Our offense? I’m not worried about our offense, because we’re going to be fine,” Washington said. “We’re extremely deep, and people are underestimating us.”
Gottfried noted that Washington, a 6-9 left-hander, showed scoring potential in flashes last season. Against a formidable Syracuse frontcourt, Washington had 14 points and 10 rebounds in a 56-55 February road loss. Washington also scored 13 points against Virginia Tech and Miami. The issue with Washington was consistency.
“I need to be smarter, making smarter decisions, and continue to work on becoming more sound and consistent on the floor,” Washington said.
Instead of one player carrying the scoring load, as Warren did averaging an ACC-best 24.9 points per game, Gottfried is hopeful this team will get back to those Leslie-Howell versions that had contributions from multiple players. Gottfried’s first two teams both had five players average double figures.
“I don’t know that this team has to rely on one guy to score, and for us last year, for us to be an NCAA tournament team, we needed T.J. to be a 20-plus per game guy, because the other guys weren’t really ready,” Gottfried said. “I don’t think this team will rely on one player. We should be a lot more balanced.”
Anya, who led the team in blocks (46), and Freeman, who was second behind Warren in offensive rebounding (72), can contribute in other areas. They will be counted on to pick up some of the minutes left by 7-footer Jordan Vandenberg, who started 32 games last season.
Abu, who was ranked as the No. 32 player in the freshman class by ESPN, is more of a wild card. Strong, at 6-8 and 240 pounds, Abu has a natural talent to block shots and run the floor. How much he can develop the high-post jumper and midrange game, and complement Washington’s scoring, might be a key for the Wolfpack when the calendar turns to March.
“He has a chance to be really special,” Gottfried said. “He’s typical in that some days he looks spectacular, and other days he looks a little bit lost. That’s part of being a young player.”