Times are good for Canes Hoops, we're #10 in the AP Polls, 5-0, we're scoring over Coach Larranaga's goal of 75 points per game (currently at 79.8), and we're suffocating opponents with our defense, only allowing 54 points per game. The team has performed as expected for the most part, Bruce Brown Jr is stuffing the stat sheet, Ja'Quan Newton is putting the ball in the basket, and Anthony Lawrence is harassing opposing guards with his length and filling in wherever else needed. Some players have made significant strides from last season, Dewan Huell is leading the Canes in scoring, and holding it down inside on the glass and protecting the rim. Ebuka Izundu comes off the bench and maintains production with his outstanding effort.
One of the predicted strengths of this team would be the contributions of their newcomers. We've all heard of Lonnie Walker IV, and he has made a few eye-opening plays. Chris Lykes hasn't let his size disadvantage prevent him from hitting shots and getting to the basket. The one newcomer I'm highest on right now though is Sam Waardenburg, the 6'9" 205 lb redshirt freshman from New Zealand. You can read his player profile here: Canes Hoops Player Profile: Sam Waardenburg
One of the immediate comparisons I make to Waardenburg is the Knicks resident unicorn Kristaps Porzingis. They don't just look alike, but they have similar skill sets. Right now, Waardenburg is closer to rookie year Porzingis, as Miami isn't force-feeding their redshirt-freshman the ball, but he is taking advantage of his limited minutes and touches. In 2 games (Waardenburg missed the first 3 games due to a back injury) he is 6th on the team in points (8.0) and 5th on the team in rebounds (4.0) despite being 9th on the team in minutes (14.5). He is matching the production of Ebuka Izundu in less minutes (Izundu is averaging 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in 17 minutes per game). In the first 3 games of the season, Huell and Izundu were unstoppable, scoring at a torrid rate, especially when both were on the floor. The Canes now have the luxury of taking that advantage, and adding another talented big man to the rotation.
Not only is Waardenburg another big man to add to the rotation, but he adds some variance to Huell and Izundu, who bring similar attributes to the game. Waardenburg somewhat bridges the gap between the Canes big men and Anthony Lawrence II, as he can hit the outside shot and put the ball on the floor with great proficiency for his size. The New Zealand-native is actually making a ridiculous 67% of his shots from outside the arc. While the Canes have seen success putting Huell and Izundu on the floor together, I would love to see AMP and Waardenburg serve as the big men in some small-ball lineups. Miami picked apart North Florida with Lawrence getting the ball above the free throw line and throwing quick passes over the top to big men with a seal in the post or off the bounce to cutters from the corner. You can see an examples of this play at :21 in the video below:
With both Amp and Waardenburg on the floor, there are options for how the play can be set up, making it harder for opposing defenses to read and defend. Waardenburg could take Lawrence's place at the top of the key, as he's tall-enough and skilled-enough to make those passes and may even be more lethal shooting from that position if left open. The play could also still be run with Amp facilitating, as Waardenburg is a floor-spacing option that needs to be accounted for, or he can work his way into the post and finish close to the basket.
Waardenburg has also proved to be an athletic rim protector, adding to the already stout interior defense of the Canes. As he works his way towards more minutes, I expect Waardenburg to become another matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. As another piece to the Canes already young core, Miami looks to be set in the present and the future.