By REED NELSON
First, a few facts muddled by observations:
— Oregon is currently 8-1, a record that will hold for at least another day. Their lone loss came against still-undefeated (and current No. 11) Cincinnati, and it came less than 24 hours after Oregon beat a ranked UNLV team in Vegas.
— They’ve outscored opponents 715 to 562 (a 153-point margin, for those playing the home game). I don’t care if those opponents have fielded teams that, at times, been largely composed of extras from the film Benchwarmers, the Ducks have still been winning games by an average of 17 points.
— Oregon’s leading scorer, freshman shooting guard Damyean Dotson, is averaging 11.3 points per game, which would normally be a stat preceded by the word “underwhelming,” but not in this case. While Dotson leads the team with just over 11 ppg, four other Ducks (Carlos Emory, E.J. Singler, Tony Woods and freshman Dominic Artis) are averaging over 10 points a game. When five players on the same team score in double-digits on any given night, the announcers make note of it, praising the “unselfish style of play.” These Ducks play that way every single night.
— Freshman point guard Dominic Artis, Oregon’s first Findlay Prep (aka Basketball High School) product, has been wonderful. He is fourth on the team in scoring, avergaging 10.3 ppg, and leads the team with 3.4 assists per game.
— Oregon’s other heralded newcomer, Rice transfer Araslan Kazemi, plays much bigger than his listed 6’7, 226 pound frame would suggest. Case in point: In the two games that Oregon has played against ranked opponents, the senior power forward pulled down 23 rebounds. He has a tendency to disappear for long stretches on offense, but his consistent numbers (9.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg) have masked whatever other deficiencies exist to this point.
— Speaking of Arsalan Kazemi, he is fourth in the nation in steals, averaging 3.4 swipes a game. Yes, you read that correctly. A power forward from Iran has mysteriously become Oregon’s answer to Gary Payton. Who cares if it’s a couple of decades late? Not this guy.
— Dana Altman looks a lot like actor James Cromwell, which inherently makes him look both trustworthy and maniacal. Watching him on the sideline is like watching an episode of American Horror Story morph into The Sum of All Fears.
Enough of that, however. This is a report card, and a randomly timed one at that.
Point Guard Play
Dominic Artis — For all the reasons listed above, the 6’1 Findlay Prep product has been as good as advertised. Throw in the pedigree with the production, and the Ducks have hit upon a nice little cocktail of a player. He’s third on the team in minutes, scores at a 44 percent clip and is second on the team in steals. The only downside is that he’s yet to display a consistent long-range jump shot. He’s shooting just 31 percent from the three-point line and the Ducks could use a sniper, which Artis very well could become; he’s already displayed a deft stroke from the free throw line, shooting a team-best 91 percent from the stripe. Grade: A-
Jonathan Loyd — Back in November of 2011, the feisty 5’8 point guard dropped 24 points on UTEP. Since then, he’s yet to reach double-digits. In all fairness, however, Loyd hasn’t exactly been asked to carry the torch. In just under 17 minutes, he’s averaging 3.1 points, 1.6 rebounds and 2 assists per game. His role seems pretty defined (more of a recurring character than one of Vinny’s boys), but he is quite settled in it. That being said, it’s tough to give 3-2-2 high marks, but it’s also tough to really deride a 7.5/3.8/4.7 per 40 minute average of a 5’8 point guard. Grade: B-
Shooting Guard Play
Damyean Dotson — No relation to Antwain, the “other” freshman has been filling up the stat sheets as much as Dana Altman’s offense will allow. He leads the team in scoring (11.3), is second in minutes per game (25.6) and is tied for the team lead in three pointers made (12). But he’s also leading the team in three-point attempts (39), and is shooting a sub-par .308 from behind the arc. If Dotson can start sinking some three’s, Oregon’s offense could really take off. Until then, they’re still missing a dimension from the backcourt. Grade: B+
E.J. Singler — The Ducks key returning senior has been OK-but-not-good to this point. For whatever reason, the 6’6 forward is scoring just 10.4 ppg this season, down from 13.6 last season, and his field goal percentage is an atrocious .342 this season (down from .467). For whatever reason, since his brother has come back from Europe, he’s shown the shooting touch of Edward Scissorhands. Luckily for Singler and the Ducks, this report card has very little chronological bearing, and he has more than 20 games to turn it around. In the “At least this is going on” segment, Singler is crashing the boards with (cue Clyde Frasier voice)ferocity, and his 4.8 rpg are second best on the team. Grade: C+, with weighted expectations
Carlos Emory — The 6’5 JuCo transfer senior has been a revelation in 2012 (either reducing the sting of E.J. Singler’s slipping play, or the root of it), averaging 10.8 ppg (second on the team), 4.7 rebounds (third) and has been making his shots at a 55 percent rate. And, for whatever it’s worth, he’s been making 35 percent of his three’s (7 for 20), which is best among Ducks who have taken 20 or more three-point attempts. At the moment, Emory is a strong candidate for team MVP as well as an All-Pac-12 honorable mention. At this point. Stay tuned for Artis and Dotson. And Singler for that matter. Screw it. Thus far, Emory has played great. Grade: A
Power Forward Play
Arsalan Kazemi — The Hardship Waiver that the NCAA so graciously granted Kazemi has payed huge dividends to this point. The 6’7 senior has made the Pac-12 transition smoothly, and is leading the team with 9.3 rebounds a game (Singler is second with nearly five less) and plays much bigger than his frame suggests. His wide shoulder set allows him to muscle his way into the post, and muscle he does (9.3 ppg, ‘cuz he’s into symmetry. I don’t really know that.). He’s as physical as any big in the Pac-12, and uses his size very well. He figures to only get more comfortable as the season progresses, too, which should help his scoring production. Oh, and he leads the team with a ridiculous 3.4 steals per game. Grade: A-
Tony Woods — The good news? The 6’11 center is averaging 10.2 points per game while shooting a sparkling .556 from the field, and he’s doing all of that in just 18 minutes of floor time a game. The bad news? He’s averaging just 3.1 rebounds a game, while contributing 3.2 fouls a game. Plain and simple, a productive 6’11, 243 pound center should not be committing more fouls than he is grabbing rebounds in any game. Ever. And Woods is doing it on a nightly basis. But the two feed into each other; he’s getting outworked down low, leading to low rebound numbers, increased foul tallies and then, less minutes. If Woods can figure out a way to stay on the floor for just 22 minutes a night, he’d be averaging a team-leading 12.5 ppg (based on a point-per-minute calculation). So, until Woods can figure it out, his content get’s a decent grade, but his lack of production in key areas doesn’t. Grade: C+
For a starting five that’s composed of two freshman and a transfer, they have somehow managed to post 79.4 points per game in Altman’s precision-based offense. They also have been shooting a phenomenal .481from the field as a team. Is it sustainable? Let’s hope so, because chemistry issues rear their ugly heads in the assists column, however, where they average just 13.8 per game (124th in the nation). That should improve with the continuing integration of Artis into the offense, however, and if he and Dotson start knocking down some three’s, this season could turn from good to great. Grade: B+
Oregon’s opponents have averaged 62.4 points per game against the Ducks this season, which is meaningless without context. They gave up 83 and 77 to UNLV and Cincinnati, respectively, which isn’t great. But they’ve held opponents under 50 three times, and one of those times came against the SEC’s own Vanderbilt, so that’s good. Overall, the Ducks are averaging a very vanilla 39.3 rebounds per game, and haven’t played great 40-minute defense against an elite opponent yet, which is a definite detraction. But Kazemi steals anything that isn’t nailed to the floor, so that has to stand for something. Grade: B-
Forget individual aspects, however, as noted earlier: The Ducks are 8-1, outscoring opponents by an average of 17 ppg. The starting lineup has only one player (Kazemi) averaging less than 10 ppg, and that guy is averaging over nine boards. And their lone loss came against undefeated Cincinnati. In fact, that loss is the only thing keeping them from the pristine “A+” grade. Grade: A.