The Green Bay Phoenix are going to have their work cut out for them in 2021. Will Ryan returns only seven players from last season’s roster, four of which saw meaningful minutes. It’s obvious the goal was to retool, find better system fits, and bring long-term stability to Green bay.
Playing time and cohesion are going to be among the hardest questions Will Ryan has to sort through when the phoenix are back on the court. In large part, minutes are available at each and every position – this is a clean slate for every player on the roster. It’s a mystery at this point how the team is going to mesh, but the one thing I feel confident saying is that Emmanuel Ansong is going to be the X-factor on this roster.
During this era of position-less basketball, an undersized – hyper athletic forward that plays bigger than his size is what every coach is searching for. Will Ryan has that in Manny Ansong, whom he brought with him from D2 Wheeling University. Ansong appeared in only 19 games due to eligibility issues last season, and was worked into the rotation slowly – before forcing his way onto the floor and making a name for himself.
Ansong would prove to be Green Bay’s most productive “big” on the roster despite standing at just 6-foot-4. He would go on to average 10.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists – all while averaging (1.053 points per possession) which put him in the 88th percentile in all of college basketball.
He’s not someone you build an offense around by any means, but he’s highly productive despite low usage – making him the ultimate complimentary piece. Ansong led the team in ORtg by a large margin (for those who regularly appeared in the rotation) as well as leading the team in PER. I can assure you this didn’t go unnoticed by Will Ryan, who rarely took him off the court late last season.
Offensively Ansong is definitely raw – evidenced by the out of control nature he sometimes finds himself playing in, which isn’t unusual for a late bloomer with his rare athleticism. However, he seems to have a good understanding of where his bread is buttered (around the rim/in the post). Ansong averaged (1.25 PPP) on post ups last season, which ranked in the 97th percentile in all of college basketball. He’s generally much quicker than his defender and can beat them to the rim by putting it on the deck or with a quick drop step and exploding to the rim. He’s also a phenomenal rebounder for his size, specifically on the offensive glass. The amount of second chance points he gave Green Bay last season was astounding. For all the reasons he benefits the team as a undersized forward, this may be the most important.
The defensive end is where the bulk of improvement needs to be done. Of the ten players who appeared in 19 or more games last season, Ansong recorded the worst defensive PPP allowed (1.07) on the roster. Now this isn’t to say that he isn’t a capable defender, because all of the tools are there. Ansong was often defending someone considerably bigger than him which is no easy task. On top of it, this defensive system is one that takes all players on the floor being in sync.
With his eligibility in question, he didn’t get a fair shake at the reps many others earned early in the season, more or less getting thrown into the fire and learning on the job. He has all the intangibles to be a good defender and has a great work ethic, so I’m expecting to see an improved effort on the defensive end. Will Ryan stresses the importance of being in position and preventing points more than scoring them, so to play the heavy minutes he’s in line for – defense is where he’s going to have to show an improved effort.
Getting Ansong to refine his game and play more under control is going to be the difference in seeing Ansong take the next step in his development. Because when Ansong gets a little overzealous it leads to some ugly mistakes and forces turnovers, which as we all know is something Will Ryan isn’t going to tolerate.
The best thing about Ansong is he already has the athletic traits in which you cannot teach. He’s a big ball of clay right now and may have the highest upside on the entire roster. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the program at the moment, but Ansong is the one player I feel confident has a role etched in stone. If he takes a noticeable leap in his second year with the phoenix – making an all-Horizon League team isn’t totally out of the question.