Expectations weren't particularly high for Chance Comanche at the start of his freshman year, and understandably so.
The 6-foot-10 big man from Beverly Hills, California was a four-star prospect, and the lowest-ranked recruit in the Arizona Wildcats' 2015 recruiting class. Not to mention that he had a crowded front court of Kaleb Tarczewski, Ryan Anderson, and Dusan Ristic ahead of him on the depth chart.
Playing time was always going to be scarce and there was talk that Comanche would redshirt and use the season to put on some much-needed weight without burning a year of eligibility. In fact, it may have happened had Ray Smith, who could have filled in at the four from time to time, not torn his ACL and missed the entire season, leaving Arizona's front court thinner than originally anticipated.
Nonetheless, Comanche didn't redshirt and he served as the fourth big man off the bench. Given Sean Miller's short rotations, Comanche didn't play a whole lot. He appeared in 23 games, averaging just 6.0 minutes per game.
Even though Comanche's time on the court was limited, he showed plenty of promise, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
Like most freshmen, Comanche could improve defending, hedging, and recovering on pick-and-rolls (Tarczewski spoiled us in that regard), and sharpen his rotations, but his physical tools are undeniable.
With a 7-foot-1 wingspan and terrific mobility for his size, Comanche was able to cause havoc on opposing offenses. He could cover plenty of ground with his lateral quickness, while using his length to disrupt passing lanes and alter and block shots. Comanche, along with Tarczewski, led the team with a block percentage of 4.9 percent.
Comanche's best defensive performance came in the loss at Utah, when he started in the second half after Ryan Anderson was struggling on defense. Comanche picked up two blocks, including one on Jakob Poeltl. The Utes shot 60 percent in the first half in that game, but Comanche played 11 second half minutes, and the Wildcats held Utah to a 37.9 field-goal percentage in the second half.
"When he was in there, he just gave us more balance, more length, made things happen and just did a good job," Miller said after that game.
It became clear that day that Comanche was the team's second-best interior defender.
That said, Comanche's limitations were also clear. For one, his lack of strength was an issue.
As a recruit, Comanche was listed at 205 pounds, an extremely light weight for a 6-foot-10 big man. Obviously being too thin affects a player in many ways. It's harder to finish through contact and establish position in the post or for a rebound. Defensively, stronger opposing players will have an easier time getting favorable position, which, for big men, is extremely important.
For Comanche, his lack of strength showed up in his rebounding numbers. His rebounding percentage in nine Pac-12 Conference games was just 6.8 percent. That's a lower percentage than what Mark Tollefsen (a poor rebounder) put up, and equal to Allonzo Trier (another poor rebounder).
Granted, Comanche only played 51 minutes in conference play, so the sample size is small, but his rebounding ability was not encouraging.
And neither was his offensive production.
Comanche shot 48.5 percent from the field, but considering he didn't make a single 3-pointer, it gave him the worst effective field-goal percentage -- a statistic that adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal -- on the team (48.5). Essentially, he just wasn't an efficient scorer.
However, the good thing is that he showed he has the tools to be a solid offensive player down the road. He scored a few times on the low-block (and looked fluid while doing so), showed soft touch around the rim, appeared to have good hands, and, as you can see above, finished well around the rim. Add those things to the athleticism he has, and it should allow him to be a useful offensive player down the road, especially in the pick-and-roll. He also shot 11-15 from the free throw line, which is a respectable 68.8 percent.
Though, it was disappointing that he never got his mid-range game going. Coming out of high school, Comanche was noted for having a smooth jumper, but he failed to convert on most of the shots he took outside of the paint in his first season of college basketball. If he's going to play the 4, it's a must for him to start hitting shots from out there, otherwise he'll clog the paint and possibly bog down the rest of the offense.
Also, while Comanche did flash in the low-post a few times, it's unclear just how advanced his post-game is. He had very few touches on the low block.
In general, the sample size for Comanche was small, so it's possible we don't really have a clear picture of what he can offer offensively. I mean, he only played 139 minutes in total this past season.
vs. Northern Arizona: 6 points, 3-4 FG, 5 rebounds, 1 block
vs. Utah: 4 points, 2-2 FG, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks
vs. Oregon (Pac-12 Tournament): 6 points, 3-4 FG, 3 rebounds, 1 block
Comanche didn't play much as a freshman, but that will change in his sophomore season. With Tarczewski, Anderson, and Mark Tollefsen graduating, and the Wildcats only having one big man -- Lauri Markkanen -- in their 2016 recruiting class so far, there should be plenty of playing time up for grabs in the front court.
It's probably not too early to say that Comanche will be the team's best interior defender next season, and that alone will earn him about 15-20 minutes of playing time, similar to how often Ristic was on the court this season.
But, perhaps he'll play even more than that. Lute Olson always said that players seemed to develop most between their freshman and sophomore seasons, and, going by that philosophy, it's possible that Comanche will be a vastly improved player next season.
He might even start.
Dusan Ristic has long been penciled in to be Tarczewski's successor, but just because he's a year older than Comanche, doesn't mean he's a shoe-in to start at center.
Ristic is a tremendous offensive player and, if playing starter minutes, could average over 15 points per game. However, his defensive ability leaves a lot to be desired, not to mention that he's not a spectacular rebounder. He did improve a bit defensively as a sophomore, but not enough to where you'd consider him to have a lock on the starting center spot. After all, this is a Sean Miller-coached team we're talking about.
Meanwhile, Comanche is already a solid defender and has the tools to be a dominant force on that end, which could possibly make him the more appealing option. Of course it is possible that Comanche and Ristic start alongside each other too.
Ultimately, Comanche's development in other areas, namely his strength and offensive game, will likely determine his fate in the rotation next season.
Putting on weight should be Comanche's number one priority this offseason. Defensively, that will allow him to check opposing centers easier, and offensively, it'll make him more of a force around the rim and in the post, plus it'll help with screen-setting and things like that. Of course, some added strength would undoubtedly help him as a rebounder too, an area that not only does he need to get better at, but it's also something that the team may desparately need, seeing as there doesn't figure to be a Tarczewski or Ryan Anderson-esque rebounder on the roster.
Secondly, Comanche needs to improve his jump shot. I don't expect him to be able to extend out to the 3-point line just yet, but a consistent mid-range game is a necessity. That way, you can comfortably play him (or start him) alongside Dusan Ristic at the 4 without killing the team's spacing and, when Comanche plays the 5, he could be an ideal fit for "small ball".
With Comanche at the 5 and someone like Lauri Markkanen or Ray Smith at the 4, the Wildcats would be able to run wild in transition and, in the half court, space the floor without compromising their interior defense (similar to what Oregon does). But, as noted earlier, in order for Comanche to be able to play center full-time, he absolutely has to put on a few pounds. Otherwise a lineup with him at the 5 could struggle mightily to rebound the ball.
All in all, Comanche is certainly an intriguing prospect. The defensive value he brings to the table cannot be ignored, and if he can improve a bit offensively, and put on some weight, he may very well be starting for the Wildcats in 2016-17 when all is said and done.
But regardless if he starts or not, expect Comanche's playing time to spike in his sophomore season.