Arguably the best shot blocker in the country as a sophomore, Jarvis Varnado
s improvement as a junior leaves no doubt in anyones mind about that title this time around, with the margin being quite substantial statistically. With 7.5 blocks per 40 minutes pace adjusted, Varnado leads every other player in our database by 2+ blocks, while hes comfortably ahead in blocks per game as well despite playing under 28 minutes per game.
Aside from shot-blocking, Varnados stats are increased across the board, despite actually seeing a slight decrease in minutes, and his improvements clearly show in watching him play. His points (+5), rebounds (+2), and blocks (+.8) are substantially up, his fouls (-.8) noticeably down, and even with a significant increase in possessions per game (+5), his efficiency has remained the same with a 62% TS%. The most impressive part about that is looking at some deeper stats, as according to Synergy Sports Technology, hes getting 6.4 possessions per game posting up this season, up dramatically from 1.3 post up possessions last season, showing you just how noticeably his role has changed.
In analyzing Varnados game, the first thing to take notice of has to be his improvement on the offensive end, where he looks like a different player in the post, showing some pretty nice promise. Despite his slight frame and still apparent lack of strength (hes bulked up a bit and gotten stronger, but still has a ways to go), Varnado has developed a nice go-to move in the post: a right-handed hook shot that he hits with decent regularity out to 8 feet. He shows pretty good touch and accuracy on his shot, has no problems getting it off with his length, and converts fairly consistently despite not having the frame to take much contact, forcing him to dramatically fade away from the basket on most occasions.
In addition to his right-handed hook shot, Varnado shows flashes of other moves, namely a drop step, but its still very much a work in progress. His post game in general is still very raw, relying mostly on his one move in combination with his physical attributes and touch, not having much polish otherwise. He struggles to get good position, isnt very good at finishing through contact, struggles powering up from awkward angles, looks extremely awkward when going to his right shoulder, has no left hand, and doesnt show great footwork. The fact that Mississippi State has played just the 234th toughest strength of schedule in college basketball also leaves something to be desired.
Still, theres much to be impressed with, namely his solid composure in the post without those tools, his increased rate of getting to the free-throw line, his pretty good balance and coordination despite a lack of base strength, and the flashes of excellent range he shows on his moves at times.
Other than his post game, Varnado is limited in what he can contribute offensively, but hes improved in some little areas off the ball as well. With his size, athletic abilities, and very good hands, hes becoming more of a threat in the pick-and-roll game, and as a cutter in general, doing a good job of catching and finishing, even occasionally in traffic. His jump shot is still not a reliable weapon at all, but his improvement from the free-throw line (up to 65% from 50% last season) is a very encouraging sign for the future.
Varnados greatest asset is still on the defensive end, where his shot-blocking ability is nothing short of excellent, as weve highlighted in his scouting reports in the past. Hes actually managed to increase his block rate this season while lowering the rate at which he fouls, which is very impressive for someone who was already arguably the countrys best shot blocker. His timing and anticipation are superb, while he shows good composure in not biting for pump fakes, while his overall awareness seems improved this season as well.
As a man-to-man defender, Varnado still leaves much to be desired, showing very little in terms of fundamentals-- like stance or leverage in the post. His post defense can best be described as easily giving up position and basically just daring his opponents to shoot over him, which works against most opponents at this level, but has shown signs of problems against bigger, stronger opponents, such as Washington States Aron Baynes
, who torched Varnado for 17 points on 10 shot attempts in an 11-point win for the Cougars.
Looking forward, theres much to be optimistic about with Varnado, but hes still a raw player in many ways, while having a lot of flaws he can work on. His post game is coming along nicely, but is still incomplete, and its tough to see him having much success with it at the next level in its current form.
The same can be said for his man-to-man defense, which relies too much on his physical tools. Almost every facet of his game could improve with some more strength and bulk added to both his lower and upper body, as well as continued work with the basic fundamentals of the game. He may be tempted to declare for the draft this season due to his potential, but given the way he improved this season, it would likely be in his best interest to spend another year in college honing his game.