It’s an experiment that will continue to be tinkered with, likely for at least another few weeks.
Yet the early reviews are in for the Colorado Buffaloes’ system of rotating starters at the shooting guard and small forward spots. And so far, the trio of Josh Fortune, George King, and Tre’Shaun Fletcher have turned an unorthodox approach into a bona fide strength for the Buffs heading into Sunday’s rivalry showdown at Colorado State.
Head coach Tad Boyle has stated repeatedly he believes he has three capable starters for two positions. The results through seven games haven’t shown otherwise.
“The guys know what’s coming. They all know they’re going to play,” Boyle said. “I like it. I think it’s the fairest way to go about it. Again, I’m not married to it the rest of the year. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll probably revisit it after game nine, after we’ve had three turns through it and I talk to the guys. I want to get their input — what they think and what they want.
“One thing I know is that they’re all going to play. Colorado State likes to play small. We could play all three of those guys together a fair amount of time against teams that play four-guard lineups.”
Rare is the player that will admit to preferring a reserve role to starting, yet both King and Fortune mentioned that the nights they don’t start allows them a courtside perspective to how the game is unfolding and, specifically, what the Buffs might be lacking on the floor.
The situation also has pushed all three players to make certain they stay on top of their games. King, for example, started last week against Air Force, but Boyle didn’t hesitate to yank him in less than a minute when he allowed a 3-pointer on the defensive end and followed by forcing an errant shot on the Buffs’ first possession.
“I think it’s been doing good, actually,” Fortune said. “Obviously it’s something new I haven’t done before. Other teams don’t know really how to prepare for us when we switch it up all the time. When you’re not starting, you get to see what’s going on in the game. If we’re slacking on defense, you can come in with some energy on defense. If one of us is slacking, the others can pick it up.”
Complicating the conundrum, in a good way for Boyle, is that each player has turned in big games both off the bench and as a starter. King didn’t start in the opener against Iowa State, yet ended up playing the second-most minutes on the team while contributing 14 points and six rebounds in the Buffs’ near-upset. King has averaged 18.5 points in his four starts since.
Fortune has scored at least 17 points in three games, reaching that mark twice as a starter and scoring a season-high 18 points off the bench against Air Force. Fletcher has recorded at least 13 points three times in the first seven games after not scoring more than 12 in 54 career games entering the season. Two of those efforts occurred as a starter, and Fletcher tallied a career-high 17 points off the bench against Portland.
“I think it’s great because it gives our team offensively and defensively a better look,” King said. “When we do come off the bench, our main focus is to bring energy. When you start, you’re trying to get the team off to a good start.
“We compete on the boards in the games to see who gets the most. Obviously the guy who comes off the bench is a little behind, but that’s just more reason for him to bring more energy. When the guy off the bench does that, the team has potential to click on all cylinders.”