TEMPE, Ariz. — If the Maroon-Gold scrimmage is any barometer, Arizona State will play the kind of game open-court enthusiasts admire this season.
Ballyhooed freshman point Jahii Carson ran the show in the 30-minute practice Saturday morning at Wells Fargo Arena, as he is expected to do this year. It was evident that ASU coach Herb Sendek has placed the ball — and control of the offense — in the freshman’s smooth, quick hands.
If it is a year later than wished, well, better late than never.
“Our system is always a function of our personnel,” Sendek said. “We’re trying to take advantage of the guys we have now.”
Carson, 5-foot-10, used his athleticism not only to push the ball up the floor to probe for quick strikes but also as a shooter/driver/distributor. It is a less-patterned offense than the one ASU used last season, when Carson was unable to gain his eligibility and the other point guards either forced the action or did not understand the nuances of the role.
The Sun Devils showed an offense that includes an NBA set like the one the Suns used with Steve Nash, with centers and power forward setting screens at the top of the key to create options for the point guard. Freed by a high pick from freshman Eric Jacobsen early in the scrimmage, Carson dribbled to his right and powered through the defense for a layup. He later hit an uncontested 3-pointer when his man went under the screen.
In one sequence late in the 30-minute scrimmage, Carson took a rebound and fired a 90-foot pass to Jonathan Gilling under the other hoop. Gilling tipped the ball back to Jordan Bachynshi, who was fouled attempting a layup.
The length of the court in four seconds.
Change was evident on the other end of the floor, as well. ASU did not play one possession of zone defense, which has been Sendek’s bread and butter during his six seasons here. Zone is more difficult to play than man-to-man and takes longer to learn, so if the Devils are not practicing it now, they may not be playing much of it when the regular season arrives Nov. 10.
“It’s what our team needs right now, but we have a lot of work to do before we are good at it,” Sendek said of the man-to-man defense.
Carson was the leading scorer with 18 points, making 8-of-14 shots in a scrimmage that included three 10-minute periods. He played two of the periods with the No. 1 unit and one with the second unit — his team won all three times.
Carson and junior transfer Evan Gordon started for the No. 1 unit at guard, with Jordan Bachynski at center and Carrick Felix and Gilling at forward. Felix had eight points and six rebounds.
That group functioned well as a unit and could start the Nov. 10 opener against Central Arkansas, although Sendek was not ready to commit to a starting five this early in the preseason. ASU could choose to use Gordon as an instant-offense sixth man, with senior guard Chris Colvin joining the starting group.
Gordon, who averaged 14.4 points a game as a sophomore at Liberty in 2010-11 before sitting out last season, showed good range. He made 3-pointers from well beyond the top of the key and from the right baseline. A right-hander, he also took the ball to the basket and scored on a nifty left-handed power move.
“He really gives us a scoring dimension,” Sendek said.
Added Carson, “He’s a guy who can change the game and affect the offense. I think he is going to be a sleeper. People better watch out for him.”
No. 2 center Ruslan Pateev, a senior, had 10 points and was given plenty of leeway to take his shot when the ball got to him in the low block. He started early last season before Bachynski came on strong in Pac-12 play and took the job.
Jacobsen, a 6-foot-10 freshman from Chandler Hamilton High, spent some time with the first unit at both center and forward when they went to a two-bigs lineup, joining Bachynshi when either Felix or Gilling took a break.
Hawaii transfer Bo Barnes, who attended Scottsdale Christian and Windwood Prep, showed his range, hitting a 3 while working with the second unit. Barnes, 6-4, set the Hawaii freshman record with 57 3-pointers in 2010-11 before sitting out last season.