Elliott Pitts may be projected to be a third-string guard going into this season, but the 6-foot-5 sophomore shooting guard, who now has a year of experience in head coach Sean Miller’s program, has the potential to breakout this year and function as an critical cog within Arizona’s’ already stacked arsenal.
Last year, Pitts’ defensive drawbacks limited him from receiving substantial game time. However, his attention to detail, growing physical presence and ability to crash the offensive glass and extend possessions provides the Wildcats with a legitimate option as the coaching staff looks to fill the void left by Nick Johnson’s departure to the NBA.
Competition will be fierce this year when it comes to playing time in the Arizona backcourt. Highly-touted freshman Stanley Johnson will do his part to pick up the slack and should see playing time at both the shooting guard and small forward positions.
Junior guard Gabe York and junior college transfer Kadeem Allen give the Wildcats additional depth at the two. Arizona now has the backcourt depth it was lacking a year ago, but don’t let that downplay the role or contribution Pitts could have for Arizona.
Crazier things have happened.
Players get injured, like when Brandon Ashley broke his foot last year at Cal and was subsequently sidelined for the rest of the year. Others may begin to reveal weaknesses in one or multiple facets of the game — case in point, York’s defensive struggles and issues with consistency last season.
Pitts will be able to provide Arizona with confidence and ideally emerge as the consistent 3-point specialist off the bench that the Wildcats need.
Last year, Pitts broke into Arizona’s rotation after Ashley was injured in early February. He was part of the Wildcats’ first sub group eight times and gained valuable minutes of experience in 24 contests. Despite Pitts’ limited opportunities, he began to show the foundation of a potential key contributor and major threat from beyond the perimeter.
Pitts finished his freshman campaign ranked first among rotation players in overall 3-point percentage (.393) and converted 11 of his 28 long-range attempts. He shot with 42.9 percent accuracy from the field, 39.3 percent from the 3-point line and grabbed 24 total rebounds, seven of which were offensive.
Pitts tied for fifth on the team with 11 3-point makes, including hitting one 3-pointer in each of Arizona’s final two games of the NCAA tournament despite playing just 11 total minutes over that stretch.
Over the summer, he was determined to bulk up and reportedly gained 20 pounds. According to Miller, Pitts, who was a lanky 170 pounds before entering the program last summer, is now up to about 190 pounds.
This extra weight will give Pitts a more dominant physical presence on the court and allow him to break through defenders and finish at the basket with more emphasis than last season. It will also allow him to be more effective when defending the perimeter.
Additionally, Pitts said he spent the summer working on shooting off the dribble, shooting and finishing at the rim and adding some more athleticism to his outside game.
If he’s given more opportunities and game time experience and improves his defensive skill set, Pitts could very well be a viable sixth-man option for the UA.
Follow Evan Rosenfeld on Twitter @EvanRosenfeld17