Tra Holder likes to watch the Houston Rockets because of James Harden. Last season, however, his father told the Arizona State senior guard to pay attention to one of Harden’s teammates instead:
Beverley, a 6-1 guard, is a defensive menace, a 2016-17 All-NBA defender. He irritates. He smothers. He gets into people. Holder started paying attention. Then he watched Avery Bradley, another All-NBA defender.
“It’s not like they’re super tall or super long, they just have the fight and the will to be better defenders,” said Holder, ASU’s returning scoring leader from last season. “We possess some of the same qualities. Obviously, Avery Bradley is taller and more athletic, but I try to get some of his determination.”
ASU has offensive firepower. The Sun Devils just hung 90 on defensive-minded San Diego State, the most the Aztecs have allowed in a regulation game in 12 years. But as the Sun Devils move deeper into the non-conference season and into Pac-12 play, it’s a good bet defense will determine this season’s success.
They’re off to a good start.
Last year, ASU ranked among the country’s worst teams in 2-point defensive field-goal percentage, letting opponents shoot 55.9 percent. Through two games this season, the Sun Devils’ 2-point defensive field-goal percentage is at 42.5 percent, nearly seven percentage points below the Div. I average.
Much improvement stems from ASU’s boosted front court. Forwards De’Quan Lake (who stands 6-foot-10) and Romello White (6-8) give the Sun Devils a post presence. Although he has yet to master the skill, Lake has rim-protection potential, while White has an intimidation factor to him.
“Our defense around the basket, I thought Mello’s block in the first half (against San Diego State) and Lake’s block in the first half on drives to the hoop kind of makes the guards think twice about going in there,” Hurley said. “They missed some layups in the second half as we’re challenging shots and they might be rushing to get those shots off, where in the past, I don’t think anyone really feared going in there against us.”
Even so, strong defense usually starts with ball pressure. ASU has a pest in freshman Remy Martin, who has the potential to be an all-conference defender. Holder also wants to make a leap.
He is an introspective sort. He knows defense has been a weakness, so he made it an offseason priority. In addition to watching film, he worked on his body. In August, several ASU players went on different diets to try and get in better shape. Some went vegan.
For nearly a month Holder went pescetarian, eating only fish or seafood. He made salmon with his girlfriend, ate shrimp when possible. No chicken, no red meat. As a result, he slimmed down to 173 pounds. Last season, he played at 180.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Holder is off to his best start. Entering Friday’s home contest against Northern Arizona, he averages 21 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7 assists per game. In 70 minutes, he’s committed only four turnovers.
“We’re talking about Romello having a nice impact and how good De’Quon looks and Remy and what he’s doing and Shannon (Evan’s) 50-point (preseason) game, and Tra’s kind of flying under the radar,” Hurley said. “Guys can get better, even as a senior. I haven’t seen every team, but it’d be hard to give me a college basketball player that has had a better two-game start than what Tra has had.”
Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at [email protected] Contact him at Twitter.com/DougHaller.
ASU FOOTBALL PODCAST: Sun Devils prepare to take on Pac-12’s worst
Northern Arizona at ASU
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Arena.
TV/Radio: Pac-12 Networks/ESPN 620 AM
Update: The Sun Devils (2-0) on Tuesday thumped San Diego State 90-68. G Tra Holder (21 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 7.0 apg) leads five players in double figures. G Shannon Evans (19.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.5 apg) and F Romello White (16 ppg, 15 rpg) also are off to strong starts. C De’Quon Lake (19.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) is 15 of 17 from the field. … NAU (0-2) has lost to Arizona and Embry-Riddle. The Lumberjacks score score 91.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 338th nationally. G Chris Bowling averages 13.5 points.