Last season for St. John’s was a work in progress. More so in the direction of figuring out where the pieces of the puzzle will fit in the upcoming seasons then in the immediate onset of Chris Mullin’s first season. Not only was it a process of figuring where all parts of the project would go, but also where to go in terms of player development. It is a big undertaking but all hands were on deck from the opening tip.
Among the players on St. John’s roster who’s development has had a fair amount of intrigue is Yankuba Sima, the 6-11 center who hails from Girona, Spain. Sima’s arrival at St. John’s came at an interesting time, not only for the program, but also in terms of his position. Usually there is a grace period of allowing incoming players to adapt to their roles and position. In the case of Sima, his grace period was to be on the court as Chris Obekpa transferred out of the program to UNLV after initially signaling his intent to play on under Chris Mullin.
From the onset, Sima had his work cut out for him. He had his moments of what will come with further development, but also a number of errors over the course of the season. By far was not perfect in any form, which does make it hard to truly evaluate how Sima was in his first season, but does offer the lens of what will come with his sample size so far.
To start off, Sima averaged around twenty-three minutes per game in all games which is pretty heavy for an incoming player adjusting to his position. During Big East play, that number did go down to twenty minutes per game, but still the point stands. Even with adjustments and heavy minutes, Sima finished second in the Big East in total blocks, coming in close range to Obekpa-esque numbers for blocks. Though those block numbers dipped once Big East play became a factor as his total shot blocking rate dropped to 6.7% against Big East opponents, overall it was at 10.4%. He also had Obekpa range numbers for rebounds, but being the tallest player on the court might factor in. Still, he had a 16% defensive rebounding percentage. A lot of this is very promising though he does need to work on his defensive play in the post, which was where he often needed assistance in, though that might also be an indicator that he needs to work on his physical play.
The most glaring example of exposure in the post was his play against Creigton’s Geoffrey Groselle who went 17-for-19 in two games against the Johnnies last season. Often, St. John’s would have to double up in the paint, which in return meant leaving other areas on defense exposed. It was another possible side effect of a season of struggles with a partially limited roster for St. John’s. Still though, for Sima there is a lot to work and work on in terms of defense.
Offense is another story, though. In this case the glaring marks are in trying to figure where he goes in terms of further development. The most notable marks for Sima on offense was his mechanical appearance at times with the ball. With work and time, he will, or at least hopefully will, become a much more fluid player on offense. He has shown signs of a jump shot and does present St. John’s with a serious threat on offense in the post, another area that he showed flashes of promise. In terms of production, he averaged 7.3 points per game over the span of the season. His highest point total in a game was against St. Francis where he had 17 points. His free throw percentage on the season was 38%, which is rather poor. Then again, it was a small sample of 66 free throw shots, but still the he might just not be up to snuff at the charity stripe.
On a final interesting note, Sima missed four to six weeks last season due to a hand injury. He suffered the injury in the third game of conference play against Marquette and missed the next seven games. While in possibly another season, his absence would leave a mark, Sima went down it was in the midst of a stretch for St. John’s that was one of the worst in program history. He did not make the defense worse, but it was his absence on the offensive side where the impact was felt. Most notably in two point shooting which dropped from 47% when Sima was on the floor to 38%. Though there were some outliers such as the improvement as a team in shooting outside the arc, where St. John’s improved to a mark of 35%.
This season brings a lot of promise for Yankuba Sima. He might see a slight drop in minutes due to the presence of Tariq Owens, but that will left to be seen once the season begins. He has a lot of upside to his game and there is a ton of room to still improve. If he can develop his abilities in the post going forward then St. John’s will definitely have a serious gem of player going forward.