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Most Important Buffaloes: #5 Shane Gatling

The senior guard may be called upon in a big way.

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Shane Gatling is listed here as the fifth most important CU player, but I would re-do this list if I had started it after the Buffs’ exhibition on Saturday. The entire position group is up in the air and we have no idea what the minutes will look like at shooting guard.

Gatling is a good player and started most of last season. He’s a shooter who should make more than 32% of his threes this coming season. He has a very quick release and can pull up from anywhere, so he’s someone you have to play tight off the ball. The Buffs aren’t a great three-point shooting team, so they may need all the spacing they can get. Gatling can serve as a backup point guard, as he did in spurts last season, but he’s not really a natural playmaker. The coaching staff has also been working on his driving ability, although he is hard-wired to shoot.

All of that makes Gatling an important player who can win games if he gets hot — look at CU’s road win over UCLA last year — but he might not even start this season. Eli Parquet started for the Buffs in that exhibition because his defense is too good to keep off the floor. Daylen Kountz is also poised for a breakout and he’s better equipped to run point when McKinley Wright needs a rest. Then there’s Maddox Daniels, a long shooter who may offer more versatility than Gatling. All three of those players are better defensively, so there’s a real chance that Gatling could struggle to find minutes if his shots aren’t falling.

The main issue with these preseason rankings is that the Buffs have a very clear top four players, but everything behind that is a series of toss-ups. We don’t even know who’s going to start, let alone play the most minutes. I had Parquet #10 on the list and four days later he’s starting at shooting guard. I had Gatling at #5 because I thought he would start. He can help this offense immensely if he pops off. It’s always going to be his shot.

Gatling is an athletic finisher and could stand to be more focused on defense, but he’s a shooter first and foremost and that’s the most important to the Buffs. He absolutely has to hit threes, because the Buffs need him badly to demand attention off the ball and space the floor for his teammates to attack the basket. This feels like an oversimplification, but if you have a shooting specialist who makes just 32% of his threes, his value is hamstrung.

Tad Boyle has a ton of options on the wings, so he can play Gatling when he’s on and bench him when he’s off. It’s not as simple as that — shooters often need shots to get into rhythm — but there can be a quick hook if he’s headed for a 5/14 shooting night. There can be situational plays, too, as Boyle can go with Gatling if the Buffs need scoring, or he can have Parquet out there if there’s a lead to protect.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with Gatling, nor do I know what to expect with Daniels, Parquet or even Kountz. No one has stood out from the pack and they might compete all season for that fifth starting spot. Maybe this will bring out the best in all of them, as the competition forces them to focus and make the most of their opportunities.