Four burning questions for Memphis basketball after adding Emoni Bates, Jalen Duren

Jason Munz
Memphis Commercial Appeal

Following a whirlwind offseason, the dust has finally settled – for now. 

Five-star guard Emoni Bates is Memphis-bound, five-star center Jalen Duren is a Tiger and Penny Hardaway has put his program in a massively enviable position. The Tigers are the toast of college basketball at the moment, boasting as much intrigue as any team. 

Now that many eyes are on Memphis, here is a sampling of questions the Tigers are facing. 

Emoni Bates at point guard? 

One of the things that was addressed when Bates sat down with Stadium's Jeff Goodman and Field of 68 podcast founder Rob Dauster was his role at Memphis. 

Bates said he was partially sold on Hardaway giving him the opportunity to play point guard. That statement was met with a considerable amount of skepticism from fans of other programs as well as media. 

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While Bates might not necessarily assume the duties of a typical point guard, the plan for the 6-foot-9 playmaker is to initiate the offense most of the time. 

Some might scoff at such a notion, pointing out that it hamstrings Bates, whose primary strengths have been creating, attacking and scoring. Maybe so. But Hardaway's positionless concepts and the Tigers' deep roster (think Earl Timberlake, Alex Lomax, Lester Quinones or DeAndre Williams setting up the offense at times) will allow Bates plenty of freedom. 

Starting lineup? 

Anyone who has followed Memphis basketball under Hardaway knows success is less dependent on the starting lineup and much more on who gets the majority of minutes and  is on the floor down the stretch. 

Four of the five are relatively easy calls: Bates, Duren, Landers Nolley II and Williams. Based on what we know, those are Memphis' four best players. 

The two most likely candidates for the final spot are Quinones and Timberlake. Quinones has been in the system for three years and emerged last season as the glue that helped Memphis capture the NIT championship. Timberlake is a high-profile transfer whose stock only took a hit last season because he was hampered by injuries. 

To me, Hardaway's reliance upon Quinones to guard the other team's best player (which he did so very capably) makes him the logical choice. 

Who benefits most from additions of Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren? 

Let's start by saying everyone will benefit. 

But, if we had to pick one player who will benefit the most, who would it be? I like Williams. 

Memphis forward DeAndre Williams, center,  takes a shot over Mississippi State forward Abdul Ado, left, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball championship game in the NIT, Sunday, March 28, 2021, in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The 6-9 senior forward was Memphis' most valuable player down the stretch last season. After missing the first seven games due to the NCAA's inability to clear his eligibility in a timely manner following a transfer from Evansville, it took Williams some time to mesh with the rest of the team. 

Once he did, the Tigers' play elevated to the point where they were a couple of free throws away from reaching the NCAA Tournament. 

Williams might be the most well-rounded player on the roster. He was second on the team in scoring and rebounding last season. He can distribute the ball and makes sound decisions. Many, if not all, of those attributes will likely only be enhanced with Bates and Duren around. 

Can the coaching staff jell? 

Two-thirds of the staff is new. Hall of Famer Larry Brown will be 81 by the time the season gets under way. Four-time All-Star Rasheed Wallace has never coached a game at the college level. And neither has ever worked with the lone holdover, Cody Toppert. 

But, by all accounts from sources within the program, the revamped coaching staff has already found a strong synergy. More than that, perhaps the biggest key is that each coach brings something different to the table. 

Hardaway is the star. Toppert's strength is teaching execution. Wallace, who will primarily work with the team's big men, brings a unique perspective. And Brown, an offensive guru and a winner pretty much everywhere he has gone, has seen and done it all. 

Reach sports writer Jason Munz at jason.munz@commercialappeal.com or on Twitter @munzly.