Shamorie Ponds may get most of the attention in the St. John’s offense, but don’t sleep on the impact LJ Figueroa has made.
When one thinks about the St. John’s Red Storm offense, Shamorie Ponds is probably the first name that comes to mind –and for good reason. In his return from a back injury on Wednesday, Ponds had 22 points in a win over Creighton and his absence loomed large in a loss to DePaul last Saturday.
With that being said, most would have predicted that Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron would be the second-most impactful player on Chris Mullin’s roster. However, that hasn’t been the case in the early stages of conference play. Instead, that honor has to go to junior college transfer guard LJ Figueroa.
This season, Figueroa has been everything that St. John’s fans could have asked for. He has averaged 31.9 minutes, 14.9 points, and 7.0 rebounds per contest. The seven rebounds cannot be dismissed when you consider that Figueroa leads a team that doesn’t have many options in the paint besides Marvin Clark II and Sedee Keita.
Figueroa has had to play a large role on this team this year and he came up big against Creighton on Wednesday as he had a double-double (16 points, 13 rebounds) and made seven of his 12 shot attempts. Two of those attempts came on what was essentially a four-point possession:
LJ FIGUEROA BRINGING THE 💪💪💪
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) January 17, 2019
When you think about Figueroa’s contributions to the team, he has proven to be both essential on both offense and defense. On defense, he has at least two steals in seven of his last ten games and seven or more rebounds in four of his last six contests. He has helped out Justin Simon with his perimeter defense and it has paid big dividends for the team.
On offense, the DePaul game highlighted how key Figueroa was as he had 23 points in a game the Red Storm struggled to stay in because of Ponds’ absence. The sophomore can not only attack the basket whenever he wants, but he has shown he can hit outside the shot consistently.
In his last three games, Figueroa is 8-for-14 from beyond the arc after not making a three-pointer against Marquette and Georgetown. Also, he is shooting 55.7 percent from the floor to go with the 42.3 percent he is shooting from downtown.
As St. John’s heads into their matchup Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse against Butler (4:30 p.m ET, FOX), Figueroa’s ability to impact both ends of the floor can only help this team as they search for more signature road wins in a tightly contested Big East. He was expected to be instant offense coming into the year, but he has become much more than that.
With St. John’s looking to get on the right side of the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, Figueroa’s contributions are going to be a major factor in that. Ponds and Heron may get the most attention, but Figueroa is another name on a list of transfers that have thrived in Queens over the last couple of seasons.
For a team that doesn’t have much depth to begin with, Figueroa is a player that St. John’s can ill afford to lose. He impacts the game in so many different ways and he’s becoming the “glue guy” for St. John’s.