Brandon Rush Hits The Portal
It's officially Transfer Portal Season, ya'll.
Fairleigh Dickinson's Brandon Rush became the first NEC player to enter the Transfer Portal this off-season after averaging 14.2 points, 3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game as a 3rd year junior.
The 6'3" wing had a breakout season as a sophomore, going from a lightly used role player as a freshman to becoming a legitimate secondary scoring option behind Jahlil Jenkins and Elyjah Williams, and filled the void left when Xzavier Malone-Key opted out of the season due to covid. In 20-21, Rush shot 42% from three, 58% at the rim, and had a 115.9 O-Rating on 20.4% usage.
However, with Jenkins (Stony Brook) and Williams (Northwestern) moving on last off-season, Rush stepped into a more high usage role and it didn't quite take. Back in the pre-season, I included Rush as one of my top 10 players in the NEC, yet he didn't end up on any of the All-NEC teams last week after shooting just 29.6% from deep, and while his assist rate nearly doubled (8.4% to 15.4%), his eFG% dropped from 59.2% to 45.7% as he tried, or was asked, to do too much at times. Using Torvik's PORPAGATU! metric, Rush's 1.6 put him 18th in the NEC among players with at least 40% of available minutes.
What's more; he appeared to end up in head coach Greg Herenda's "doghouse" late in the season; during a 4-game stretch from February 10th through February 19th, Rush averaged just 14.8 mpg and went scoreless in back-to-back games for the first time in two years. However, he exploded on February 24th in FDU's win over Wagner (36 points on 12 of 22 shooting) and finished the season strong averaging 23 ppg over his final 3 games in a Knights uniform.
When he's going well, Rush is a 3-level scorer who has the athleticism to be a monster in transition (Shot Quality has him at 1.36 SQ PPP at the rim, and 1.09 SQPPP in transition), and he can be a deadly three-point shooter both on the catch and off the dribble (35% 3P% for his career). Rush isn't a guy who is particularly adept at creating his own shot or making plays for others, and because of that he doesn't really profile as a high usage guy (at 27.6% usage this past season his O-Rating dropped to 97.0), and clearly missed having a guy like Jahlil Jenkins running the show.
From Warrensville, Ohio, Rush was heavily recruited by a few other NEC programs (Central Connecticut, Robert Morris, and St. Francis (PA) were his other official offers according to Verbal Commits), and a lateral move to another mid-major program (i.e. Horizon League, Ohio Valley) would make some sense. He's more "small forward" than a true guard, and the defensive data is not particularly kind; this past season FDU allowed 114.8 points/100 possessions in league play with Rush on the floor, and 103.8 with him off it (112.6 on/96.7 off in 20-21). A coach with a veteran team looking for some firepower off the bench should be very interested in getting Rush, who has two years of eligibility remaining.
For FDU, this has to be a gut punch. Greg Herenda had a young team that really developed momentum as the season went on, and now he has to replace his leading scorer. Here's this year's roster, sorted by usage rate:
There's not a player listed who feels like a natural to step into Rush's shoes and become a ~25% usage guy. Mikey Square is a very good 4-man, but he gets the majority of his offense inside and isn't the play-making type. Devon Dunn was utilized as a combo-guard, but he's more of a catch-and-shoot guy. Perhaps Joe Munden? This season felt like a lost-season for the sophomore, but he's got the size (6'4") and shooting ability (40.5% from three as a freshman) to be a problem on the wing.
It's also important to note; Herenda hasn't made bringing in transfers (via JUCO or the Transfer Portal) a priority in the past; there wasn't a single player on this year's roster who began their career elsewhere, and the only real significant rotation piece in the last few seasons to come to FDU via transfer was Xzavier Malone-Key, who played one season at Rider. Herenda prefers 4-year guys, but with a young nucleus it may make sense to see if he can bring in someone with experience to replace Rush.
I'm sure there will be more dominoes to fall over the next few months, but hopefully the NEC doesn't lose many more Rush-level talents to the Portal.