The shifting dichotomy of the NBA, and professional basketball in general, from offense generated through the low post to the modern-day affinity for perimeter shot attempts, is forcing players to alter their games in order to adjust to the changing landscape. Usage of stretch-4s and stretch-5s isn't just a craze, as teams are progressively willing to sacrifice size and low post scoring for floor spacing. James Farr undoubtedly realizes this notion and is working tirelessly to expand his offensive skill set.
Farr is a throwback. It's evident in his offensive preferences and role but also how Xavier University utilized him. At 6-foot-10 and 246 pounds, Farr is a massive man, packing serious bulk, and assumed the role of power forward throughout his collegiate career. The native of Evanston, IL. entered Cincinnati as a freshman in 2012 with tempered expectations.
"As a freshman, you have to wait your turn," Farr said. "Freshman aren't supposed to be in the go-to moment and sometimes you just have to wait your turn and be patient. You also have to be a great teammate as well. If you don't, things won't come your way. I waited my turn, I played hard, I challenged my teammates to get better, competed and I think I set myself up for a great senior year just because of the positive mindset I kept."
Farr's maturity eventually paid off, as he developed from a role player into one of the Big East's marquee frontcourt talents, but fostering relationships with teammates Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis was essential for Xavier and their chemistry. The trio, as upperclassmen, led the Musketeers to a NCAA tournament berth last season and helped head coach Chris Mack record the most victories (28) since the 2007-08 season.
As the only senior on the roster outside of former Indiana University transfer Remy Abell, Farr embodied the role of being the voice of reason and leader on a highly successful Xavier unit.
"Us being a top-5 team in the country throughout most of the 13 weeks, it has to come with leadership as me being a senior and everything was on me," Farr said. "I had to make sure that I was leading those guys, preparing those guys the right way outside of what the coaching staff did for us. [I was] making sure they were handling their business on the court and off."
The 23-year-old also contributed to Xavier's dominance, after being a burly asset featured on Mack's second unit for three seasons. Farr appeared in just 13 games as a freshman but garnered consistent minutes as a Musketeer in his sophomore campaign, finally able to showcase his dept low post touch and capabilities on the glass.
Farr acknowledges that he could've "taken the easy way out and transferred" but wanted to work and strive for a heightened role on the team. Farr also contributes the uptick in minutes to "earning" playing time through practice, utilized as an incentive from coach Mack by having his players refrain from slacking off in drills.
His junior numbers offensively (4.2 PPG, 42.7 percent on field-goals, 28.9 percent from deep) tapered off from his sophomore campaign (4.6 PPG, 51.6 percent, 38.0 percent from three), but Farr's college legacy will be remembered for his drastic increase in production as a senior, compared to his other three collegiate seasons. Farr's penultimate year playing D-1 basketball is not solely the primary reason he's set to play professionally in Hungary for Albacomp Szeskesfehervar, it was also a benefactor in Xavier's prolific 2015-16 season.
With Xavier opting for the four-guard, one center starting lineup, with Reynolds at the 5, Farr became the consummate sixth man any team in the nation would've coveted last season. His stats across the board spiked, as the senior contributed 10.7 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 1.0 BPG off the bench. Farr's proficiency on the boards wasn't just elite, it was historic in a conference that's featured hyper-talented college big men like Patrick Ewing, Emeka Okafor and Hasheem Thabeet, to name a few of many.
Per sports-reference.com, Farr ranked first in the Big East in offensive rebound percentage (15.2) and second in defensive rebound percentage (25.5) last season. To put that in context, he engulfed a shade over one-quarter of Xavier's total defensive rebounds on the year and supplied the team with plenty of second chances on offense. While Marquette's Henry Ellenson paced the conference in rebounding numbers (9.7 RPG), Farr had unparalleled efficiency on the glass among frontcourt competitors. Farr realized where his wheelhouse was on the court and shifting his style to fit closer to the basket helped amplify his numbers.
"I knew that I was pretty much the best rebounder on the team, so I put myself in a position to stay around the rim as much as I could on offense to get extra possessions for my team," Farr said. "The way I could do that was getting better at my low post game because I couldn't really do that if I'm doing pick-and-pops from the three all the time."
Farr's sheer mass allows him to simply overwhelm the opposition, able to utilize his torso and arms to push his man off the block. However, there's also physics involved in Farr's rebounding proficiency. He prides both the mental and physical approach to cleaning boards.
"I have a pretty good IQ for the game and most of my rebounding is about physicality, but sometimes it's also about timing as well," Farr said. "I watched the rotation of the basketball when it was being shot, so I can read where it was going to off of the rim. Its all instincts; if someone shoots from the left corner you know it's going to go on the opposite side of the rim if they miss. It's all about timing, IQ and good positioning as well."
Farr acknowledges that his ability to rebound is inclusive to his offensive tendencies. Setting up shop in the low post and around the rim on offense, Farr has a greater chance at fighting on the block for boards and can take efficient looks in the paint. Farr revels being the quintessential garbage guy when needed, scoring on put-back attempts, hook shots and overpowering less sturdy and chiseled bigs. All the aforementioned looks primaly resulted in a 54.5 percent shooting clip from the field, a team-high.
There was a lacking elegance in his offensive approach as a senior, but it's hard to question Farr's affinity to maximize his efficiency. This sequence against Missouri back in November nearly exemplifies Farr's role for the X.
He blows the initial layup/floater on the dish from point guard Myles Davis but has the fervor to follow his shot until the ball sinks through the cylinder. Farr's coupling of board cleaning and shooting efficiency came from mostly his teammates' missed shot attempts, with his intellect on ball rotation playing favorably with his strength. He's also loaded with sneaky athleticism.
It's a style that was effective for Farr at the collegiate level, but the seasoned frontcourt talent understands that making money off of calculation, strength and close attempt looks caps his potential. He's willing to evolve, advance his skill set and adjust to a professional atmosphere that warrants a refined approach.
In the '80s or '90s, bygone eras, Farr might've been able to thrive off of being a massive 4 who could operate on the block and use an array of post moves offensively while handling other power forwards on the other end of the floor. Basketball's stylistic shift forces players to adapt and Farr is comfortable branching out of the parameters of his comfort zone.
"Towards the middle to the end of the season, I started showing my mid-range, pick-and-pop and I started shooting it a lot more confidently," Farr said. "Me being able to knock shots down outside of the paint was a big help. I don't think a lot of people know that I can shoot the ball. I'm very confident in my shot and I believe I can help spread the court when I get to Hungary."
Farr isn't quite green to the art of the jump shot; he shot 47.3 percent on two-point jumpers last season and took an abundance of attempts (125). Despite taking most of his shot attempts at the rim, it's commendable that the upperclassman progressively spaced the floor for an already balanced team. Optimizing his shooting prowess isn't the settling point in Farr's ascension as an offensive threat.
Being able to distribute the ball, ball handling (keeping the ball lower when dribbling to avoid turnovers) and making plays off the dribble are three areas that Farr is attempting to improve in. He's been training with Andre Battle in the off-season, primed to make an immediate impact professionally. Farr's also pinpointed another aspect of his game that he's trying to fine tune.
"James has realized that something holding him back was his conditioning, which he believed hampered him at Portsmouth [Invitational] and we made it a huge focus during the off-season to get him right," his agent Zachary Charles said.
Farr doesn't believe trimming down in the summer will impact his physicality and ability to overpower players overseas but knew that in order to also be a more proficient shooter he'd have to hit the cardio hard. Per Charles, teams have told Farr that he's in better shape now than when he played in the Invitational in April.
He envisions himself at the center position for Albacomp Szeskesfehervar and hopes that his transition from mainly an around-the-rim talent to a floor spacing, athletic front-court asset translates. Defensively, Farr never offered extensive rim protection at Xavier but through four seasons gave coach Mack a reliable interior defensive presence, evidenced by his defensive rating.
Farr entered his senior campaign with a fixed role. Just one year later, he proved that he could excel around the basket, spotting up for mid-range jumpers and being a beast on the boards. It'll be enticing to follow his career path, seeking to grow at the 5 and broaden his spectrum of abilities. Modernizing his skill set was a quick detour needed to embark on the intended and eventual route of professional basketball.