It's a cliche that the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town. As long as he's still on the bench, the reserve gunslinger has all of his virtues, largely witnessed against other backups, and none of his flaws, which are muted against those same benchwarmers. He is all promise, unexposed by larger sample sizes and first-rate opponents.
For three years (one cut short by injury), Georgetown swingman Aaron Bowen wasn't the most popular guy in town, but he wasn't far off. The #freebowen campaign persisted year after year, fueled by Bowen's eye-popping athleticism and ability to finish at the rim. But we only saw Bowen in glimpses, usually in garbage time, usually against a far lesser opponent.
JT3 rarely gave Bowen enough minutes to satisfy the bouncy swingman's true believers. Bowen would occasionally see extended run, in particular averaging about 10 minutes per game in the first dozen games after Greg Whittington's suspension in early 2013. But given the playing time, Bowen offered more of the same: the occasional brilliant, transcendent athletic play interspersed with lots of drifting or erratic mistakes.
Last season, Bowen finally made his way into the rotation on a consistent basis, largely thanks to the underwhelming other options at small forward. With the infusion of talent on the wing this year, how does Bowen fit in?
Statistics: 20.3 min pg, 6.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.8 apg, 1.0 stl pg, 49.4 FG%, 26 3FG%, 49.2 FT%
The biggest question entering last season was who would play small forward. Otto Porter was in the NBA and Greg Whittington was injured, then banished. Jabril Trawick, big for an off-guard and maybe just big enough to move over to forward, filled that slot in the starting lineup. Still, there were plenty of open minutes on the wing, particularly because Trawick needed to spend some time spelling the two starting guards. JT3 had a grab-bag of unproven options for those wing minutes, including Bowen, former walk-on John Caprio, alleged sharpshooter Reggie Cameron, and alleged, too-young sharpshooter whom I almost forgot, Stephen Domingo. While Georgetown needed offensive spacing, both Cameron and especially Domingo proved something less than marksmen. As the season wore on, Bowen gradually became the first wing option off the pine.
In that additional time, Bowen showed a somewhat smoothed-over version of the feast-or-famine thrill ride we had seen sparingly in earlier seasons. His athleticism remained superior and he still played with plenty of energy. On the minus side of the ledger, he still couldn't shoot from outside or from the free-throw line and couldn't handle the ball at all well for a wing. Nevertheless, Bowen improved incrementally during his increased playing time, becoming a more consistent defender and rebounder and improving his shot selection. His speed, length, and bounce made him a natural to head Georgetown's press, which the Hoyas rolled out with more frequency than in years past. Amid not very stiff competition, Bowen clearly was the best small forward on the team.
Despite being a senior last season, Bowen had a year of eligibility remaining, thanks to a shoulder injury that sidelined him for almost all of his freshman year. Despite the option to transfer without sitting out a season, Bowen returned to the Hilltop. Over the summer, Bowen took part in Kenner League, where he scored pretty well (16 ppg). Otherwise, he played about as well as expected, shooting not very well from the perimeter and free-throw line and contributing here and there in other categories.
Bowen returns to a log-jam on the wing. He may be squeezed for minutes by, on the one hand, Trawick and LJ Peak, and, on the other, Isaac Copeland, Paul White, and Cameron. How much he plays will depend on a number of variables: how ready the freshmen are; how well Cameron has developed his outside shots; particular match-ups that favor Bowen's skillset over Cameron's, or neither; how much Bowen has improved his outside shot; assuming his long ball is still errant, how much Bowen limits himself to opportunities around the basket; and how much JT3 is willing to withstand Bowen's miscues so that the Hoyas can benefit from his athleticism. It seems unlikely that, with all these bodies, Bowen will play more than the 20 minutes per game he tallied last year, and it's easy to see how he could play considerably less if things go poorly.
Bowen and Mikael Hopkins take the floor as part of an pressing, running bench unit that maximizes athleticism and length. He is a terror as the point man on the press, which gets the Hoya reserves plenty of easy baskets. Bowen also sports a serviceable outside shot (say, 32 3FG%) and free-throw stroke (60%) that don't make him a weapon but at least minimize his weaknesses. He also improves as an on-ball defender, locking up opposing wings and guards and allowing JT3 to hide D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera on weaker opponents.
Bowen remains athletic and not much more, and his liabilities outweigh his one strength. He still can't really shoot, turns the ball over too often and is too jumpy on defense. The freshmen and Cameron gobble up his playing time, leaving Bowen on the outside looking in. He doesn't see meaningful action outside of Senior Day, when he gets a token start and a few extra minutes of run.