A temporary solution.
That is what Johnathan Loyd was supposed to be. But the substitute who previously held down the point guard spot in five-minute stretches for starter Dominic Artis has been asked to hold it down for almost a month since the latter’s injury-induced absence.
Loyd is a 5-foot-8, 165-pound lightning bolt of energy who has never averaged more than 20 minutes per game over the course of a season. In his first two years on the Oregon men’s basketball team, he started 27 of 73 games — never solidifying himself as a starter, often being set aside as a boost off the bench to make room for a scoring threat in the starting lineup.
The 2012-2013 season figured to be more of the same. Loyd got a few starts in the initial weeks of nonconference games, starring alongside the freshman point guard Artis. But once Arsalan Kazemi was cleared to play and head coach Dana Altman settled on a rotation in December, Loyd was again designated as a reserve. He averaged about 13 minutes per game in the first six games of Oregon’s conference schedule and proved a capable stand-in when Artis needed a breather. Occasionally, he and Loyd played together when D.A. — as his coach and teammates call him — roamed free to seek scoring opportunities.
In his minimal minutes, Loyd was scoring fewer than three points per contest but was adding in 2.5 assists and one steal each game. Meanwhile, across 19 consecutive starts, Artis proved a smart fit, scoring over 10 points per game along with four assists and two steals — and leading the team in three-pointers.
With the latter at the helm, Oregon was 6-0 in Pac-12 play, on an eight-game win streak and on the verge of a Top 10 ranking they would achieve in late January.
Then came the news.
Artis had hurt his foot. Or was it his ankle? Altman still will not confirm the specifics of the injury that has put D.A. in a walking boot and street clothes for the last month. Initially, most pundits and fans believed it to be an ailment that would keep him off the hardwood for a few games. That was seven games ago.
After edging Washington in his first game out, the Ducks dropped three straight. In the losses, Loyd scored eight points in one and zero in the other two. With Artis in the lineup against Pac-12 teams, Oregon scored 72.3 points per game. In the seven games without him, the Ducks are averaging 62.3 points in regulation.
While hopeful his return would right all wrongs any game now, fans and team members alike may have to face the fact that Artis could be done for the regular season — or beyond. Media have speculated his injury is a broken ankle. Others say it is sprained. Players have seemed to indicate it is a stress fracture in his foot. Whatever the case may be, Altman is reluctant to talk about a lineup that could feature Artis anytime soon.
“He is slowly working into it, and he is coming along slowly,” Altman said at practice on Tuesday. “It is what it is, and we just play the game with who we got.”
He also commented that D.A. is “day to day,” something he said before last week’s set of games.
“I been asking (Artis), and I don’t really get a straight answer every time,” Loyd said. “Me, personally, I ask him a lot like, ‘So, what’s up now?’ and he’ll just be like, ‘Bro, I don’t know, it is still hurting.’”
The reality of the situation is that the Ducks have played more Pac-12 games without Artis than with him, and the records speak for themselves: 6-0 with Artis, 4-3 without him.
With D.A., the team was no doubt balanced, as five players averaged double figures in scoring with a sixth (Kazemi) on the cusp at nine points. Loyd brings almost nothing to the table as far as bucket-getting, averaging under six points per game in Artis’ stead while shooting under 30 percent from the floor.
Since the three-straight losses, in which almost every player’s scoring went down, Kazemi, Damyean Dotson, Carlos Emory and E.J. Singler have all improved their scoring averages to make up the difference.
Oregon’s four Pac-12 wins without Artis have come against teams with a combined record of 21-33 in conference. If the Ducks hope to make a run in the Pac-12 Tournament, four teams that haven’t seen the Loyd-led Ducks await Oregon.
With D.A., the Ducks won games against Arizona, Arizona State, USC and UCLA by an average of just 4.5 points. If the frosh point guard does not return in time for the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, the results have a high likelihood of variance with Loyd at the point.