Blake Preston is one of the more interesting prospects to play for Liberty. The 6’9” forward had an up and down 2021-2022 season, leaving fans wondering what his senior season will hold. Preston hails from Charlotte, North Carolina where he attended Charlotte Christian. He exited high school as a three-star recruit and was ranked 23rd in North Carolina for the class of 2018 (per 247sports).
Below are Blake’s career numbers as a Liberty Flame:
Preston entered the lineup, as many freshmen do with Liberty, functioning as a light-to-medium usage role player. His freshman year numbers showed promise and the ability to provide a framework for his future. Blake is primarily expected to rim-protect, provide pick and roll options, and secure rebounds. He has shown some promise with his back to the basket, but his package of moves in the post is still expanding, so his point averages are somewhat expected. His dip in points per game this season can likely be attributed to health and safety protocols stifling his rhythm and just the overall toll the virus took on some players.
Additionally, Blake’s minutes per game average is explained with the same line of reasoning as his points. His recovery time certainly led to a slower working back into the rotation and the exceptional play of Shiloh Robinson throughout this season. Preston’s field goal percentage was consistent, which is certainly a positive. Any big man that shoots above 60 percent is worth keeping around, as long as he is shooting a normal amount of field goals. He even demonstrated a peek at expanding his range. He may have been just one for two on the season, but I see no reason to mess up that ideal three-point percentage!
Lastly, Preston’s free-throw percentage is definitely a point of focus. He made 25 of his 48 attempts at the line. There is always more grace for big men to struggle at the line, but there’s also the understanding that all high-level collegiate players need to be dependable from the line. I anticipate Preston will get back to the 65-70 percent range next season. Also, the drop in rebounds per game will likely trend upward again. Rebounds often are directly correlated to effort and playing time. The second was definitely a leading factor in so much of 2021-22 for Preston.
As if it wasn’t yet clear, Preston just needs more minutes if he wants to reassert a statistical trend upward. He is still an integral part of the Flames as a defensive anchor and post threat, but his role might be more fluid than we originally thought last summer. With the arrival of new front-court players Zach Cleveland and Ben Southerland, Preston will have to assert this off-season that he is the top dog in the post and deserves playing time.
Shiloh Robinson had a breakout first half of the season, solidifying his necessity of being in the rotation. It will be a competitive off-season for all of the front-court, as playing time might be hard to come by. Similarly, Coach McKay could choose to utilize Southerland on the wing, making room for a taller lineup, leaving room for Preston to control the post. The possibilities are exciting.
I anticipate Blake will be playing 20-30 minutes a game next season, continuing his usual roles for the Flames. His numbers will obviously raise, if that is the case, simply by having more opportunities. I think it is likely that he will work on his post abilities, trying to diversify what he can counter opponents with. He has honed his ability with his hook shot, but some up-and-under counters and stronger spins would make him lethal. He’s a big target in the post which helps loosen the Flames’ offense when the ball is able to run through him on various possessions.
Preston will continue to shoot around 60 percent at the rim. I think the development of his post moves will help him possibly raise his field goal percentage by maybe two or three percent. Blake moves well in the screen and roll game and provides opportunities for guards to create or dump to him. I think Coach McKay will continue to incorporate this into his offensive scheme, especially with Darius McGhee in the lineup.
Preston can serve as a defensive presence in the paint when he is motivated. He is rangy and has an underrated basketball IQ. His presence of mind on the court will stand out from his younger front-court teammates in this upcoming season and will lead him to be a staple piece, alongside Robinson.
Overall, look for Preston to continue doing what we have seen in his past three seasons, just more of it, smarter, and more efficiently. And, let’s show him some love when that free throw number inevitably rises!