2019-20 Tennessee Basketball Preview: Offense

RETURNERS

JORDAN BOWDEN

2018-19: 10.6 PPG/3.5 RPG/1.8 APG; 55% 2s/37% 3s/81% FTs. Predominantly Just a Shooter. Started going to the basket more towards the back end of the year; will have to do that much more in 2019-20. Bowden remains an efficient, solid piece on any SEC team, but especially on Tennessee’s. He’s reliant on quality spacing still, but he took solid strides forward in 2018-19 in creating his own shot – 46 shot attempts off the dribble last season compared to 55 total the two years prior. He’s a good shooter, and seemingly everyone wants him to shoot more. Will he?

Good: Bowden was, and is, of Tennessee’s most valuable (though inconsistent) deep threats. 38.2% 3PT% shooter last two seasons, though that number drops to 32.6% in SEC play. (Dropoff from Tiers C+D on KenPom to Tiers A+B is minimal – 41% against weak competition to 36.5%. Nothing terribly noteworthy; above national average on both.) One of the best in the SEC last season in catch-and-shoot situations; ranked 7th in PPP out of 39 players with 75+ half-court catch-and-shoot attempts.

Bowden also gained a lot of confidence in driving to the rim last year. Prior to 2018-19, he had a total of 51 makes at the rim in his career, per Hoop Math; last year alone, he had 36, including 15 dunks. This play rarely, if ever, happened prior to last season:

More of those, please.

Bad: Anyone who’s watched Tennessee basketball much can tell you Bowden’s career is plagued by inconsistency. For every 2018 Kentucky (13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals), there was a 2019 Kentucky (3 points, 1-7 FG, 1 rebound). He was white-hot in first half of SEC play, scoring double-digits in 10 of Tennessee’s first 11 SEC games…and then averaged 7.4 PPG over their final seven.

Bowden did recover to have mostly quality role-player outings for SECT and NCAAT. For whatever reason, waited until start of SEC play to start going to the rim frequently (26 points in first three SEC games at rim) and then abandoned it almost entirely by mid-February (10 FGs at rim over final 13 games; 32 in first 23). Has shown pretty limited prowess as a ball-handler, especially on ball screens; Tennessee has gotten 32 points on 47 possessions over the last two years when Bowden runs P&R.

Stat of Questionable Fortitude: Bowden takes around half of his shots from three, which seems like it would be pretty useful in transition. After making 17 of his 37 transition threes in 2017-18, he shot just 7 of 29 on these same attempts in 2018-19. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, as in general, a higher portion of your transition threes will be unguarded than your half-court ones.

Also, Bowden ranks out as one of the best shooters in the SEC off the dribble. Considering how consistently good he’s been running through off-ball screens to open attempts, I wonder if Barnes will ask him to pump-fake on these occasionally and drive to the rim.

LAMONTE TURNER

2018-19: 10.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3.8 AST; 52/32/78. Started off year with “shoulder injury” that was never specified and rarely got things going consistently. Took starting spot in late January and held it throughout season, but prior to final four games (67 points), had just eight double-digit scoring games in previous 21. Best games: 23 points against WVU, 17/4/4 against Ole Miss, 19/7 assists against A&M.

Good: After being mostly useless inside the paint for two seasons, Turner became Tennessee’s most efficient guard at the rim (67.7% FG%). He scored at least once at the rim in all of Tennessee’s final ten games, which kept him afloat during a 7-for-49 stretch from three.

Almost certainly Tennessee’s best returning threat in ISO situations, strangely enough; Vols post 1.1 PPP when he runs ISO, including passouts, because of the gravity he draws. Remains a very useful player in off-ball screen/handoff plays. Has never had terrific assist numbers, but is quietly very good at finding open shooters and creating opportunities down low.

Bad: Wildly inconsistent shooter for all of his career, minus the 2017-18 SEC schedule (45.2% on 84 attempts; 33% on other 454 attempts). After an excellent run on catch-and-shoot attempts in 2017-18, he was…okay in 2018-19. Across last two years, Turner’s shot 9.5% better on open attempts than guarded ones.

Never terribly effective off the dribble as a shooter. Got better as a P&R ball handler/facilitator in 2018-19, but still not quite where you’d like him to be. For whatever reason, has never been very good in transition.

Stat of Questionable Fortitude: Thanks in part to his hot streak, Turner was a 95th-percentile spot-up shooter in 2017-18…which bombed back down to 35th-percentile in 2018-19. The truth likely lies in the middle, but I’d guess he’s closer to the former than the latter based on the injury issue last season. It’s worth noting that Turner did jump from the 23rd-percentile to 44th in 2018-19 in P&R sets while running more possessions. Another similar leap could allow for a more spread-out offense and greater involvement for Tennessee’s bigs.

JOHN FULKERSON

2018-19: 3.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG on 11.3 MPG; 56/DNS/66. Determining a player’s night-to-night fortunes is tough on limited minutes, but Fulkerson posted the same level of productivity on most nights. Against Top 100 teams, he shot 57.8% from the field (all others 54.2%) and drew plenty of fouls. Depending on who you ask, Big Pals is either the most-hated or most-loved Tennessee player, which is funny to line up with the stats.

Good: Shot a perfect 9-of-9 in transition and drew three fouls. Actually very good at knowing when to cut to the basket or flash to the middle!

Considering his size, he’s easily Tennessee’s best returning rebounder – he grabbed at least one OREB in ten of Tennessee’s final twelve games. Basically the same player he was his freshman year, which is kind of a compliment considering his severe regression his sophomore year.

Bad: Not really the guy you want backing down an opponent in the post; Fulkerson is simply too stringy to do it with any ease, though he dialed down his turnovers considerably.

Big Pals possesses barely any “shooting” range; he only attempted one shot outside of the paint last year, and no attempt was from further than 11 feet out. (He missed.)

For all three years, his offensive role has been limited at best; he’ll likely have to assume a bigger one this year, and that doesn’t often mean greater efficiency.

Stat of Questionable Fortitude: I mean…Fulkerson is far from a terrible basketball player. He’s an excellent offensive rebounder, pretty efficient at the rim, and generally seems to understand his capabilities. However, he was really good early in his freshman year in the post, and it makes me wonder if there’s something more there. He’s far from a natural fit for the P&R, but he’s occasionally flashed a capability at it.

YVES PONS

2018-19: 2.1 PPG, 1.7 RPG in 10.6 MPG. 56/28/42. Began year as de facto sixth man due to Turner injury; started 13 games and gradually got much worse; by the end of the season, posted a pair of DNPs and played a total of eleven minutes in the NCAAT. Frustratingly, Pons does have the ability to hit threes and has, but has hit just 9 of his 28 career attempts. Most annoyingly, he’s 6 of 14 from the free throw line.

Good: He can dunk it better than nearly anyone else in the SEC, making 13 of them last year. Due to his vertical abilities, Pons is actually a pretty useful piece in zone offense.

His layup attempts were less successful (6 of 13), but he occasionally flashed a real ability to take the ball on his own.

On a very limited number of attempts, he showed quality basket efficiency on cut plays.

Bad: Well, most things. Pons is a turnover machine, giving the ball up on 27.7% of his career possessions.

He’s not a good passer at all and generally takes the safest route out. Pons actually rated out fairly well in catch-and-shoot attempts because opponents left 83% of them unguarded. Poses no real shooting threat off the dribble; essentially entirely reliant on being open under or at the rim, which is not the skill set you want from a 6’6” small forward.

Stat of Questionable Fortitude: Let’s revisit that unguarded stat. To Pons’ credit, he hit 8 of his 20 half-court C&S attempts that were unguarded – a very small sample size, but actually somewhat encouraging. If Pons can up his 3PT% to even 33%, it will cause opponents to at least send a man to think about guarding him, which is better than before.

JALEN JOHNSON

2018-19: 1.5 PPG, 0.7 RPG in 5.8 MPG. 57/46/60 career splits. Through two years, Johnson – last year’s ninth or tenth man – has been a very, very talented shooter. He’s exclusively a catch-and-shoot threat for now and looks kind of hilarious when moving with the ball in any capacity. Like, check out this ridiculous-looking dribble jumper, his only off-the-dribble make of 2018-19:

I laugh every time I see it.

Good: He has just one trick, but his trick is pretty darn good: he’s a career 46% shooter. Tennessee ran a few different looks for him last year, mostly spot-ups:

And off-ball screen looks.

Outside of the occasional transition look, that’s basically it. Johnson scored all but four of his points from three.

Bad: Anything to do with having the ball in his hands for longer than a catch-and-shoot look:

Or attempting to use him at the basket.

For whatever reason, Jalen turns from a legit college player on the perimeter to the sixth-man on a 2A high school team at the rim. I can’t figure out why, and it’s obviously fixable, but, yeah.

Stat of Questionable Fortitude: It’s gotta be the 46% 3PT%. Johnson only has five free throw attempts in college and he’s missed just one each year, so I can excuse away that 60% FT%. However: his shot looks unusually natural for a guy getting mop-up minutes. (His porous defense will be touched on later.)

NEXT: The new dudes

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