WHAT THEY BRING
A point guard that really, really, REALLY loves to shoot a basketball
Meet DeVon Baker. Mr. Baker averaged 16.1 points per game last year. This probably makes you say “not bad!” I, too, would say “not bad!” This is before I tell you, and myself, about Baker’s shooting splits: 43% on twos, 30% on threes. It took Baker 14.8 field goal attempts per game to get those 16.1 points. Per College Basketball Reference, only four players in America scored fewer points on 14+ shot attempts per game. That is decidedly not the efficiency we love to see.
Baker’s game is heavily built upon Morrell’s offensive system of Shaka Smart’s offensive system of a motion offense with tons of ball screens. Remember some of the players mentioned in the intro and how Shaka’s system, as ball screens became more popular, would use said screens to spring guards open for easier looks? Baker tried to serve in that role last season, to varying levels of success, including running away from the pick:
But mostly it was just forgettable misses:
Baker had an astounding 266 possessions last season as a pick-and-roll ball handler, per Synergy – the tenth-most in the entire nation. The problem: of the top 50 users of this play type, Baker ranked 49th in efficiency, 48th in FG%, 49th in Score%, and 38th in fouls drawn. In fact, the nicest thing you could say about these plays were that he was near the national average in turnovers. It wasn’t pretty, but by design, this is kind of what happens when a freshman is forced to do way more than should be asked.
That said, Baker deservedly draws more attention on the court than any other UNCA player, simply because he has the ball in his hands a lot. The hope is that he continues to draw gravity in this fashion to get other guys open:
A pair of returners with interesting abilities
Coty Jude was UNCA’s one good shooter last year. He’s a 6’9″ guy that hit 40.4% of his threes:
Jude took a lot of threes as the pick-and-pop man in Morrell’s ball screen sets, which makes sense when I tell you he’s a 6’9″ guy that’s 185 pounds. (Somehow, this makes him shooting 38.9% on twos way more believable; he rarely goes to the rim.) He operates in two modes: spotting up for a three either out of a normal set or as the pop man or he slips the pick to get inside. Tennessee should get some early run in defending pick-and-pop sets like this one, if nothing else:
Likewise, Tajion Jones, who’s from Oak Ridge, is a guy who loves getting to the rim:
Jones is far less successful from deep, based on one year of results (27.7% on 137 attempts). However, this doesn’t stop UNCA from running plenty of actions for him, and you can see why. They particularly like dribble handoff sets for him:
His shot looks fine; I’d bet he hits at a better rate this year.
New dude goofin’
I don’t have GIFs on these guys yet because they have zero film in a UNCA uniform yet, but Jax Levitch (5.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG at IPFW in 2017-18) and Lavar Batts (3.7 PPG at NCSU in 2017-18) are joining the team as transfers in 2019-20. They have decidedly different backgrounds: Levitch a two-star recruit from Kentucky that chose Fort Wayne over the likes of Bowling Green and Delaware; Batts, the Top 100 point guard from North Carolina that chose NC State over VCU and Clemson. Levitch was pretty efficient in limited usage at IPFW, but Batts was a massive disappointment in his one NCSU year before transferring. Both should get a lot of playing time in this one.
Shaka’s Havoc press that flows into a hybrid zone
Mike Morrell said this in The Athletic in June to Brian Hamilton:
“I came from a pressing background. I wanted to press. I wanted to play extremely fast on offense. And you get here and you’re like, we ain’t built for this right now.
We ended up playing zone a majority of the time. We played a very slow pace and averaged 61 points a game. Sometimes as an assistant coach, you stand there, and you’re like, when I’m a head coach, there’s no way I’d ever do that! And I found myself in those shoes I don’t know how many times this year, where it’s like, I’m doing something I never thought I’d do. But you know what? You’re trying to give this team the best chance to win.”
So, obviously, some things will change this year. Maybe they play more man-to-man, like Shaka’s current Texas teams do. That said, they were a little better in the press than they were once it got to a half-court game. We’re talking small percentages here – 27th-percentile versus 3rd-percentile – but it’s a difference.
But it mostly got roasted:
And you simply did not want to see this half-court defense, ever. In theory, this is a 2-3/2-1-2/1-3-1 zone depending on the personnel that can match up if needed. In execution, it was a disaster:
This is before I tell you how bad of a rebounding team this group was. UNCA gave up a 37.1% OREB% rate in 2018-19, the worst in Division I. Tennessee only topped that rate in ten of their 37 games on offense last year; that’s what the Bulldogs were giving up on an average night.
For Asheville’s sake, I hope they’ve gotten better at protecting the boards. Otherwise, this will be an ENMU-level OREB% bloodbath.
NEXT PAGE: The boys are back in town