Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Alabama


Fun, fun, fun…but not necessarily great

It’s not as if college basketball has a plethora of exciting offenses lying around that match what Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks can do every night, so you take what you can get. A team that pushes the pace to their limit every night? Sounds great! Wait, they also take lots of threes and almost never take a mid-range two? Pretty ideal, even if I’m shaking off the James Harden residual effects. Can shoot its way into or out of any game they play? Alright, I’m sold. The Alabama Crimson Tide have the most fun offensive system in SEC basketball:

Unfortunately, this is where I slam the door very quickly that “fun” necessarily equals “good.” The Tide’s offense is pretty solid – it currently ranks 41st in the country on KenPom – but for once, it’s not because they’re hitting a lot of their good shots. The Tide are hitting just 30.5% of their many three-point attempts, good enough for 245th nationally. Per Synergy, they actually get a below-average amount of truly wide open shots (58/42 Guarded/Unguarded), but that may not be the issue as they’re hitting the Guarded looks at a decent 33.6% clip:

It’s the wide-open ones that are bafflingly proving to be the problem. Alabama shooters are just 22-for-81 (27.2%) on these attempts, which is…pretty far from ideal. Considering open threes were hit at around a 35-36% rate in 2019-20, you should definitely be nailing more of these:

Carrying over Buffalo’s successes is a work in progress

Of course, the Tide are just one hot streak away from being fine in this regard, and it helps that Oats’ true 5-out motion offense (not a continuity offense, he stresses) provides opportunities for literally every rotation player he uses to hit a three. Ten different players have hit at least one three for the Tide this winter, with Jaden Shackleford (20-for-55) leading the way:

This is how it was at Buffalo in Oats’ tenure. You remember those Buffalo teams, right? They only pulled off one of the funniest upsets ever – demolishing an overrated Arizona squad in the first round by 21 points – and came back the next year as a terrifying 31-3 monster that played fast and very loose. Like the current edition of Alabama, they weren’t always all that consistent from downtown, but it was the fact that their collection of players could turn it loose at any time, especially in transition, that made them so scary.

Oats’ final Buffalo offense got over 36% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, fourth-highest nationally, but even their half-court offense was pretty tough to deal with. If you over-extended to the three-point line, Buffalo had three fantastic backcourt players who could all drive to, and score at, the rim:

Of course, Alabama offers the same boom-or-bust quandary. Almost 40% of Tide shots come within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock, easily the highest rate offered in the SEC. If you don’t get back quickly against this offense, you run the risk of getting burned at the rim:

Or, obviously, from downtown:

Neither is ideal. It’s one of the things I do occasionally worry about, giving up loads of three-point attempts. Tennessee’s defense is on its way to being the best in the nation, but the unfortunate thing is that even if you are the very best defense, the chance of an opponent randomly having a night where they hit 13 threes isn’t zero. You can only control opponent three-point attempts so much, and as I’ve referenced many times before, you really don’t have that much control over their three-point percentage. All Tennessee can do here is get back, force Alabama to slow it down as much as possible, and make these threes longer and longer.

As we’ve covered before, Tennessee’s done a fantastic job at forcing opponents to shoot over the top of them, especially so from downtown. Nearly 20% of opponent shot attempts are 25+ foot threes, which have been hit at a 2% lower rate than 21-24 foot threes this season. That may not sound like much, but think about it: for every deep three you force, you’re aiding your expected PPP allowed by six points per 100 possessions. That adds up! So…make them take deep ones. Alabama is just 18-for-75 (24%) on threes of 25 feet or longer:

Along with Jaden Shackleford, it’s Alabama’s guards and wings that lead the pack

Enough threes, let’s talk individual players. Jahvon Quinerly has adopted the Kira Lewis, Jr. role this season after Lewis departed for the NBA. The scary thing is that Quinerly actually appears to be marginally more efficient than Lewis, who was not exactly a player you looked forward to drawing on the schedule. Quinerly is especially potent at the rim, as he’s converting 73% of his attempts there. Again, this is a 6’1” POINT GUARD:

We’ve covered Shackleford already, and Shackleford’s serious struggles at finishing at the rim mean we can mostly focus on his threats as a deep shooter. That’s not quite the same for Herbert Jones, a player who feels like he’s in his seventh season at Alabama. Jones only takes about 1.5 threes a game and, like Quinerly, does most of his damage at the basket. Unlike Quinerly, he is a 6’8” battering ram:

Lastly: John Petty. If Jones is in his seventh season, Petty is in his 14th. I genuinely cannot remember Alabama basketball without John Petty at this point. He’s the SEC Perry Mason. Anyway, Petty remains frustratingly inconsistent. The talent to hit lots of threes has always been there, as Tennessee fans remember from his out-of-nowhere explosion against the soon-to-be #1 Vols in 2019…but this is a guy who’s finished seasons at both 34.5% and 44.2% from three and is barely hitting 30% of his threes this year.

Still, he’s scary because that ability to hit five threes in a row does exist and has burned Tennessee in the past. That same ability exists for the full Alabama roster, who hit 34.9% of their threes last season. Force him (and them) to take guarded threes, don’t let him see the basket often, and make this as difficult as possible.

As usual, here’s our quick scout of the Alabama rotation. A player must be receiving at least 10 minutes per game of on-court time to receive a blurb. Positions are from Bart Torvik’s algorithm; considering Alabama has run out a different starting lineup in four straight games, I just gave them all a position this time.

  • #13 Jahvon Quinerly (scoring PG). Sophomore that uses the most possessions of anyone in Alabama’s rotation in the Kira Lewis role. Villanova transfer. Quinerly actually didn’t start the last game, but he played 32 minutes. Not a great shooter (28.7% from three for career), but might be an elite finisher, especially for his size.
  • #5 Jaden Shackleford (wing G). No longer Just A Shooter, has taken about 44% of his shots from two. Unfortunately, not even converting half of his attempts at the rim. Oats will do anything and everything to get him the ball in a spot-up situation, and he’s Alabama’s best shooter.
  • #23 John Petty (wing G). Was suspended for ETSU and didn’t start the last game, so who knows. Seemingly always a game away from Figuring It Out. Similar to Shackleford, they like getting Petty the ball in catch-and-shoot situations and are happy to run designed plays for him to get one off.
  • #1 Herbert Jones (wing F). Played just 9 minutes against Ole Miss due to foul trouble. Battering ram of a player that will stop at nothing to get to the rim and to the free throw line. Intriguingly, Oats lets him be the ball-handler in some of their ball-screen sets. He’s not very good at it; much better in transition and on drives.
  • #2 Jordan Bruner (stretch 4). Yale transfer, 6’10”. 29.5% on 237 three-point attempts for his career, so while he can hit them, it’s at a rate where you’re not very upset if you let him take one. Alabama’s best rebounder, which isn’t saying much. Roll man in most ball-screen sets when on the court.
  • #11 Joshua Primo (wing G). Freshman, is named Joshua Primo, which just blows me away. What a name! Primo is 9-for-30 on threes but frequently leads Alabama’s primary break in transition and draws fouls.
  • #3 Alex Reese (stretch 4). If he’s on the court, you can expect him to either be the screen-setter or to spot up for a three he’ll miss.
  • #33 James Rojas (wing F). JUCO guy! Mostly spot-ups, but drives to the rim and misses, too.
  • #14 Keon Ellis (wing G). JUCO guy part two! Same as above, but with better rim efficiency.

NEXT PAGE: Actually a pretty good defense?

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