Alabama basketball: Crimson Tide’s 3-point prowess, Nate Oats’ offense will lead to big wins on the floor and in recruiting
In Alabama’s most-recent game — a 115-82 blowout win over Georgia — the Crimson Tide set a school record for most points in an SEC game. They did so by launching 3-pointers early and often.
In fact, they made 18-of-30 3-pointers Saturday against the Bulldogs. You don’t have to be an expert at math to know that’s a good percentage (60%, to be exact).
That sort of incredible 3-point barrage has become par for the course under second-year head coach Nate Oats. In fact, it isn’t even a top-2 performance under Oats. The Tide made 22 3s against Auburn last season and knocked down an SEC-record 23 3s in a 105-75 win over LSU earlier this season.
The Tide aren’t going to set any SEC season-long records this year, thanks to a combination of Auburn’s 2018-19 team being really good and the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on nonconference schedules around the country. The 2018-19 Tigers knocked down an SEC-record 454 3-pointers that year en route to the school’s first Final Four appearance. Those 454 3s came over the course of 40 games — good for an average of 11.35 made 3s per game.
Last year’s Alabama team gave the 2018-19 Tigers a run for their money, knocking down 10.77 3s per contest, but the Tide have been even better this year. They’re making 10.9 3s per game. That’s still behind the blazing pace Auburn set a couple of years ago, but the Tide have averaged 12.1 made 3s during SEC play (Auburn only made 11.5 3s per SEC game in 2018-19).
That’s a lot of numbers to throw at you, but the point of it is this — Alabama knocking down so many 3s in back-to-back years is only going to help the Tide moving forward. We’ve seen how Oats’ drive-and-kick, Houston Rockets-esque offensive system has improved this year. The Tide are 12-1 in SEC play entering Thursday’s game at Texas A&M. Every other team in the conference has at least 4 losses in SEC action.
Auburn won the SEC Tournament in 2019, then made a Final Four run. Alabama could do the exact same thing this year, but the Tide will likely have a regular-season title under their belts, too.
How the Tide got here
How did Alabama become a team that looks like the Houston Rockets offensively while also playing lockdown defense (KenPom.com has Alabama as the No. 2 team in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency)? Well, to answer that question, we need to start with Herb Jones.
Jones has been a lockdown defender since arriving on campus, so everything the Tide do on that end of the floor starts with him. It’s the biggest reason he’s the SEC Player of the Year front-runner. But, he has also taken a step forward offensively.
It’s strange to start a section talking about how a team got so good at making 3-pointers by mentioning a guy who only makes 1 long-range shot per game (but he is making them at a 52.8% clip). However, Jones is the one who makes this Alabama offense go. He has become a point-forward type of player this season, and it has benefited the Tide greatly.
He seems to always make the right decision with the ball. Want to play a zone against the Tide? Well, Jones will get to the high post and find an open shooter:
Simple, yet effective zone set. Georgia is in a matchup 2-3… Ellis's cut from the corner to the top of the key frees up the middle of the paint and leaves #14 alone to guard two. Herb finds Petty for a wide open triple. pic.twitter.com/tFOocvuPzZ
— Bama Basketball Film Room (@BamaFilmRoom) February 15, 2021
Want to try to trap him near half-court? That’s a mistake, too, since Jones will find the open man:
Herb stepping through the half court trap and finding Petty for the open three. pic.twitter.com/y5wo0VJ9QP
— Bama Basketball Film Room (@BamaFilmRoom) January 21, 2021
It’s no mere coincidence that Alabama’s offense went flat for a few games when Jones suffered a back injury. He’s still dealing with the injury, but he looked much better against Georgia on Saturday. When his back is feeling right, he can get to the rim and score against any defender.
Look at the first few plays in this highlight reel. When a double-team doesn’t come, Jones can make tough layups in the lane:
Seeing Herb Jones put it all together has been awesome. As a senior, he’s now one of the best players in the country on one of the best teams in the country.
Nate Oats development ✅ pic.twitter.com/hnuSrP7imd
— Mathey Gibson (@MatheyGibson) February 16, 2021
And, as mentioned earlier, if a team does double-team Jones in the lane, he’ll just kick it out to an open shooter.
Now, plenty of credit has to go to Alabama’s shooters. John Petty Jr. is knocking down 3s at an impressive rate, making 39.6% of his 3s. He’s made an SEC-best 55 3s this year on 139 attempts. Jaden Shackelford is making 33.6% of his long-range shots and freshman Josh Primo has been impressive, too, shooting 3s at a 42.4% clip. Jahvon Quinerly makes 43.9% of his 3s, as well.
But a lot of that is a credit to Jones, who does it all for the Tide. He’s third on the team in points per game (11.9), first in rebounds (5.9), first in assists (3.0), first in steals (1.6) and second in blocks (1.1). That’s versatility. Everyone is better when he’s on the court.
Jones, Petty and Shackelford are absolutely talented enough to carry this team to a Final Four berth to match what their in-state rivals did in 2019.
Obviously, Jones, Petty, Quinerly, Shackelford, Primo, Jordan Bruner, Alex Reese, Keon Ellis, James Rojas and others aren’t going to be around forever. And, indeed, Auburn experienced quite a dropoff in 3-point productivity after the 2018-19 season.
After making 454 3s that year, the Tigers lost Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke and others to the NBA and graduation. In 2019-20, the new-look Tigers made only 252 3s in 31 games (a 30.6% success rate and 8.1 per game.)
But the Tigers have been hot on the recruiting trails lately. A Final Four appearance will do that for you. Sharife Cooper is a bona fide star this year. JT Thor is emerging quickly and will be a leader on the Tigers in 2021-22. And the best shooter of the bunch might be 3-star freshman Justin Powell. The Wildcats didn’t want the Kentucky native, but Auburn took him and he was looking great before he suffered a concussion. He’s been out ever since.
Alabama should continue to thrive under Oats even if Petty and Jones (and possibly Shackelford) leave for the NBA after this season.
In fact, the Tide might have found their Sharife Cooper for their 2021 class: 5-star PG JD Davison — an Alabama native and the No. 9 player in the 2021 class, per the 247Sports composite rankings — has signed with the Tide.
No, Oats will probably never recruit like John Calipari at Kentucky, but if he can get 1 5-star guy per class and surround him with players that fit his system, the Tide can continue to be the class of the SEC. Calipari may have brought in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class in 2020, but we’ve seen how that ended up. The Wildcats are 6-13 and can’t shoot the 3.
The Tide should consistently make 3s under Oats, and if that’s the case, they’ll continue to compete for SEC titles. Now, we’ll just have to see how far those 3s can take them this season before the band breaks up and guys head off to the NBA.