I had a hypothetical conversation with Rick Barnes this morning, which I'll share with you.
PB: Rick, what do you think about the idea of starting JD Lewis at shooting guard?
Barnes: C'mon, PB. Don't waste my time. JD's got a good outside stroke, but he's a bit player. He can't create his own look, can't defend, is a zero on the glass, and never penetrates to draw fouls.
PB: Wait, are you talking about Lewis or AJ Abrams?
Is that extreme? To some degree, yes. Abrams' freaky quick release means he can get off shots Lewis could not. And that would be valuable if AJ were connecting on, say, 42-45% of his three point attempts.
But that is not the case. With his 2-7 shooting on Wednesday in College Station, AJ's season numbers from three point range dipped to 35.6%. And that number is misleading, as his blistering start is hiding his atrocious shooting of late. Through five conference games, AJ has hit just 12 of his 46 three point shots, an embarrassing 26%.
Not only is AJ not making his shots, he’s taking far too many of them. His 46 three point shot attempts in Big 12 play is 13 more than Connor Atchley’s total field goals attempted over the same period. Damion James has shot only 52 times in Big 12 play. Thanks in large part to Abrams, Texas has made only 32.7% of its three point attempts during conference play. Our Big 12 opponents, meanwhile, have made 38.1% of their own. (And that includes Texas Tech’s 3-13 effort – everyone else has blistered us from downtown.)
If the bad long distance shooting isn’t offensive enough, then the following should properly disgust you: Abrams has just 23 free throw attempts, 49 rebounds, and 27 assists on the season. For a player who idolizes Alan Iverson, he sure as hell doesn’t play like him. If Rick Barnes wants to keep playing AJ Abrams for 90% of the game, he needs to first lock him in a closet with tapes of Iverson playing on a loop so Abrams can get a look what it takes to be successful when you’re pint sized.
We haven’t even discussed Abrams’ matador defense yet, either.
Andrew and I’s frustration with AJ Abrams is nothing new, but the crippling effect he’s had on this team of late has been masked a bit by his outstanding start to the year. But as the season has progressed, AJ has regressed to the mean. More accurately, he’s fallen well below the mean, to the point where it’s utterly silly that he’s playing as much as he is.
To some extent, Barnes’ hands are tied, as there simply aren’t any good guards on his bench. Neither Lewis, Harrison Smith, nor Ian Mooney is worthy of big minutes, either.
But that doesn’t mean Rick should just sit on his hand. He needs to coach the poor shot selection out of Abrams. He needs to tell AJ that unless he starts getting to the foul line, he’s not worth starting. And most of all, Rick just needs to start playing his other players more, tweaking the identity of this team.
That last point, I think, is the critical one. Aiming to run and gun like the Phoenix Suns is a fine idea in theory, but has proven wholly impossible for the personnel on hand. Our fastbreak has devolved into a non-factor and we can’t score at nearly a high enough pace to overcome the lousy defense that we play. It’s time for a change.
Especially against teams which excel in the frontcourt, Rick needs to abandon the 35 minutes for AJ Abrams plan for bigger lineups. And Rick needs to demand far better muscle and determination from guys like Connor Atchley and Gary Johnson. The Big 12 eats soft forwards for a mid-day snack.
Same with sub-six guards who can’t get to the line, can’t rebound, can’t defend, and can’t shoot.
No, Rick, I’m not just talking about JD Lewis.