There's a lot to be concerned about with this year's basketball team, given the two recent performances against good teams. While we're still optimistic about the team's season-long potential, we're concerned enough to start looking inside the numbers for what, exactly, is plaguing this team.
#1 The Guards Can't Shoot
Supposedly, the guards on this team can shoot. Suppose, for a minute though, that we look at their actual performance to date.
The Horns as a team are shooting a healthy 49% from the field, but it's not because of the guards. Looking only at Gibson, Abrams, Paulino, Lewis, and Winder provides some different numbers. Those five have combined to hit just 39.5% of their shots. Beyond the three point arc, the five are combining for a 34.5% percentage. Paulino is 14-45 from downtown. Gibson an atrocious 26-76. Seventy-six three pointers? Maybe if you're hitting at 40% or better, but Gibson isn't even sniffing that. Either these guards need to shoot better, or they need to quit shooting threes. The backcourt has been an embarrassment.
#2 The Guards Can't Pass
Obviously, we think the guards are the big problem with this team right now. Along with their stellar shooting, the guards are turning the ball over at a pathetic pace. The team has turned it over a whopping 167 times this year, against just 161 assists. A.J. Abrams has managed 10 turnovers and just three assists.
When you have Lamarcus Aldridge to pass to near the hoop, managing just three assists takes a special form of incompetence. Rick Barnes has never been an offensive mastermind, but at this point, he needs to teach some fundamentals. The guards aren't even doing the easy stuff right.
#3 We Aren't As Deep As We Thought We Would Be
Brad Buckman's injury has really exposed how thin this team is if one of the stars go down. Considering Buckman's importance to the flow of the offense, his injury is especially punitive. Frankly, Rick could do himself a favor by rotating Tucker, Buckman, and Aldridge when Buckman returns from injury. Tucker isn't adapting well to the wing, and this would give our frontcourt a much deeper rotation. Playing all three together is tempting, but there are no adequate subs behind them, so it might be wiser to spread out the distribution a little bit.
As far as the guards go, there's no lack in depth in terms of number of players Barnes has trotted out there. But considering none of them are playing well, the depth is only nominal. I expect Gibson to improve plenty as the season goes on, but Paulino is a role player and the rest of the guards are unproven. I suppose Abrams has some potential, but he's so raw right now and not one we want to count on more than we have to. The biggest problem of all is that no one is suited to play the point. I still maintain that Gibson is better off as shooting guard, even if he can play a passable point. The development and maturation of AJ Abrams is something we'll be watching closely.
#4 Mike Williams Isn't Developing
This goes with #3 in many ways, but Williams lack of development is especially disappointing. Blessed with the body to be a physical force in college basketball, he's got James Thomas hands with half the love for rebounding and even less scoring talent. The kind of player that better coaches might get more out of, Barnes hasn't developed him into much of anything at this point. I'm not holding my breath.
Whatever Williams' natural limitations, if he were developing, the frontcourt would be overwhelming. As is, an injury to Buckman or Aldridge spells doom for this team.
#5 Rick Barnes Isn't Doing A Good Job
We've had plenty of nice words for Rick Barnes over the years. He does certain, very important, things really well. But his weaknesses are being exposed right now. This is a team with some outstanding offensive weapons, but no coherent plan for using them. If we're not forcing a pass into the post without setting any screens to get anyone open, we're standing around and waiting for someone to dribble to the basket. When we look surprised that no one is open because no one is moving around, we shoot a three.
Where's the plan? If there's a plan, why does it look like we're standing around all the time? Where's the motion? How hard is it to get Lamarcus Aldridge the ball near the basket? Why is he shooting so little?
On defense, why are we having so much trouble chasing our opponents that move without the ball? Are the players lazy? Are we not preparing them for the motion offense? Are they athletic enough?
Most of these are rhetorical questions. It wouldn't take a genius to get this team to do the minimal things that a basketball team is supposed to do well. Dribble without turning it over. Making crisp passes. Moving without the ball. Chasing your opponent around the court on defense. Fighting through screens. Simple stuff. Stuff that, when it breaks down consistently, is to be blamed on the coach.
This team has the talent to be great, but Rick Barnes isn't doing much to help that materialize right now. The Eyes of BON are upon you, Rick. Let's turn it around.