clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

SEC Returners, Pt. 5: Will these players clean up their games and make a dent?

Whether it’s Keyontae Johnson’s shooting stroke, Jeremiah Tilmon’s foul woes or Jalen Harris’ turnovers, each of these players has an area they need to shore up.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, we began breaking down talented returning players in the Southeastern Conference. In that initial post, we outlined the criteria that helped us segment these 25 players into five tiers.

Nobody’s perfect.

That adage is obviously a cliche, but it succinctly sums up the final batch of SEC returners in our breakdown.

Whether it’s inconsistent shooting, turnovers or foul trouble, there’s a facet of each player’s game that needs some shoring up. In terms of minute and usage, they might also lag behind their peers. None of this means these players can’t ascend to more prominent roles. We’re merely acknowledging there’s some work left to do.

So let’s take a look at our final quintet.

Tier 5: Room for Improvement

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

SEC Returners | Room for Improvement

School Player Poss. %Min %Poss Player Net On/Off Diff Torvik PPG Torvik RPG Torvik APG
School Player Poss. %Min %Poss Player Net On/Off Diff Torvik PPG Torvik RPG Torvik APG
Arkansas Jalen Harris 1871 76.3 19 7.9 2.1 10.9 3.2 4.2
Alabama John Petty 855 71.9 19.2 5.7 6.1 13.6 4.1 1.7
Florida Keyontae Johnson 1312 58.8 20.1 6.7 10.3 9.4 6.1 1.6
Missouri Jeremiah Tilmon 1135 58.1 24.2 13.3 9.6 9.4 5.5 1.6
Texas A&M TJ Starks 1260 58 31.8 -24.4 -1.1 11.2 2.6 3.6
Hoop Lens, KenPom, Bart Torvik

Jalen Harris, Arkansas

What he does well: The New Mexico transfer filled an immediate need for a distributor once Daryl Macon moved along, averaging 5.6 assists a night and finishing four in the SEC for assist rate. The 6-foot-2, 166-pound point guard also had a knack for drawing contact and earning trips to the line. Based on metrics alone, the redshirt sophomore could stake a claim as Mike Anderson’s steadiest perimeter defender, allowing a paltry 0.617 points per possession, per Synergy Sports. In other words, he was an optimal fit for what former coach Mike Anderson valued in a lead guard.

What needs work: There’s a bright line between non-conference and SEC action for Harris. Over the season’s opening 12 games, he averaged 6.7 assists and sported a 5.3 assist-to-turnover ratio. In conference play, he still doled out 4.2 dimes per game, but his turnover rate climbed. Meanwhile, Harris path to 7.6 points per game lacked any semblance of efficiency. It didn’t matter if it was a jumper, runner or layup. And it didn’t make a difference whether he was attacking the rim out of a ball-screen, curling off a pick or simply catching-and-shooting.

What it means: Harris was brought into the fold because he was comfortable playing at a breakneck speed and a pass-first lead guard. Under coach Eric Musselman, the Hogs will continue to push the tempo, but Harris needs to clean up his game at the offensive end. It’s a testament to the value of Harris’ defensive prowess that he could post such a putrid offensive rating (.694 PPP) and still wind up with a healthy net rating.

John Petty, Alabama

What he does well: Knock down shots. The rising junior’s been a complementary component alongside lead guards — Collin Sexton and Kira Lewis Jr. — who look to score first and collapse defenses along the way. In his first two seasons, roughly 55 percent of his attempts have been 3-pointers launched in the half court and four times the number of shots taken at the rim. No one quibbles about shot selection, though, when you post a 37.2 percent clip behind the arc and stretch a defense.

What needs work: The Crimson Tide could desperately use a secondary ball-handler to pair up with Lewis. Despite having an elite prospect operating the point, Alabama finished 12th in the SEC for assist rate the past two seasons. Often, the other four players on the floor became bystanders watching Sexton or Lewis break down a defense. Now, the arrival of West Virginia grad transfer James Bolden could be a solution at the offensive end, but the tradeoff is becoming more porous defensively. A middle way is a version of Petty who shows some more willingness to take the ball to the rack and less turnover prone when playing out of pick-and-rolls or on the break.

What it means: Like the rest of his teammates, Petty’s not in dire need of an overhaul. An incremental improvement might be enough to capitalize on his potential. The distribution of shots plays a role, but Petty’s prone to volatile swings in production — a four-game stretch of single-digit scoring followed by a 20-point outburst. Simply smoothing out those peaks and valleys might be enough.

Keyontae Johnson, Florida

What he does well: Commit violent acts against the rim. As a freshman, the 6-foot-6 wing was better off slashing into a gap than hoisting up a jumper out of a spot-up look. However, his most productive touches came as an off-ball cutter or sprinting down a channel on the break. Johnson’s athleticism also made him one of the SEC’s better rebounding wings last season, while he posted the third-best steal percentage among the league’s freshmen.

What needs work: Johnson’s jumper is a work in progress, as is his handle. He can catch, rip and go in a straight line, but is still working on creating shots for himself off the dribble. And for as assertive as he can be going toward the rim, it doesn’t show up in his free-throw rate (29.2). Defensively, he could stand to clean up his awareness off the ball.

What it means: With Scottie Lewis entering the mix, there’s obvious overlap in terms of skill sets. Lewis, a McDonald’s All-American and likely top-10 draft pick next summer, is wing who can also grab, go and serve as a one-man fastbreak. On film, both excel at snagging lobs off a backscreen or sailing in for a putback. They’re also both hyper-competitive at the defensive end. There will be lineups where both will see the floor, but if coach Mike White wants steady jump-shooting, Noah Locke might get the nod.

Jeremiah Tilmon, Missouri

What he does well: The rising junior looks like a traditional big, but there are facets to his game that fit with the direction its evolving. He has the feet, hands and body control to feel at ease in space, and he excels as a roll man after setting a high ball-screen. After some early-season frustration, the East St. Louis native became one of the nation’s better distributors out of the low block. And if he establishes deep position on the left block, he can simply overpower a defender.

What needs work: You know what goes in this space. If Tilmon can get overcome his foul woes, it unlocks the potential that’s evident to anyone who watches the big man play. Typically, the sequence goes as follows: Tilmon gets into a wrestling match trying to maintain position as a wing works to find a passing angle and gets called for a hook. The opponent capitalizes on his frustration by pounding the ball inside on offense on a post-up, drawing a second whistle. Before we talk about Tilmon possibly extending his range in pick-and-pops or passing out of short rolls, we need to see that he’s at least given himself a chance to play starter-level minutes.

What it means: This offseason, at least 16 starting combo forwards and centers exited the league, a talent drain that leaves Tilmon and Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry as arguably the best big men still around. Yet it hinges on how effectively Tilmon keep emotions in check and log enough minutes to earn that type of billing.

T.J. Starks, Texas A&M

What he does well: The Texas A&M point guard’s presence is likely a glitch, one stemming from Bart Torvik’s rosy projections for statistical output. To be frank, Starks regressed last season, which is saying something considering his offensive efficiency as a freshman (0.75 PPP) left quite a bit to be desired. When your usage rate is north of 30 percent, it’s galling to see an adjusted offensive rating (83.4) as low as the one Starks posted. Now, his assist rate (27.2) was among the top 10 in the SEC, and he does draw fouls consistently.

What needs work: Uh, shotmaking. Starks hoisted up quite a few and finished the season with a 44.1 true-shooting percentage, including a 22.4 percent clip behind the 3-point arc. The Aggies probably need him to curb his impulse the pull the trigger and try to facilitate quality looks for Savion Flagg and Wendell Mitchell, or see what kind of chemistry develops with Josh Nebo, who showed real promise as a cutter and roller last season.

What it means: Coach Buzz Williams doesn’t have roster rife with alternative options, and Starks doesn’t lack talent. Perhaps a change in voice, culture and scheme unlocks the junior’s potential.