In an offseason that has proved to be one of the craziest and most uncertain in recent memory across the college basketball landscape, one thing has remained the same: the level of optimism surrounding the Alabama basketball program. Entering into Nate Oats’ second season, the level of expectations both inside and outside of the program has taken a giant leap from the expectations of the first season, which were already high to begin with. Oats and his staff have done nothing to temper those expectations, having brought in a top-10 nationally ranked recruiting class and one of the best graduate transfers on the market in Jordan Bruner, in addition to returning three (and potentially four) starters from last year’s team.
As part of a series previewing each position group for next season, let’s take a look at the wings that will be featured next season for the Crimson Tide.
The most experienced player out of the group of wings, Herb Jones has been a household name for Alabama fans over the past three seasons. The 6-7 wing/forward declared for the NBA Draft after the pandemic ended his junior season but stated his intent to return after going through part of the draft process. He started at least thirteen games each of his first three seasons and is known most for his defensive work and hustle, where he posted the second-highest defensive on/off split in the SEC behind Mississippi State’s Abdul Ado and won the “hard hat award” for acquiring the most hustle points sixteen times last season, the most of any player on the team by far.
Jones is limited on the offensive end of the floor, especially from range, where he is a career 14-61 (23%) three-point shooter, but he has shown tremendous improvement as a slasher and secondary ballhandler off of dribble-drives. Jones has seen steady improvement over his three seasons at the Capstone from two-point range, improving from 40% during his freshman season to 48% during his junior season. This offensive improvement is shown in Jones’ on/off splits, where Alabama was 3.3 points per 100 possessions better with Jones on the floor versus Jones off the floor. Additionally, Jones has been practicing his jumper, which has a more consistent form, but was limited in really showing it off because of those injuries last season.
Herb Jones’ 2019-20 season will be thought of by Alabama fans as one full of injuries, but his statistical impact on the Alabama team when he was on the floor was at an all-league level. If Herb can remain injury-free, we could see him take a huge step forward on both ends of the floor, most notably on the offensive end, where he can really show off that jumper that Alabama fans have been looking for from him for three seasons. Combining those facets of his game, look forward to Herb being one of the team leaders for Alabama as they look to make a tournament run.
A former four-star recruit from Columbia, SC and the highest rated recruit in Alabama’s 2019 class, a lot of hype was associated with Juwan Gary, as he was expected to compete for a rotation spot. However, this hype was quickly quelled as Gary suffered an ACL injury before the season even started, which was the tip of the injury iceberg for the Crimson Tide last season. This upcoming season is an important one for Gary’s future at Alabama, as he looks to crack into the wing rotation on a team that has a lot more projectable depth this season while also getting back to game speed from his rehab.
Gary’s skillset is projectable into the Nate Oats system as a player that can play both ways with and without the ball in his hands. While he isn’t the most lethal outside shooter, he is capable from range and must be respected from behind the line, and he has high-level athleticism to create the paint touches that Nate Oats emphasizes in his offense. On the defensive end, Gary has a good frame that allows him to stay with guys on dribble-drives as well as contest jumpers effectively.
The key to Juwan Gary having a successful season at Alabama will be how he recovers from his ACL injury. There is a mixed track record with athletes recovering from these injuries and their effectiveness after the injury compared to before it. Luckily for Alabama, Gary’s injury occurred before the season last year, which has given him ample time to recover properly and prepare for the upcoming season. If Gary can get back to the level that he was at when he was being recruited, he can play a major factor in the rotation for Alabama this upcoming season.
Alabama fans have heard a lot about Josh Primo ever since he decided to reclassify to the 2020 class after an impressive performance at Basketball Without Borders in February, where he solidified his status as a potential first round pick in the 2021 draft, and even more after he committed to Alabama over Creighton in late March. Primo first made a mark when he was the youngest player selected to play in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup (the same tournament that Kira Lewis represented the United States) for Canada at the age of 16, and has been on an incredible upward rise that has seen him enter the top 30 of the 247 recruiting rankings.
Primo is a 6-6 combo guard/wing that has an elite outside shot, both off the catch and off the dribble. With him playing guard, he should be able to get his shot up without much disruption, as he’ll typically be guarded by smaller players. He also is able to use the threat of his jumper to get into the lane and create open shots for teammates on kickouts as well as finish with incredible touch on his floater. He can also handle the ball both as a primary and secondary creator, which could have a large impact on how the Alabama offense operates next season.
Alabama fans are incredibly excited for Josh Primo next season, and rightfully so. He is one of the best recruits that Alabama has brought in in a long time from a standpoint of where he was ranked in high school, and he is coming into a system that should suit him well on the offensive end of the floor. His frame is a bit wiry at this moment, but with time in the weight room, he can become an impactful multi-positional defender with his 6-9 wingspan. Whether or not Primo stays in Tuscaloosa for one season or multiple, he will be an instant impact at the Capstone and play an important role for Nate Oats and company.
One of the later commitments in the 2020 class was Darius Miles, a 6-7 forward originally from Washington, D.C. who played his final year of high school basketball on the IMG Academy prep team. Ace recruiter Bryan Hodgson was at IMG in February to see another prospect when he happened to see Miles playing on another court. Hodgson began to recruit Miles shortly after, which culminated in the four-star’s commitment to Alabama on April 7th.
Miles is a lanky left-handed forward that has plenty of offensive skill from all three levels of the floor. His athleticism allows him to finish above the rim, and even though his frame isn’t completely filled out, he shows a level of strength to finish through contact. From the outside, he has a smooth jumper that has a relatively high release point, which allows his shot to not be easily blocked, while also making them at a solid rate, even if he doesn’t default to shooting threes as opposed to getting to the rim. Miles also has a knack for creative dribble moves at 6-7 that make him much more difficult to stay in front of.
From a defensive perspective, Miles has a long frame that allows him to wreak havoc on ballhandlers, picking pockets with ease and making the lives of ballhandlers much more difficult. He also has made many impressive blocks at the rim with his high-level athleticism and long arms. The key for Miles is to put on some muscle while maintaining his current level of skill so that he can’t be bullied by larger players in the high post. Given the current state of the Alabama roster and the amount of players that are worthy of playing time, Miles is going to have his work cut out for him to win minutes in year one, but the future prospects of Miles on Alabama’s roster should give Alabama fans plenty of optimism for 2021 and beyond, and Miles could earn a spot in the rotation if he comes to Tuscaloosa and impress from day one.
Alabama’s wing crop is much more talented than years past, with a senior leader in Herb Jones, a second-year freshman talent in Juwan Gary, and two newcomers in Joshua Primo and Darius Miles. Each one of these guys will have a role, whether it be in the starting lineup, coming off the bench, or pushing the players in practice to be better. The playing level of Primo and Gary will be one of the major storylines in whether or not Alabama can make a deep tournament run in 2020, but this group will be a major strength for Nate Oats and company moving forward.
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