On March 27, 2019, Greg Byrne announced the hire of former Buffalo head coach Nate Oats. Alabama was coming off a disappointing season that ended in a first-round NIT exit. On the other hand, Oats was fresh off a 32-4 season where his Bulls won a MAC championship, earned a 6 seed in the NCAA tournament and beat a talented Arizona State team by 17 points before being knocked out by the eventual national runners-up, Texas Tech.
The Crimson Tide finished the 2019 season 64th in KenPom, while Oats’ Buffalo squad finished 22nd. On the offensive end, which this article will focus on, Alabama finished 103rd in the country in offensive efficiency (108.2 points per 100 possessions) while Buffalo finished 21st (115.2 pts/100 possessions). Despite having a probable future first round pick in Kira Lewis Jr., as well as other talented offensive players, Alabama could not crack the top-100 in offensive efficiency.
In just Oats’ first year in Tuscaloosa, the 45 year-old head coach turned Alabama into the 37th ranked squad in offensive efficiency, scoring 111 points per 100 possessions. Alabama also finished third in the entire country in points per game (82.0 PPG). So, how did Nate Oats turn Alabama into such a tough team to guard? Let’s take a look at his offensive philosophy:
Shot Selection - Threes and layups
The most notorious feature of the Nate Oats system is tempo. In 2019, the Tide ranked 117th in the nation in adjusted tempo, averaging 68.7 possessions per game. That number jumped to 74.8 possessions per contest, good for 4th (!) in all of college basketball. Oats is going to push the pace regardless, but it really made sense considering he inherited one of the fastest point guards in the college game in Kira Lewis. The Tide indeed would get out and run on a consistent basis, with a goal of getting a layup or three before the defense could match-up.
Below are a few clips that exemplify the speed at which Nate Oats wants his players to push the ball. Oats stresses to his players to take advantage of any one-on-one matchup they can get.
In this clip, Shackelford (#5) leaks out and Petty (#23) does a good job of getting his eyes up and getting the ball up the floor and giving Jaden a chance to make a play:
This clip, from the Oats era at Buffalo, shows a similar pitch ahead for a layup:
Oats also stresses spacing and its importance in an efficient and high-powered offense. In a half-court situation, Oats expects his team to be spaced the way the diagram shows. With the ball in the hands of the point guard on the wing, two players will be spaced to the corners and one on the opposite wing. The 5-man, or in some cases, the one non-shooter on the court (think Herbert Jones when Alex Reese is playing the 5) on the diagram below, will be in the “dunker spot” or “the porch.” The dunker spot is designed for dunks and layups on drop offs or lobs from penetration. Oats will have four three-point shooters on the floor the majority of the time.
The clip below is a good example of how Alabama utilized this spacing this year to create room for Kira Lewis (#2) to drive the basketball. With three able shooters spaced on the perimeter, J’von McCormick (Auburn #5) is left alone to stay in front of Lewis - no easy task. Herbert Jones (#1) is technically playing the 4, but is in the dunker spot because Alex Reese (#3) is a stretch 5.
Another clip of floor spacing allowing Kira to drive and take advantage of the mismatch:
The final piece of the Nate Oats offensive philosophy is the shots he wants his team to take. Much like the style utilized by several NBA clubs, most notably the Houston Rockets, Oats designs his offense to look for shots at the rim and threes. In 2019, 49% of Alabama’s shot attempts came from beyond-the-arc. Only seven teams in college basketball had a higher percentage of their field goal attempts coming from three.
On the flip-side, only 40.9% of the Tide’s points came from twos. Much of this was due to Alabama not having a real post presence or multiple guards and wings that could effectively drive the basketball. Most of the dribble penetration was done by Lewis alone. As Oats is able to bring in more athletic players on the wing that can put it on the floor and beat their man, Alabama’s offense will be even deadlier.
The clip below is an example of Alabama playing 5-out with five shooters on the floor and using dribble penetration to create an open three that Shackelford drills.
Oats has been open about his opposition to continuity offenses in the past, such as the popular ball screen continuity offenses that a large number of college teams run. It is unclear if Oats still owns this philosophy or not, but he stuck to it in year one. He wants his players to make plays, and they certainly did that in year one.
Alabama's 2020 roster is far from complete, but expect the Tide to continue to settle into the system that Oats is installing at Alabama. It will be fun to watch the wrinkles that Oats adds to his offense as his players continue to become accustomed to it.
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