The Vols stung the Hornets Wednesday, dropping Alabama State 76- 41. Here are three things.
JORDAN BOWDEN SHINES BRIGHT LIKE A DIAMOND
Going into the season, we knew this team would need Jordan Bowden to be consistently good for the team to be, well, consistently good.
Bowden scored 16 points against Alabama State and led the team in scoring for the third time in four games. He’s averaging 17.5 points per contest and seems comfortable shouldering the bulk of the offensive responsibilities while his back-court cohort Lamonte Turner plays facilitator.
I mean, it kinda feels like he could do this stuff blindfolded.
Knowing that he made this shot, this is gold. pic.twitter.com/vNZRl4W5je— Vol Thoughts (@HypeDoc2019) November 21, 2019
Tennessee’s offense wasn’t particularly good against the Hornets — the Vols shot just 6-21 (28.6 percent) from 3-point range, committed 12 turnovers and had eight scoring droughts that lasted *around* 1.5 minutes or longer. The longest such period happened in the second half and lasted more a little more than five minutes of game time. I wasn’t keeping track in real time, but if ESPN’s box score is to be trusted, Bowden didn’t attempt a shot during that five-minute scoreless stretch.
In previous seasons, Bowden had a tendency to effectively disappear for stretches that spanned games, not minutes. Two seasons ago, he scored 10 points or less in seven consecutive games at the end of Tennessee’s season. Last year, he failed to score in double digits in at least three-straight games three different times. Three-point percentage seems to be the pull thread in the fabric of Bowden’s scoring — he scored in single-digits 15 times last year and made one or fewer 3s in 14 of those 15 games. Yank that string and watch the shirt unravel.
He’s bound to have some off games eventually, but as the year goes on, we’ll find out if Bowden can maintain a relative consistency or not and how that will affect Tennessee’s offense.
After the Washington game, I was a bit concerned with Barnes’ usage of a seven-man rotation and the long-term viability of that kind of rotation.
Barnes played nine players against UNC Asheville, 10 players against Murray State and 11 players against Alabama State with the starters accounting for 74 percent, 76 percent and 73 percent of the total minutes played, respectively. Only seven guys played against the Huskies and, they accounted for 88 percent of the minutes played. Perhaps the minutes distribution against Washington was an aberration.
Tennessee emptied the bench against Alabama State Wednesday, playing 11 players including walk-ons Jacob Fleschman and Brock Jancek, in an attempt to get some minutes for the young guys that should prove valuable later in the year. Overall, bench players accounted for 54 minutes and 27 percent of the game’s total minutes, which is the highest percentage for the bench players so far this year. Since Zach Kent is not with the team indefinitely, there are four scholarship players left on the Tennessee bench: Davonte Gaines, Drew Pember, Jalen Johnson and Olivier Nkamhoua. The options, especially in the paint, are about as thin as Pember’s arms.
It’s early in the season, so I imagine Barnes is still trying to figure out what he’s got with his players. The minutes distribution against Washington was probably more of an indicator of who Barnes thinks he can trust during important games than it was a template for the rotations of future games.
YOUNG’ UNS OR YOUNG GUNS
Nkamhoua led the charge off the bench against Alabama State with eight points in 19 minutes, but his performance was overshadowed by Pember. The pride of Bearden high school had eight points in eight minutes and added five rebounds, two blocks and one assist. He led the team with 10 free-throw attempts, taking advantage of the Vols being in the bonus late in the game, and converted six of them.
It’s going down, I’m yelling Pember— Cabeza de Bucket (@BucketHeadTN) November 21, 2019
His only other appearance this season was two minutes against Murray State during which he didn’t score. It’s not clear how much Pember will play the rest of the season, but given the Vols’ lack of post depth I imagine he’ll get plenty of opportunities.
Nkamhoua leads the team in times his name is mispronounced and minutes off the bench, averaging 17.3 of each per game. He’s not getting starter-type minutes and likely won’t until the foul-bug starts biting John Fulkerson again, but it’s encouraging how productive he’s been in the time he’s gotten. Per 40 minutes, he’s totalling 17.1 points 11 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. The downside — he’s fouling more than seven times and turning it over nearly twice in that same time span. It’s taken Fulkerson four years to get his per-40 foul numbers below five, so I’m not expecting Nkamhoua to figure out that problem anytime soon.
Josiah James’ shot is still slumping — he went 0-3 from behind the arc and 1-7 overall against ASU — but he’s consistently finding other ways to influence the game. He led the team in rebounds with 13 and finished second on the team with five assists. That was his third game with four or more rebounds and his second-straight game with five assists.
If you see James’s face on any milk cartons, there’s no real cause for concern, we’ve just enlisted some outside help in tracking down his jump shot. If you remove the Washington game from his season stats, he’s shot 1-5 from 3-point range and 3-16 overall. Ben Simmons has carved himself out a niche in the NBA despite hitting his first career 3-pointer this season, his third in the league. It helps that he’s a 6-foot-10 point guard, sure, but the point is: it’s not impossible to excel playing modern-day basketball without a proficient outside shot — It’s just a lot harder.