Arizona followers have heard TV announcers say it plenty of times: “If Arizona can’t produce from the perimeter, the other team will clog the lane and concentrate on Lauri Markkanen.”
Since Sean Miller was hired in 2009, it seems the phrase “Arizona struggles against a zone defense” is as common in Tucson as the breathtaking sunsets. The offensive execution against those zones has been ugly at times.
A player like Rawle Alkins can restore some beauty to Arizona’s offensive execution as an inside-outside threat. He has done that in the last four games, including the loss against Gonzaga with a stellar second-half performance that led to a comeback.
In the four-game span, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native has scored 63 points (averaging 15.8 points) while shooting 51.1 percent from the field. He shot 47.1 percent (8 of 17) from 3-point range in those four games and 53.6 percent (15 of 28) inside the arc.
Alkins’ productivity rating in the last four games is .671. Before the stretch, he was at .479. He has a chance to continue his string of productive performances tonight at 9 (Tucson time) against Grand Canyon at McKale Center.
Where the 6’5″ and 220-pound wing player can improve the most is getting to the free-throw line more through aggressive play. He went to the line only 15 times and made nine free throws in the last four games. And in one of those games he took nine free-throw attempts, making six, against Cal-Irvine. He should be going to the line at least six times a game.
Making up for the lack of free-throw attempts, is his inside-outside shooting ability judging from his percentages.
When you name the greatest wing players who played at Arizona, the names that come to mind are Eddie Smith, Sean Elliott, Jud Buechler, Chris Mills, Khalid Reeves (when utilized with Damon Stoudamire and Reggie Geary), Michael Dickerson, Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton.
Lute Olson could count on those guys to be as effective in the lane as they were on the perimeter.
One of the lost arts of college basketball is the mid-range jumper and pull-up jumper from 10 to 15 feet out. Remember the jump-stop-and-pop plays by Elliott and Buechler in and around the lane?
Aggressive plays like that can be zone busters, especially if a teammate demands attention such as Markkanen. Alkins’ biggest fan is Markkanen right now because the more Alkins produces inside and out, the more the zone shifts to him, allowoing Markkanen and others more freedom.
Where Arizona struggled most against the zone in the past is with the lack of a consistent inside-outside perimeter performer.
Operating with one efficient long-range shooter like Gabe York the last couple of years is difficult to master the zone. Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson were a challenging combo on the wing a couple of years ago but their strength was attacking the lane and scoring off second-chance opportunities, not shooting over a zone or pulling up for the mid-range jumper.
If more than one guy — Alkins, Markkanen and Kobi Simmons — can be a consistent threat from the perimeter, that changes the game. The word “perimeter” should not only entail 3-point shots. The way it’s used here is 3-pointers and higher-percentage mid-range jumpers.
Alkins, Markkanen and Simmons have shown finesse as well as assertive play in the first 10 games. The more effective inside-outside activity that occurs, the more the fear of a zone defense will subside.
It appears Miller has more of that type of talent now that can handle that task.
WHAT IS PRODUCTIVITY RATING?:
PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)
SEASON PRODUCTIVITY RATING
|AVG 5-9.9 MIN|
|AVG 1-4.9 MIN|
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR:
|Derrick Williams (2011)||38||38||1190||1141||1.043|
|Sean Elliott (1989)||33||33||1128||1125||1.003|
|Chris Mills (1993)||28||28||838||870||.963|
|Sean Elliott (1988)||38||38||1167||1249||.934|
|Damon Stoudamire (1995)||30||30||964||1092||.883|
|Mike Bibby (1998)||35||35||905||1124||.805|
|Jason Terry (1999)||29||29||877||1107||.792|
|Nick Johnson (2014)||38||38||848||1254||.676|
ARIZONA 79, MISSOURI 60
* — STARTERS
|LESS THAN 10 MIN|
ARIZONA SCHEDULE/PRODUCTIVITY RESULTS
|11/11||Michigan State||W/65-63||.395||Kobi Simmons||SG||22||26||.846|
|11/15||Cal State Bakersfield||W/78-66||.560||Lauri Markkanen||PF||48||36||1.333|
|11/18||Sacred Heart||W/95-65||.805||Dusan Ristic||C||31||22||1.409|
|11/21||Northern Colorado||W/71-55||.565||Parker Jackson-Cartwright||PG||35||34||1.029|
|11/24||Santa Clara||W/69-61||.510||Keanu Pinder||PF||12||12||1.000|
|11/30||Texas Southern||W/85-63||.705||Lauri Markkanen||PF||35||29||1.207|
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.