The weakness of the Georgia Basketball Team is in the backcourt and it is a rather wide-open race for playing time.
Georgia’s Backcourt has been a consistent force as far as talent, skill level and reliability is concerned during the Mark Fox era. However, this has changed drastically as the Georgia Frontcourt under the direction of Jonas Hayes has become the strength of the team. Georgia’s Backcourt lacks consistency, confidence and defensive capability. The last element is perhaps the most troubling of all and nobody really seems to care except Mark Fox and Philip Pearson.
When MonkDawg attended the Spring Banquet, he was taken aback by a moment of complete unawareness (so was Head Coach Mark Fox) exhibited by the team roster when awarding Turtle Jackson with the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Surely, such an award would go to someone far more deserving like Derek Ogbeide or Yante Maten. Nope, it went to Turtle Jackson, which was a bizarre choice. As a whole, the Georgia perimeter defense was dreadful last season and if it were not for J.J. Frazier aggressively trying to get steals, it would have been deemed extremely poor.
Thanks to the wondrous Wayback Machine, it is obvious that the defense took a major step backwards from late January to the brutal end. However, the team’s two incumbent Point Guards (who are really Combo Guards because Fox and his staff recruit this way) remain the worst defensive (by defensive efficiency rating) scholarship members of the team even after January 23, 2017.
Think it gets any prettier in terms of Defensive Boxscore Plus/Minus? You’re wrong. So so wrong.
Turtle Jackson sports a 1.7 Defensive Boxscore Plus/Minus while Tyree Crump was a defensive matador. Crump’s defensive efforts destroyed his overall Boxscore Plus/Minus and made him a complete liability last season. Crump did not earn minutes because of his poor defense and he knows it.
On January 23, 2017, the Boxscore Plus/Minus looked like this…
Turtle Jackson’s defense stayed relatively consistent (yet still bad), but Tyree Crump got worse. Jordan Harris had a drop-off attributable to injury and other things that are not worth discussing. From November through January 23, Jordan Harris proved himself worthy in the defensive backcourt. Juwan Parker earned his time on the floor because of his ability to grab defensive rebounds, his shooting outside of Free Throw Line attempts was abysmal and he generally struggled to contain drivers and jump shooters.
In conference play, the backcourt was clearly the leaky element of the defense.
Who is going to get the steals that J.J. Frazier would have forced? Who is going to deny the dribble drive? Who is going to be aware on cuts and not get lost on screens so easily? Who is going to challenge shots? Who is going to make opponents uncomfortable?
Based on last season’s metrics, Jordan Harris is the most likely to do it when it comes to the returning backcourt members of the roster. However, at the Point Guard spot there is nobody returning who can legitimately pressure opposing Point Guards. Teshaun Hightower offers intriguing possibilities not just concerning his size and his length, but he was able to show that he has a defensive pedigree in High School and Prep School. Hightower believes he can win a starting role and he should know that the only way to get there is through defense.
After all, Charles Mann usurped Vincent Williams’ job as a Freshman not because of offense, but because of defense and Mann was certainly not a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Vincent Williams struggled defensively at UGA and even though he was a 38% three point shooter as a Senior, he was not going to be better than Charles Mann. Mann was a liability at the Free Throw Line, he struggled handling the press and his best contribution offensively was his ability to draw fouls. He was not imposing his will defensively, but he did enough to get Mark Fox to trust him on defense as a Freshman.
History should serve as a guide and could certainly repeat itself as 2012-13 parallels are obvious. It is why Turtle Jackson and Tyree Crump could end up losing any chance of starting at Point Guard on New Year’s Eve at Rupp Arena, if Teshaun Hightower out-defends them. There are murmurs and indications that Hightower could be that sort of a disruptor, shooting woes aside.
After all, it’s not like Crump and Jackson proved themselves to be great shooters anyhow….
The best returning shooter in the backcourt is Jordan Harris and if Harris performs well, he is going to end up stealing minutes from his best friend and keeping him off the floor. Jordan Harris remained consistent from three point range from High School to UGA. He was a 43-44% three point shooter in High School and was nearly a 45% three point shooter as a Freshman.
Crump was a 33% three point shooter in High School in his Sophomore and Junior years . He broke out to 46% as a Senior and he came back to where he was prior to his breakout season as a Freshman at UGA (32.8%). Against Division I competition, he was 30.3% from three point range. Crump has been a 33% three point shooter in three seasons out of four. Crump was 34.3% from long range in games in which he played 10 or more minutes, he was not lighting the world on fire from beyond the arc. Can he improve? Absolutely, but he cannot be airballing as many three point attempts as last season and trying to cram as many three point attempts as he can in his time on the floor. Missed threes can turn into transition opportunities for teams that excel at the secondary break, Georgia actually has done this well.
Turtle Jackson has been very average from beyond the arc after shooting 42% from long range at Athens Christian in his Senior Year. Both Crump and Jackson came into UGA known for their dribble penetration ability and Crump is a good Free Throw shooter, but they ended up gaining reputations at Georgia that are completely undeserved and inaccurate. The trip to Spain during the Summer of 2016 did more to harm Georgia Basketball than it did to help. Georgia faced tomato can opposition and the coaching staff made the wrong evaluations of their talent based on those performances. The media hype from this exhibition tour did not help matters either.
It’s time to consider this…
What’s the point of anointing someone with the privilege of a major role on a team when they struggle so much defensively that it outweighs whatever offensive benefits exist?
Kenny Gaines came in with a reputation for being a good shooter, defender, athlete and possibly even better musician. He was a bit streaky at times, but he ultimately lived up to his reputation and fought through injuries. Gaines was the guy Fox trusted to shut down opposing scorers like Marshall Henderson as a Sophomore. Gaines went from being in Fox’s doghouse for an entire season for reasons that were never clear to being “THE MAN” the next season. The performances Gaines had at UGA were within him all along as he had an established track record to pull it off, it is possible that Fox only teaching Freshmen one position kept him off the floor and being Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s understudy suppressed his minutes.
All things considered…
Mark Fox values defense over offense and his track record shows it. He will put his trust in guys who defend smart and hard, which makes it tough to pull them from the floor even when they struggle from the field.
Want to earn minutes? Play defense and do not be a liability. Tyree Crump and Turtle Jackson must improve or history will not-so-surprisingly repeat itself.