Basketball Sneak Peek: the Shooting Guards

With football practice still a week away, we here at RBR will be taking an early position-by-position look at the Alabama basketball team as Anthony Grant's indoor version of "The Process" enters Year 2.

Earlier this week, we previewed the point guards, and today we move on to the shooting guards. Whereas the point guard position features virtually no experience for the Tide, the shooting guard position offers boatloads of experience, if not star-power, for Anthony Grant's team this season.

BACKGROUND

Alabama's roster this year features three off-guards, or shooting guards. With two seniors and a junior, all of whom have a year in Grant's system, experience will not be a problem at this position. That doesn't mean, however, that the Tide is set to dominate here with All-SEC-type talent, but there are certainly pieces to work with.

Last season began with the same three shooting guards on the roster, and with only one small forward on the roster (a true freshman), Grant elected to insert two shooting guards into the starting lineup. For the first six games of the season, both junior Senario Hillman (see video below) and sophomore Andrew Steele appeared in the starting lineup each game, with junior college transfer Charvez Davis coming off the bench. However, Steele's season was abruptly cut short due to injury and Grant began more or less rotating Hillman and Davis at the position for the remainder of the season, sometimes alongside two point guards and sometimes alongside a point guard and a small forward.

With more depth at the wing and post positions this season, it is likely that all three returning players will be battling it out for just one position on the court, unless all three step up to the point that they start stealing minutes from the two wing players (more on them in our next piece). With each of the three shooting guards bringing different strengths and weaknesses to the table, it will be interesting to see how Grant manages the playing rotation and what kind of production he can get from the position this season.

Below the jump: full reports on each player and an outlook for the position...

#21 Senario Hillman -- Senior -- 6'2" -- 195 -- Irwinton, GA

#24 Charvez Davis -- Senior -- 6'3" -- 186 -- Montgomery, AL

#22 Andrew Steele -- Junior -- 6'4" -- 230 -- Birmingham, AL

THE PLAYERS

#21 Senario Hillman -- Senior -- 6'2" -- 195 -- Irwinton, GA

Hillman enters this season as the only fourth-year veteran on the Tide roster. He came out of high school as a highly-rated four-star recruit in the 2007 class with athleticism and potential oozing from every pore. It's been a rough ride for Hillman the past three years in Tuscaloosa. He came in just in time to experience the slow, painful death of the Mark Gottfried regime, an interim coaching stint, and finally the first year of a brand new regime that offered much promise but also many disappointing losses.

Along the way, he's had to deal with his own individual adversity. Probably no player who's been a regular for the Tide in recent years has faced more criticism from fans than has Hillman. Some are disappointed that his lofty recruiting hype and freakish athletic ability haven't translated into more points or All-SEC honors. Others are frustrated at his shot selection when his somewhat awkward, loopy jump shots don't fall or he gets caught in mid-air on his way to the rim. One thing though, has remained constant: coaches, whether they be named Gottfried or (interim coach) Pearson or Grant, has wanted Hillman on the court. He averaged about 15 minutes a game as a true freshman under Gottfried in 07-08, averaged over 28 minutes a game and started as a sophomore under Gottfried and Pearson in 08-09, and averaged over 26 minutes a game and started as a junior under Grant in 09-10.

The reason these coaches, each running different systems, have valued Hillman is simple: he is an excellent defensive player who makes the team better when he is on the court. His reputation is that of a pure athlete without the shooting and ball-handling touch to match, and while that reputation is not completely baseless, fans focusing on his occasional ill-advised shot or his less than aesthetically pleasing shooting form are missing out on what he brings to the team. In his one season in Grant's system, Hillman averaged 7.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game, placing him fourth on the team in scoring and third in assists. He also led the team with 48 steals on the year. His two assists per game are solid for a shooting guard and shows that he has the ability to open things up for his teammates. His three rebounds per game are also very solid for a player that is very generously listed as 6'2" (he was listed as a generous 6'1" just last year). Finally, averaging eight points per game at this level is nothing to sneeze at, even if it isn't quite to double-digit levels. Hillman is not a great outside shooter for a shooting guard, but he isn't a bad one either. Last season he averaged two 3-point attempts per contest, meaning he was shooting when open but not looking to fog the long balls. His hit rate? 33%. Exactly average for a guard at this level.

Hillman's speed, quickness, and defensive abilities already make him a perfect fit for Grant's up-tempo style and pressure defense. Grant has said this offseason that Hillman has been working especially hard to improve his outside shot. If Hillman is indeed able to further improve shot-making and his decision-making, he could be in for a stellar season in Year 2 of Grant's system. Either way, he's sure to play a big role on this year's team.

#24 Charvez Davis -- Senior -- 6'3" -- 186 -- Montgomery, AL

Charvez Davis originally signed with former coach Mark Gottfried, but then played his first season at Alabama under Coach Grant last year after spending two years playing JuCo ball. As a sophomore, Davis was second in the nation at the JuCo level for 3-pointers made, and while, like most JuCo players, his transition to major college ball was not completely smooth, he nevertheless emerged as the Tide's top 3-point threat last season in his first year with the Tide. 

Davis came off the bench in all 32 games last season, averaging 18 minutes per contest, a number that would have been higher had he not been nursing a minor knee injury for about a month during the meat of the SEC schedule. Despite playing less than half of each game, he managed to average 6.0 points per game on the year. His biggest strength, without question, is his 3-point shooting. Davis averaged right at four 3-point attempts per contest, or one attempt for every 4.5 minutes on the court--a rate he was able to sustain despite his relative inability to create off the dribble thanks to his lightning-quick release on his lefty shot. Even while firing up shots at such a fast rate, Davis was able to hit over 40% his attempts, an extremely impressive success rate. Davis doesn't have great speed or quickness for an SEC guard, and he's not the defensive force that Hillman is, but his shooting ability is extremely valuable on a team that sorely lacks pure shooters.

Davis will be relied on perhaps even more heavily this season, as the Tide's second and third leading 3-point shooters (Brock and Torrance) have since graduated. According to his Twitter account, he's relishing the opportunity--he tweets weekly with countdowns to midnight madness and daily about how hard he is working in the gym to get better. If his hard work is any indication, Davis may be poised to play an even bigger role for the Tide this season.

#22 Andrew Steele -- Junior -- 6'4" -- 230 -- Birmingham, AL

No, that's not a typo or a case of deja vu. According to the official UA roster, Andrew Steele has decided to switch and wear the same jersey number his older brother once wore as a point guard for the Tide a few years ago. While his number may now be identical to his brother's, the younger Steele will be hoping his ability to recover from serious injury will be anything but. After starting the first six games last season, Steele suffered a stress fracture in his left ankle and was forced to miss the remainder of the season after surgery. All indications are that Steele should be fully recovered and ready to fight to earn his starting position back when practice begins in October.

In the six games played before his injury last season, Steele was averaging just under 18 minutes per game, mostly splitting time with freshman small forward Tony Mitchell as the team's third perimeter player. During his short season, he averaged 3.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per contest--not overly impressive numbers, but that's what Steele gives you. He is known more as a strong, defensive-minded guard. He has a particularly large frame (230 pounds) for guard, and he uses that to his advantage both in getting to the rim on offense and in preventing others from doing so on defense. Steele is a 33% career 3-point shooter, so he is capable of knocking down an open look, although clearly he isn't a shoot-first guard as he only averages about one attempt per game from beyond the arc. Inside the arc, he averages roughly two shot attempts per game, knocking down close to 50% of those attempts, so he will look to penetrate and drive on occasion. His biggest strength, and likely the reason Grant had him in the starting lineup before his injury, is his defensive ability. We all know from last season that Grant values defense, and as such Steele is likely to be in the mix for serious playing time this year, assuming he has fully recovered from his injury.

OUTLOOK

Alabama is high on experience and depth at the shooting guard position, but lacks one player that has everything you'd want in a star college guard. What the Tide does have are three experienced players who each have different strengths and weaknesses. Unlike at the point guard position, we have seen all three play at this level and we know more or less what each can and can't offer, but that doesn't make predicting the playing rotation any easier.

Unless Andrew Steele can slide over to the wing/small forward position (he's big enough to do so if needed) and beat out incoming freshman Charles Hankerson or sophomore Tony Mitchell at that spot, all three of the shooting guards above will be fighting for minutes at only one spot on the floor. That would mean that Hillman (26 minutes/game), Davis (18 minutes/game), and Steele (18 minutes/game) would need to collectively cut their minutes by 35% from what they averaged last season. That could mean than one player ends up as the odd man out while the other two split time, or it could simply mean that all three split time and each see fewer minutes than they did last season.

Either way, just like the situation at point guard, there will be some serious competition at the shooting guard position. After starting virtually every game for two seasons now, you'd have to think Hillman is the favorite to start, although it is by no means a guarantee. As the team's best--and only--pure shooter, expect to see Davis come off the bench early and often to provide that extra dimension to the Tide offense, much as he did last season but perhaps with even more effectiveness, as JuCo players usually see a noticeable jump in play from their junior to senior seasons. The wild card is going to be Steele. Trying to predict how he is likely to fit in is much more difficult. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, we could possibly see him as the third perimeter player at times, or we could see him eat into the minutes Hillman and Davis enjoyed in his absence last season. It's possible he could be the odd man out, especially if he doesn't recover fully from his surgery, but Grant has chosen to start him in 100% of the games where he's been available under his tenure, so don't count on that.

None of these three players are likely to end up All-SEC at the end of the season, but they do compliment one another quite well and will provide a good deal of experience and leadership in a backcourt that will need it. Expect a healthy competition at this position that will last all season, and a generous rotation that will allow the coaching staff to utilize the strengths of all three players to the team's advantage.

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