Ever since Nate Oats arrived in Tuscaloosa in Spring of 2019, we’ve talked repeatedly about how Oats likes to assemble his teams - long, mostly position-less athletes who can shoot and defend. The 2019-20 squad was obviously quite short on those expectations, being that it was essentially Avery Johnson’s team. Even the SEC Championship winning 2020-21 group was led mostly by Avery holdovers. Still, that team definitely fit the bill better than last year’s team, which often couldn’t defend a soul or knock down a three-ball to save their lives.
That will not be the case this season. With Oats and company’s complete facelift of the roster, the 2022-23 Crimson Tide will look like what Alabama fans envisioned when Oats was hired - the 2018-19 Buffalo Bulls, but with elite talent and upside.
Starting in the backcourt, while Alabama will be without its First Team Preseason All-SEC Point Guard, Jahvon Quinerly, to begin the season, this might be the best status the point position has been in since the Oats era began. Quinerly himself is expected to be back sometime in December. Prior to that, the lead ball-handling duties will be split by five-star true freshman, Jaden Bradley, and the 2022 First Team All-MAC transfer from Ohio, Mark Sears.
Alabama struggled mightily with turnovers last season, turning the ball over on almost a fifth of all of its possessions. That was in large part due to having only two true ball-handlers in Quinerly and J.D. Davison - and Davison was really prone to the turnover bug. Sears will likely get the first crack at point next week, and while he profiles more as an off-ball scorer (46.1%/41.0%/88.3%), his TO% was only 17.8% in 2022, compared to Quinerly’s 21.3% and Davison’s 29.2%. Granted, he’ll definitely face a step-up in competition, but the hope is that he’ll eventually become a secondary ball-handler when Quinerly returns and Bradley starts to come around. Bradley’s game has been compared to the likes of Chris Paul in that, while he can score himself, he’s much more of a distributor who can also use his 6’3 frame to defend at a high level on the other end. He was a McDonald’s All American for a reason.
Ultimately, I’m looking for Bradley to take over as the starting point guard on this team at some point. He’s exactly what Alabama has desperately lacked at the point position the past few years - a 6’3 smooth ball-handler and elite distributor who can run the offense like a well-oiled machine both in the halfcourt and in transition and can also play tough defense on the other end. It would also allow Quinerly and Sears to play off-ball and focus on utilizing their elite talents (Quinerly’s dribble-drive penetration and Sear’s shooting) instead of carrying the load as primary ball-handlers.
Finally, Rylan Griffen is a four-star freshman that I personally really like. He came on strong his senior year of high school, and at 6’5, can score at all three levels and has the upside to be a very good defender at the two-spot. I wouldn’t expect a ton of playing time from him this season, but he should be a part of the rotation and profiles to be a strong contributor and future starter in Tuscaloosa.
Out on the wing is where you’ll notice the Oats-ing of the roster the most. With Nimari Burnett, Dom Welch, Darius Miles, and - of course - Brandon Miller, this group projects to be the strength of the 2022-23 team. You have to start with Miller. As I wrote in the previous season preview piece, the five-star McDonald’s All-American has been turning heads left and right this preseason. He’s starting to show up in the top-ten of 2023 NBA Draft mocks, and Roger even said that Miller is the best player he’s ever seen in an Alabama basketball uniform. Keep in mind, that list includes Latrell Sprewell, Reggie King, Leon Douglas, Robert Horry, Gerald Wallace, James Robinson, Derrick McKey, Antonio McDyess, Mo Williams, Erwin Dudley, Ronald Steele, JaMycal Green, Alonzo Gee, Trevor Releford, Collin Sexton, Herbert Jones, etc. Need I say more?
Burnett is the ideal two-way swingman - long, strong frame, physical stature, and an ability to knock down shots. He’s listed at 6’4, but he plays much bigger than that. Yet another former McDonald’s All American, Burnett tore his ACL last October, and Alabama severely missed his two-way ability last season. Imagine adding a 38% 3P shooter and elite defender to last year’s team. Additionally, Burnett was known as a leader on the club despite his injury, a component that seemed to be lacking from a lot of the players on the court.
Welch was a four-year starter at St Bonaventure, a team that’s won quite a few games the past couple of years, and even made the NCAA Tournament in 2021. Last season, Welch averaged 12.3 PPG on 41.4%/37.4%/77.8% split, while corralling 6.0 RPG and dishing out 1.6 APG. He also forced 1.3 SPG as well. Originally recruited by Oats while Nate was in Buffalo, Welch is a fantastic fit with a bevy of experience playing winning basketball. And we all know about the potential of Darius “Sky” Miles, one of only three returning players from last season that actually logged game minutes. The 6’6 athlete has shown flashes of being a top-tier starter at times. Unfortunately, he’s been spotted in a boot recently, so he may not be ready to go next week.
Lack of size and depth on the interior has hurt Alabama in recent years, as the Tide has had issues keeping multiple bigs healthy for long stretches. A quartet of post players make up the frontcourt this year, including returners Noah Gurley and Charles Bediako. Both guys had somewhat disappointing debut seasons, as the stretch-four Gurley shot a career worst 25.4% from three, and Bediako really struggled with adjusting to the physicality of high-level college ball. Simple regression for Gurley and development for Bediako should benefit both players in a big way in 2023. We’ve seen both flash at times - there were a couple of games the Tide wouldn’t have won last season without Gurley suddenly turning it on. If these two play like the bonafide starters we were hoping for when they committed, a position of relative weakness could become a big time strength.
That’s in part because four-star freshman, Noah Clowney, has been a pleasant surprise this preseason. The 6’9 product from South Carolina was originally thought to be more of a long-term contributor than a guy who could make an immediate impact, but while Bediako has been nursing an undisclosed injury, Clowney has been showing off at the five-spot. His energy in the paint has been electrifying, as he was consistently dominating the glass on the foreign tour, and even posted a couple of double-doubles. Being able to platoon Bediako and Clowney at center would go a long way in keeping a solid force in the middle of the paint all season. Bediako got into foul trouble a decent bit last season.
And, as I said earlier, Clowney wasn’t even supposed to be the guy who contributed immediately either. That was supposed to be 6’9 JUCO transfer, Nick Pringle. Pringle was considered one of the best JUCO prospects available in 2022. If he’s fourth in the rotation in the paint, Alabama will be quite a bit deeper in the frontcourt than they’ve been in a long time.
The ceiling on this team is really high. As mentioned, this year’s group should look the most like the type that we envisioned when Oats was hired. Long, deep, with scorers all over the floor looking to push the tempo and get up shots. Based on the preseason exhibitions, defense, shooting, and turnovers are still a bit of an issue though. There could be some issues with these areas of the game early on in the season, but this year’s squad has a lot more - and better - answers for these problems than last year’s team did.