After a packed start to the 2017-2018 season the Gators are enjoying a week off before continuing their non-conference slate by taking on in-state rival Florida State. On the heels of the Phil Knight Invitational that saw them take on three challenging opponents in four nights (one of them being a double overtime game) the rest is welcomed. Things don’t get any easier for Florida, as they still have games against ACC opponents Florida State and Clemson, a Cincinnati team currently ranked 11th in the nation, and a sneaky good mid-major team in Loyola-Chicago before entering league play in the SEC which has looked tremendous top to bottom so far in non-conference play. With six games already under their belts, I thought I’d take a look at each player’s performance so far and break down what they are doing well and what they can improve on as we head towards the gauntlet that will be SEC league play. This will be part one of a two-part article, as I look to get in depth about each Gator. Being discussed in order of jersey number, let us begin.
Generally considered to be the lowest ranked of the Gators’ 2017 recruiting class, Okauru has been a fantastic surprise by earning a regular spot in the rotation. Using his length and laser focus you knew he was going to defend at a high level, but his offense and jump shot were always in question. Dispelling those criticisms early, Okauru has shot 5-7 from beyond the arc. If he can continue to provide dogged perimeter defense and shoot the ball as well as he has so far, he’ll continue to earn minutes on this loaded Florida perimeter.
Strengths: His shooting, as mentioned. Not only has he gone 5-7 from three, they were confident, in rhythm jumpers that were contested. That is one of the signs of a good shooter. Defensively he has been incredible in contesting jump shots, as opponents have shot a dismal 11.1% when Okauru has closed out.
Things to Improve: Playing in transition. Now, believe me, I understand how tough it must be as a freshman to adjust to the pace this Gators team is at, but when you play as well as Okauru has early, we have to nitpick. Where many Gators have excelled in this capacity, Okauru has only been average in transition, averaging 1.09 generated points per possession (points+points assisted) in transition with the ball in his hands. When he can get up to the speed of guys like Chiozza and Allen, White will find him even more opportunities.
Playing in a crowded frontcourt and missing several days of practice leading up to the season due to a concussion, we haven’t seen much of the 6’9” freshman yet but what we have seen so far has been pleasant. His athleticism is apparent when you see him reach full sprint in transition, and he has gotten up for easy dunks off two feet and skied above the pack for offensive rebounds. Known to be a good 3-point shooter in practice, he hasn’t attempted any yet this season but it’s a part of his arsenal that will be sure to delight Florida fans when it makes it’s appearance. It is early, but Johnson looks like the kind of player perfect for Mike White’s system.
Strengths: Offensive efficiency. He’s at a neat 1 point per possession when used offensively so far, putting him in 71st percentile nationally. He has also been good on the offensive glass getting 12.8% of misses, which would lead me to believe he’ll be improving on his current 6.4% on the defensive glass.
Things to Improve: Interior defense. The sample size is small and I’m sure this number will go down, but so far he is allowing opponents to convert at 80% around the hoop. That number is extremely high and some of that has to with him rotating over to help a teammate when an opponent is already in a great place to score, but Johnson also has given up some mass in individual matchups which has allowed for some easy buckets. With Egbunu still out the Gators need interior defense from their bigs, and if Johnson could improve here he could see more minutes.
Tied for 29th in the country in scoring, Jalen Hudson has been an electrifying guard whose coldblooded shooting in traffic has earned national attention. Though he filled it up in Florida’s first three games, it was his explosive 35 points in the PK 80 where he almost single handedly won the game for Florida over Gonzaga that really solidified him as one of college basketball’s most elite scorers. Rebounding isn’t his first focus, but he showed against Duke that he can contribute in that area when he needs to by hauling in 10 boards. Leading Florida’s dynamic perimeter group of KeVaughn Allen, Egor Koulechov, and himself, the Gators truly have one of the best sets of wings in the nation. Hudson should continue to be instant offense whenever he’s on the floor, and he very likely could be a guy that NBA teams are interested in this summer should he declare for the draft.
Strengths: Shot making. His ability to shoot off the bounce is incredible, particularly when it comes to hitting these shots when contested. His 48.7% from three on 6.5 attempts per game is impressive enough on its own, but is truly amazing when you go back and look at the difficulty of his attempts. One of the most interesting stats about Hudson is his shooting percentage when guarded versus unguarded. When wide open on a catch and shoot attempt, he is shooting 44.4%. When he is guarded, he is shooting 72.7%. Obviously, almost everyone shoots the ball when unguarded, but Hudson is an anomaly who seems to love the pressure of having a defender in his face. He’s also been excellent with the ball in his hands, as he is above 1.2 points per possession in both transition and as a pick and roll ball handler. He is truly a treat to watch for Gators fans.
Weaknesses: Defending, particularly on closeouts. He possesses the length and speed to contest shots, but he is in the bottom 10% nationally when it comes to defending jump shots. His defensive reputation wasn’t high coming out of Virginia Tech, but he has the skills to improve. His ability to score will keep him on the floor in all key possessions, so an improved performance from him defensively, even in a few key possessions, would go a long way for the Gators.
It didn’t take long for Koulechov, the graduate transfer from Rice, to endear himself to Florida fans. Opening the season with a 34 point night going 6-9 from three against Gardner-Webb made him an instant fan favorite, a notion that continued through the PK 80 when he was constantly forced to battle larger players. Going up against Stanford’s Reid Davis, Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams and Duke’s Marvin Bagley in three consecutive games, he showed his willingness to bang down low with players that tower over his 6’5”, 205 pound frame. Coach White’s trust in him is evidenced by the 30.5 minutes per game he’s getting, as well as the fact that he has taken 26.3% of the Gators’ shots while he has been on the floor. The second highest scorer on the team with 17.7 points, what step he takes when John Egbunu returns will be of interest. After playing a lot of power forward to start the season, a return to the wing could save him a lot of energy not having to battle much larger players down low, but he could have less favorable offensive matchups as he has done a good job of exploiting larger post players having to guard him on the perimeter. A veteran player, I trust he’ll be able to make whatever adjustments are necessary in order to be effective against the SEC.
Strengths: Shooting and rebounding. This is no surprise to Gators fans, as his ability to knock down the three point shot and rebound despite his diminutive frame were his calling cards when he was on the graduate transfer market. Shooting 48.5% from three, his constant pressure on defenses keeps help side defenders from wanting to leave him, which opens up the floor for his teammates. This spacing has been extremely key to the up-tempo offense that Florida has relied upon this season. On the glass, his 7 rebounds per game helps Florida get out and run, as when he gets a board he is able to dribble the ball out himself and start the break. On available rebounds he has grabbed 16.5% on defense and 8.5% on offense, both very good numbers.
Things to Improve: Picking his spots. When it comes to scoring on different play types, there isn’t anything lukewarm for Koulechov. There are the places he excels like in transition and on unguarded catch and shoot jump shots, but there are also places he really struggles like shooting off the pick and roll and finishing around the rim through contact. Whereas catch and shoot threes in transition have become his bread and butter, he has continued to use mid-range one-foot runners and turnaround shots that have shown to be less effective instead of using screens and off-ball movements to get the catch and shoot threes he can drill. The difference in these shots is evidenced by the fact he shoots 50% on unguarded jump shots, but only 22.2% when guarded. If he can limit the tough shots he sometimes takes, it could really help his and his team’s efficiency.
Part of Florida’s incredible wing group this season, the Gators’ leading returning scorer has found himself far from the only offensive weapon on the roster. After starting the season slowly, Allen really picked up his play against tough competition scoring 23 points and Gonzaga and 17 points against Duke. Using his muscular but compact frame, he is often relied upon to guard the opposing team’s best player while also working for his own shot on offense. Leading Florida with 31.5 minutes per game it’s clear that Mike White clearly loves what Allen has been doing and in a lot of ways Allen’s game of speed and intensity really embodies Mike White basketball. A new element of Allen’s game has been playing some point guard, a role that he has done extremely well. With Chiozza graduating next year Allen could see even more time at point, and with a lot of NBA scouts looking at Allen he could see the point guard as a better position for him at the next level. Point guard, shooting guard, combo guard, whatever you want to call him, he has been an important part of Florida’s success.
Strengths: Playing with the ball in his hands. When Coach White declared that Allen would be playing some point guard this season, there were some critics who questioned whether Allen would flourish in that role. He has answered those critics with really strong play at the point, using the threat of his speed and shooting off the dribble to pressure defenses and allow Florida’s offensive sets to materialize. He has been particularly good at passing out the pick and roll, and passes out of that set have led to the Gators shooting 55.5%. He has also been really good at defending the opposition’s pick and roll, limiting them to 40% effectiveness.
Things to Improve: Offensive efficiency. Shooting 36.5% from the field this year is a far from optimal, and it’s definitely a number Allen would like to improve. His 34.3% from three is near the national average, but for a player some people expected to be in the discussion for an All-American team it definitely needs to improve. His biggest problem finishing has been in transition, where he is only shooting 28.6%. Not only is that number low, but a whopping 32.5% of his shots come in transition. That is a lot of shots for a play type he’s struggling to convert from. His powerful frame and breakneck speed would suggest he would excel in transition so this could certainly be a place where improvement could occur. Given the numbers he has posted while having below average efficiency, if he tightens that up he could rocket up the scoring charts.
Where do you think these Gators have excelled this year, and where do you think they could improve? Leave a comment here or post on the Gator Country forums, and look out for part 2 of this article where I look at the remaining players on the roster.