Following the twists and turns of Jalen Hudson’s season has been a whirlwind and after what was probably his best game of the season against LSU where he finished with 15 points it has come the time to look at what he has changed in his game to go from the 10 minutes per game he was playing early in the conference season to the 27 minutes per game he is back to now. What has he improved on, how much has he really improved, and what can he keep getting better at to both help himself and contribute to winning basketball? Here is what I’ve found out.
How Much Has Hudson Improved?
After a disastrous start to the season it is clear Hudson has gotten better but I still think he’s got a long ways to go to get back to last season’s form, if he does get back to that level in the short time remaining in the season. He does have double figures scoring in 4 of the last 6 games but he hasn’t been that efficient quite yet. He’s shooting 39.6% from the field in those 6 games which isn’t that great, though it is an improvement on the 29.4% he was shooting on the year up to that point. As I mentioned earlier the LSU game was probably his best performance of the year as he started 5-6 from the field but he did end up going 1-7 the rest of the way and missing a lot of open shots. The consistency still isn’t there but he is definitely improving on the first few horrific months of the season.
Where Is Hudson Still Struggling?
Hudson’s primary skill over his career, the jump shot, is still not falling at anywhere near even a league-average rate. While it was good to see 3 of 7 threes fall for him against Tennessee he had only made 7 of his last 32 attempts prior to that (21.8%) which is only slightly worse than his season average of 23.5% which has a pretty good sample size of 98 attempts. I wrote earlier in the season about the fact that 65% of Hudson’s catch and shoot jump shots were closely guarded and that was too much, but much to my dismay that number has since climbed to 70.9%. He’s still not great when it comes to shot selection and that has really hurt him as he’s shooting 28.2% on those guarded jump shots.
Where Has Hudson Improved?
When Hudson was exploding offensively last year it was all primarily with one tool and that was his jump shot. The biggest thing that has betrayed him this year? That same jump shot. Never known as someone who could really beat his man off the dribble, his suddenly crooked jumper left him without a lot of weapons in his offensive arsenal and that is why he was rendered ineffective for most of the 20 games to start Florida’s season. However, what has really jumpstarted his scoring has been a recently found ability and desire to put the ball on the floor and try to get into the paint. Playing in isolation has been his best usage by the metrics this year and the 47.1% affective field goal percentage he has on these clear-out plays has him as a top-tier isolation player in the country. A year prior he would use isolations to try to create room for a side-step jumper but these past few games he’s been using it to try to get to the rim and he’s been great when he’s gotten there. At 55.8% around the basket Hudson getting to the rim has been a much better shot than the tough jumpers he is prone to taking. Part of this is has been aided by the fact Hudson has been playing the power forward spot due to the Gators’ frontcourt injuries. Playing the 4 has allowed him to get some favorable matchups against slower players that he can drive by, something I’d love to see him do whenever he’s got a plodding big on him.
He’s also gotten a bit better as a ball handler out of the pick and roll. Earlier in the year he was always looking to attack and get his own shot off a pick and roll and that usually lead to him taking a tough shot in traffic. He has started looking for shooters and cutters when he has come off those ball screens and it’s helping the Gators a lot within their offense. Part of that is the spacing that has come from the Princeton offense that Coach White has implemented recently and it has provided some better angles for Hudson.
Even though I pointed out earlier that Hudson is taking a lot of bad catch and shoot jump shots he has gotten better at shot selection when it comes to pull-up jumpers off the dribble, an area he really struggled earlier in the season. Those shots still haven’t been falling for him (20.7% on those looks, yuck) but he has started to really shoot less of them. After around 30% of his shots were off the dribble at the start of conference play that number is down to 18.5%, a number that could still go down but a number that does show some improvement in shot selection.
It also should be noted that Hudson’s notoriously poor free throw shooting has gotten better as of late. He’s hit 11 of his last 13 attempts and though that isn’t a major sample size it’s been good enough that in late game situations he’s able to be kept on the floor and opponents haven’t been able to exploit him. It’s incremental things like these that have contributed to Hudson getting more playable.
What Shot Needs To Go?
Anyone into analytics will tell you that the floater is one of the worst shots in basketball. They go in far less than you think, they don’t draw fouls as the goal of the shot is to get it off before contact comes, and you’d almost always be better off shooting a different shot. It’s definitely true in Jalen Hudson’s case as he’s been shooting 25% on floaters and has taken way too many of them as they account for 12.7% of his attempts. A lot of the time when he takes floaters he has been settling and I would much rather have him take another shot. Floaters usually happen when a player is driving to the hoop. For that reason, I would much rather have Hudson continue to drive the extra few feet to try to get to the rim and draw contact, maybe making the shot (remember he’s shooting 55.8% at the rim) or getting fouled. The other thing he could do instead of taking a floater is stopping and popping to take a mid-range jump shot. Now I know what you’re thinking,
“You’re an analytics guy and you should know the mid-range jumper isn’t a high value shot!”
“You’ve been ragging on Hudson’s jump shooting ability, why would you tell him to take more!”
Yes and yes, but even Hudson is shooting 33% on mid-range jump shots and that’s better than his conversion rate on floaters. I prefer the first option of taking it all the way to the rim, but a stop and pop jump shot is even better than a tough floater.
Has Hudson Gotten Better Defensively?
Yes! I really think he has. There has been a major change that has really helped him out from an individual defensive standpoint.
He is better now that the Gators go small and he’s guarding power forwards.
Perimeter defense was always an issue for Hudson. He didn’t have great lateral quickness or anticipation and he was often caught reaching which lead to blow-bys. Playing one of the three perimeter spots for Mike White also requires you defend more in the full court and you also are relied upon in the half court to rush to double teams and dig down against post ups. It’s not easy to play defense as a guard in Coach White’s system and Hudson never thrived at it. Now that he’s playing the 4 defensively he’s been able to stay home on his man a little bit more away from the ball and not have to guard as many explosive perimeter threats. The small ball lineup often means Hudson is guarding the least talented player on the floor (let’s be real, that has what the power forward often is in modern basketball) and now that he doesn’t have defend the dribble on the perimeter he isn’t exposed as much. The only issue that has come from Hudson small ball is the fact that he is not good at defending post ups and has gotten abused when teams have pounded it inside on him. Obviously he’s gone his entire career up until recently not having to guard inside so this is a tough spot for him, but as we also know the post up isn’t super common in the modern game. There are teams like LSU and Kentucky that will try to play on this matchup but going forward the Gators could generally be okay defensively with Hudson at the 4.
There are still some pieces missing in Hudson’s defensive game and I think he needs to close out a lot better and sprint to rotations a bit harder but he has been better than he was earlier in the year.
I know I threw out a lot about Hudson’s game but if I had to boil it down it’s that the jump shot still is an area of weakness for him and he’s been finishing inside so he needs to make scoring at the rim a priority. I’m sure he’ll knock down the occasional jumper from time to time but I think he game needs to be predicated on beating his man off the dribble and getting it inside. It’s what is best for his game personally and it’s what is best for a Gators team that doesn’t have a lot of players skilled when it comes to the art of the drive. Continuing to eliminate the bad shots he takes and instead replacing them with higher-value shots would take his game to the next level and help the Gators win big games. Hudson is going to have some favorable matchups coming up in the future and the Gators will need him to create in isolation to help the offense function. For the Gators to make a run in March they’ll need contributions from Hudson and as he continues to slowly get better we might get to see the best of him before the season is done.