Friar Basketball

Is a Breakout Year in Store for AJ Reeves?

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AJ Reeves packed a lot into his first nine games in a Providence uniform.

He kicked off his Friar career by making 10 of his first 11 shots from the floor and shattering PC’s freshman debut scoring record with 29 points on 7-9 shooting from beyond the arc versus Siena.

Three days later it was more of the same: 7-10 from the field, 19 points, a pair of and-1s, and a couple of threes in a loss to Wichita State.

And on it went. Reeves was the only Friar starter to score in double figures in a 59-50 win over URI (15 points, 3-6 from 3), he made a pair of game changing plays in a second half comeback against South Carolina with an and-1 and a 3-pointer, and he looked every bit a star in the making in a 100-95 overtime win at Boston College.

The BC game had to have been particularly gratifying.

Playing just steps from the campus of Brimmer & May, where Reeves grew into a can’t miss recruit in high school, he connected on four 3-pointers, including three down the stretch in a thrilling win over the Eagles. This included a game-tying deep one with two seconds remaining to send the game to overtime. He finished the night with 24 points.

Unfortunately for Reeves and the Friars, he injured his foot the the game after the BC win — a shocking loss to UMass in which PC blew a 20 point advantage. He would miss Providence’s next nine games, a stretch that saw the outside shooting deprived Friars start 2-4 in conference play.

Reeves, and the Friar offense, never seemed to recover from his injury.

While he shot a respectable 35% from 3 in conference games, Reeves was pushing 50% from long range prior to going down against UMass. He averaged just under eight points per game in conference play, and while his 9.8 ppg and 38% shooting from deep on the season were more than respectable numbers for a freshman, the AJ Reeves we saw post-injury was the not the offensive force of the season’s first month.

When looking at how the injury impacted Reeves, the most telling number may not be his shooting percentage from the field, but his free throw attempts.

Reeves had six and-1s through the season’s first nine games, yet took only 12 free throws once Big East play began. He has long been labeled a shooter, and his outside shot makes him dangerous as both a spot up threat and someone who can get easy looks cutting behind defenders eager to keep him off the 3-point line. Still, I have long held the notion that Reeves is much more than a shooter — he is wired to score in a variety of ways.

Reeves was used mostly in spot up situations as a freshman. Eighty three of his 201 shots from the field came when spotting up (either spot up jumpers or drives from spot up catches), and he was generally very solid (0.95 points per possession). Statistically, he was an above average finisher in transition and near the upper tier nationally when scoring off of cuts (77th percentile), albeit in limited attempts (13).

Reeves’ bread and butter will continue to be his outside shot, and Ed Cooley and his staff will look for ways to free him up off of screens like they did a year ago.

The first play below against Marquette is a good example of what could be to come. It’s an elevator screen (Reeves cuts between two screeners) in which Reeves is left open for the type of 3-pointer he made a living on at the prep level.

After Joey Hauser can’t break through the screeners, Reeves takes one big dribble to the right, Theo John stays home on Nate Watson, and the result is a wide open look.

Watch Reeves clips from his senior year at Brimmer and you will see the comfort level he has knocking down shots off of one big dribble to his right.

Providence also found success when they ran Reeves off of screens for 3s at the top of the arc, or just inside from 17 feet. Here we see Reeves get a great look against Villanova and hit the game-tying shot versus BC.

 

The last shot in this clip shows something PC did little of last year — getting shots off of handoffs.

Reeves also found success cutting behind defenders, as he did when URI overplayed him last year.

 

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For Providence to step up from NCAA tournament qualifier to second weekend of March material they will need to not only improve upon a down year offensively last year, but see the backcourt of Reeves and Luwane Pipkins turn in consistently dynamic offensive performances.

Seemingly every game for Providence was a grind, and that is partially by design, as Cooley has built his teams on toughness and being a pain in the ass to play. Yet, every March we see the importance of big time shot takers and makers, and Providence has potentially two of them in Pipkins and Reeves. Plus, it’s awfully hard to dig your way out of a hole without offensive firepower.

Reeves is a bit of an anomaly for Cooley’s Providence teams. The Friars have not featured a two guard with anything resembling this level of offensive upside in the Cooley Era, and despite his struggles in returning to form after last year’s injury, the expectation here is that Reeves not only finds more consistency in year two, but he scores in more diverse ways.

He flashed the ability to score on offensive rebounds last year (his first career bucket was a left handed tip in), and it will be interesting to see if Reeves is given more isolation opportunities after having virtually none as freshman (a good comp would be Myles Powell on Seton Hall, who took just 12 shots in isolation as a sophomore but saw that number spike to 104 last season).

Another key for Reeves in his second year will be to find his defensive footing. The advanced numbers tell a story that the eye could see — he had his struggles on that end as a freshman. Missing a portion of the non-conference schedule and the early Big East games did not help in that regard.

Regardless, his post-injury numbers dip and defensive metrics have not stopped several outlets from mentioning Reeves as a potential second round NBA draft pick as early as next spring. There is an enormous amount of offensive upside here, and Reeves could very well push for all league honors as a sophomore.

His emergence is not only one of the key storylines for Providence in 2019-20, but potentially in all of the Big East conference.

Twitter: Kevin_Farrahar

 

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