If TJ McConnell was the engine that made Arizona’s offense run, then Brandon Ashley was the horsepower.
Ashley was nothing short of brilliant on offense during his shortened sophomore season, stretching the floor with accurate shooting while remaining a major threat to finish at the rim. There aren’t many players in college basketball who can do both as well as Ashley did through 21 games last year.
And that’s a large part of why Arizona won all 21 of those games.
Ashley gave the Arizona offense a dimension that opened up the court for everybody. When he was attacking the rim, he drew defenders inside. When he made perimeter attempts, the defense had to stretch or be burned.
The stress this places on his individual defender is one thing, but the greatest value is how Ashley’s presence changes the way an opponent has to play team defense. That’s how dangerous he is.
The chart below illustrates Ashley’s offensive talent, curated from the free data provided by Hoop-Math.com.
Clearly Ashley’s percentage from deep was good, but what’s more intriguing is that all 11 of his three point makes came over his last 15 full games. The long ball finally clicked for Ashley when he hit his first of the season against Duke at Madison Square Garden on November 29th.
You could see his confidence rapidly growing, as he nailed six of seven treys over the next three games. He only made three during his entire freshman season. The fact that he was just getting started from outside makes his efficiency from deep all the more impressive.
Ashley took a larger portion of his attempts from midrange than his teammates did but he justified it by hitting 42.2% on those shots, second best among rotation players. Ashley’s ability to incorporate the midrange and three point shot was one of the biggest bright spots for Arizona offensively last season.
His ability to finish at the rim has been known since his freshman year, but one area Ashley has improved significantly is getting to the rim off the dribble. As a freshman he drew far too many offensive fouls by lowering his shoulder while driving, but as a sophomore his work in this area translated to more scoring opportunities at the rim. Ashley’s percentage of assisted shots at the rim was much lower than his teammates at 48.9%. By comparison, Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Gabe York were all over 60%.
What that means is that Ashley was not only shooting from midrange, he was putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim by himself. The only rotation player with a lower percentage of assisted shots at the rim was Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with 38.6%.
That kind of dynamic offensive ability is rare from the power forward spot.
But Ashley’s dominance around the rim goes further. He had 25 putback attempts last season, with a putback being defined as a shot taken by a player within four seconds of getting an offensive rebound.
He converted all 25. 100%.
Gordon converted 60% of his putback attempts, while Tarczewski hit 61%. Hollis-Jefferson was closest to Ashley, hitting 77.8% of his putbacks.
Ashley was truly Arizona’s putback king, as putbacks accounted for more of his total shots at the rim than any other rotation player. That’s impressive considering that Ashley also took perimeter shots.
So Ashley was efficient from three point range, hit the midrange shot, got to the rim off the dribble, and exploited the offensive glass into high percentage opportunities.
As a junior, it’s obvious that Ashley will be the focal point of the offense and one of the emotional leaders of the team. As long as his rehabilitation goes according to plan, you can expect Ashley to pick up where he left off as one of the most talented scorers in the country.