It’s a close game against a ranked opponent, with only a few minutes to go on the clock. The team needs a bucket badly, and the game’s final momentum swing hangs in the balance.
Who takes the shot?
Good question. Every elite team needs a go-to scorer that can get a basket or free throw attempt all by themselves, especially late in the clock when the game is on the line.
Who will fill that role for Arizona next year? Another good question.
Last year it was Nick Johnson. According to Hoop-math.com, Johnson attempted 47 field goals with five seconds or less to go on the shot clock last season. Many of these were contested jumpshots when Arizona was in a true bail-out situation.
The next most field goal attempts with less than five seconds left was 19, a mark hit by both Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. That makes Johnson’s 47 late clock attempts look all the more impressive.
With Johnson and Gordon gone, Arizona will obviously be searching for someone to take on the role of offensive closer, the guy who takes the shot when the clock is ticking away and the game is teetering between sweet victory and bitter defeat.
Hollis-Jefferson is the obvious choice.
Though he won’t be the most experienced player on the team, Hollis-Jefferson has maybe the best one-on-one ability of anyone on the roster.
Freakish athleticism and a nose for the rim make things like this possible when you let Hollis-Jefferson play his game (click that link).
Crossover from the three point line, one dribble, flush. Hollis-Jefferson makes it look ho-hum, but that’s a gift on display that NBA professionals wish they could bottle and sell.
Hollis-Jefferson’s ability to create off the dribble and attack the rim is downright silly. It’s unfair. It’s why he shot an elite 83/113 at the rim last season, or 73%.
But of course, we’ve heard of Hollis-Jefferson’s much maligned jumpshot. It’s true, he couldn’t shoot outside the paint to save his life last year. It was bad.
That was last year. With an offseason of refined shot mechanics, you can be certain his shot will be more reliable.
If it’s not, there are plenty of other players on Arizona’s roster that are capable of creating points out of late clock situations.
Brandon Ashley, Arizona’s top inside-out threat, comes to mind. The Wildcats don’t have another player on the roster who can challenge defenses from the paint and three point like Ashley can.
Ashley’s versatility makes him a perfect fit to be the team’s closer. He’s proven that he can hit the long range shot, which places a great deal of stress on his defenders knowing that he can also use his length and height to score in the paint.
If the Wildcats are in need of a score in a grind it out game, Ashley can be effective no matter where the defense’s strength lies.
Every team needs a closer. That player doesn’t have to be the leader, nor does he have to be the most talented.
Being the closer is about being a gamer, and putting a team on your back in crunch time. It’s a skill, similar to what we describe as clutchness.
There are multiple players that can fill that role for Arizona. As long as one of them does, the Cats should have a great chance of advancing in the postseason.