Alabama coach Nate Oats won’t go as far as to say it makes him mad; it's more an annoyance and a clear-cut example that perception doesn’t always equate to reality.
Jaden Shackelford couldn’t agree more with his coach, and uses what he deems to be the mischaracterization of the Crimson Tide as solely a three-point shooting team as the perfect opportunity to get a good laugh.
“People think because we shoot threes, that’s all we can do,” says Shackelford, a sophomore shooting guard at Alabama. “Anyone who says that can’t watch us a whole lot.”
Yes, the Crimson Tide leads the SEC in three-point attempts a game (29.8), draining them 36.6% of time; yes, they made an SEC-record 23 threes in a win over LSU last month and, yes, 40% of their 80.8 points a game come from behind the arc.
Heck, Shackelford will even grant you that the three-ball is the most potent part of their offense, so long as you remember the two key words: Part of.
“That’s not all we do,” says Shackelford. “That’s what we do best, O.K., but that doesn’t automatically mean we can’t drive, or we can’t score in the paint. We’re strong there too. We can score in a lot of different ways and win in a lot of different ways.”
The Crimson Tide reject the notion that they’re a one-trick pony who lives by the three and will, in a wicked twist of irony, succumb due to its inability to play to its strength.
“It’s called adjusting,” Alabama senior guard John Petty Jr. says. “When they’re not falling, we adjust.”
That said, in their five losses this season, the Crimson Tide shot just 27% (36 of 130) from three.
“It all comes in the flow of the offense for us,” Petty says of their perimeter shooting. “But we’ll make the adjustments depending on how we’re playing.”
Take round two of the season series with LSU; after breaking its own record for threes in the win on Jan. 19, Alabama shot a cringe-worthy 25% in its second meeting on Feb. 3, yet still pulled out a convincing 78–60 win over the Tigers. The Crimson Tide adjusted by converting 52 points in the paint in the win.
“It’s not a three-or-die team, but we’ll certainly take a lot of ‘em if you’re gonna give ‘em to us,” says Oats. “If you don’t want to give ‘em to us then we’re gonna drive the ball and score it in the paint. At least that’s the plan. The rate at which we make threes is gonna determine the margin of victory, not whether we win or not. That will be determined on the defensive end.”
The casual observer wouldn’t associate a group of three-point hoisters with a disciplined defensive juggernaut, but, per KenPom, Alabama is ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency, allowing just 86.7 points per 100 possessions.
It’s an even more impressive stat when considering that its fast-paced, run-and-gun style produces more possessions per game than most teams, with an SEC-leading 1,397 field goal attempts.
“We take the most pride in our defense,” Petty says. “Most people wouldn’t believe that.”
Behind their two-way de facto leader Herbert Jones, the Tide check in at No. 1 in the conference in guarding the three-point line, allowing just 28.5%, and second in field goal defense at 40.3% in league play. Alabama gives up 70.1 points a game, which is a bit of a misleading stat on the surface.
“Some people could compare us to another team that’s just giving up 60 points and think they’re a better defensive team,” Oats said. “Well, they’re not, because we play fast and that means we’ll have more possessions. Most people don’t understand that.”
Shackelford says the apprehension to consider the Crimson Tide a national title contender because of their one-dimensional perception “won’t change anything about how we operate.”
Makes sense for a team firmly entrenched atop the SEC with a four-game lead on the rest of the league.
“We’re still gonna shoot a lot of threes,” Shackelford explains. “Man, if coach ever sees me pass up an open three, he’d go crazy. He doesn’t want us to hesitate or anything like that. He always preaches for us to shoot the ball with confidence.”
And therein lies the key.
The team’s mindset, Shackelford says, “is always that the next one is going in.”
"It’s not normal how confident we are," he adds. "All of us have it, too.”
That much was evident this past Saturday in Alabama's 115–82 shellacking of Georgia. The Crimson Tide set a program record for points in an SEC game and went 18 of 30 from deep.
“A team with our kind of firepower always has a chance,” Petty says. “The crazy thing is I feel like we’re the most dangerous team in the country because we’re versatile offensively. People can think what they want though. Everybody has a game plan until the threes start raining; when that happens you’re in trouble.”