By KEVIN FARRAHAR
(Kevin Farrahar has been the lead writer and video content creator for FriarBasketball.com for the last 11 years.)
Ed Cooley has never been shy about raising the bar when talking about his incoming players. This was never more evident than when Cooley compared freshman A.J. Reeves to Paul Pierce at the Big East Media Day in 2018. No, not physically — Pierce was a near-230 pound tank coming out of Kansas — but due to the variety of ways in which Reeves could score.
Reeves, a top 50 recruit nationally out of Roxbury, Mass., was billed as one of the top shooters in the class of 2018, but to those who tracked him throughout his prep career at Brimmer & May, the designation failed to capture what so many saw — and what Cooley alluded to two years ago.
Reeves was more scorer than shooter, a prospect with a repertoire featuring not only a quick trigger from beyond the 3-point arc, but a crossover that he used to free himself for mid-range looks, an array of tricky floaters in the paint, and a developed fadeaway jumper.
Through his first two seasons at Providence, Reeves has proven he can string together threes in a hurry — in a way not seen by anyone in a Friar uniform since Bryce Cotton graduated in 2014. Yet, it still feels like we are waiting for Reeves’ full offensive game to be unleashed on the Big East.
Cooley and his coaching staff had a lot of mouths to feed last season. As a result, Reeves’ touches were down from his first year in black and white. Reeves’ 8.8 possessions per game (a possession = a play ending in a shot, free throw, or turnover) were good for sixth on the 2019-20 Friars.
To put that in perspective, Alpha Diallo led the team with 17.2 possessions per game, followed by David Duke (13.3), Luwane Pipkins (12), Maliek White (10.5), and Nate Watson (10.5). Reeves averaged nearly ten possessions per game as a freshman (9.7).
While Duke is expected to further break out as a junior, perhaps no one on PC’s roster stands to benefit more from the departures of last year’s senior class than Reeves.
He was used primarily as a jump shooter as a sophomore, with 37% of his shots coming from spot up situations and 18% off of screens.
Reeves’ biggest strides in his second season came off of screen action, where he was among the most efficient shooters in the country last year. On 45 possessions off of screens Reeves averaged 1.222 points per possession — ranking him in the 89th percentile in the nation. That number jumped from .886 points per possession as a freshman (50th percentile).
Only seven Big East players averaged over one point per possession off of screens last year. The list included the top shooters in the league:
- Mitch Ballock, Creighton: 1.844 (on 32 possessions)
- Luwane Pipkins, Providence: 1.425 (on 40 possessions)
- AJ Reeves, Providence: 1.222 (on 45 possessions)
- Jordan Tucker, Butler: 1.138 (on 29 possessions)
- Sean McDermott, Butler: 1.133 (on 45 possessions)
- Markus Howard, Marquette: 1.115 (on 87 possessions)
- Myles Powell, Seton Hall: 1.063 (on 143 possessions)
Reeves’ overall numbers dipped from his freshman to sophomore season, thanks in large part to his struggles in the first semester. As a freshman, Reeves got off to a fantastic start and averaged 9.8 points a night on .423/.705/.381 shooting. His sophomore numbers read 7.4 points on .374/.667/.342. After a 15 point season opener, Reeves went six games without scoring in double figures before coming through clutch in a narrow win over Pepperdine in Anaheim, Cal.
Conference play saw a jump in his percentages, highlighted by .412 shooting from 3-point range in Big East games — tops on the team and seventh in the league. Providence does not win at Marquette without his game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds, and another huge three and left-handed finish in overtime. His 6-of-8 shooting from deep and 22 points helped spur a second half surge in a home win over Creighton.
For Providence to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2021, Reeves’ emergence as an all-around scorer will be critical. The Friars graduated three of their top five scorers from a season ago, including their leading scorer in Diallo, and a guard in Pipkins who led PC’s late-season run with a scoring spree that included outbursts of 24, 27, and 23 points in the season’s final six games — all victories.
In order for him to emerge, Reeves will need the opportunity to be more than a jumper shooter, however. He has flashed the ability to be so much more.
As a sophomore, Reeves took 190 shots from the field (roughly 6.5 shots a game), and 111 of those came beyond the arc. Free throws attempts were few and far between. Reeves took just 39 free throws last season, which ranked seventh on Providence.
The free throw numbers were down slightly from his freshman campaign. Reeves was fouled on 8.3% of his possessions as a freshman, compared to 6.9% last year. This speaks to a lack of scoring situations where Reeves is attacking the defense.
Reeves was billed as a versatile scorer in the mold of Pierce — someone who can get buckets inside and out. Instead, he has been put in a similar role to that of Jalen Lindsey. Lindsey was a solid performer, especially during a junior season in which he shot 46% from deep and made 74 threes, but an overwhelming amount of his offense came from deep. Lindsey took 785 shots as a Friar, and 585 were from beyond the arc. Nearly 75% of the shots he attempted during his Providence career were 3-pointers.
Reeves’ ratio isn’t nearly as high as Lindsey’s (58% of his shots have been 3s), but the feeling exists (at least from this corner) that he has not been fully unleashed through two seasons.
When Reeves was left open as a sophomore he was deadly, averaging 1.579 points per possession on open jump shots — good for third in the league behind Creighton’s Mitch Ballock and Villanova’s Saddiq Bey. Reeves shot 52.6% on those opportunities.
After leading the team in scoring on a summer trip through Italy prior to his freshman season, Reeves immediately shined. He looked on track to win Big East Freshman of the Year over the first two months of his college career, when he scored 29 points in his college debut, 19 the next time out versus Wichita State, led PC in scoring in a win over URI, then hung 24 on Boston College on the road. Reeves was named Big East Freshman of the Week in three of the season’s first four weeks. But when he injured his ankle in a December loss to UMass he was forced to miss over a month and derailing his freshman campaign.
Health hasn’t always been on Reeves’ side during his college career. He missed time last January after suffering a concussion, and is currently working his way through an ankle injury that has limited him in this fall’s preseason practices. Reeves is expected to be close to full health by the start of the season.
Reeves and Duke, AAU teammates with the Mass Rivals, came to Providence fully intending on getting Providence to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. That very well could have happened last spring had the season not been cut short.
Now with a retooled roster, it will be incumbent on Reeves to take his game to another level — and the staff to find different ways to get him looks — if the Friars are to get there.