Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America, and was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
South Carolina outing uncharacteristic for Harris
Arkansas guard Jalen Harris dribbles as he is guarded by South Carolina guard Hassani Gravett during a game Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Columbia, S.C.
FAYETTEVILLE — Mike Anderson often commends point guard Jalen Harris for being a pass-first guard, especially following games when the sophomore finishes with impressive assist numbers while keeping turnovers to a minimum.
This season alone, Harris has seven games without a single turnover and has committed two or less in 17 of the Razorbacks' 23 games. In the same vein, he is second in the SEC with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.23:1.
It's nothing at all to scoff at and for a majority of the season, Harris has been exactly the type of quick play-making guard Anderson needs to distribute the ball to shooters like Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones and a forward with the ability of Daniel Gafford.
Saturday at South Carolina, Harris strayed a bit from what from has brought him national notoriety in regards to his assists figures. Harris, who grew up on the East Coast in North Carolina and had family in attendance, played outside of himself in some ways in the loss to the Gamecocks, finishing with a career-high 16 shot attempts, which led all players in the game. Gafford took five shots in the loss, and just two over the final 35 minutes of the game - one came on a tip-in following a miss by Joe.
Against the Gamecocks, Harris' usage rate - a measure of personal possessions when a player is on the court, assigning credit or blame when his actions end a possession either by making a shot, missing a shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense, or committing a turnover - was 35 percent, far and away the highest in his college career.
It had never been higher than 24 percent this season, and it peaked at 24 percent once during his freshman season at New Mexico.
That usage rate of 35 percent, comparing it nationally, is on par with the likes of forward Ethan Happ at Wisconsin and Markus Howard at Marquette - two of the premiere players in all of college basketball and candidates for National Player of the Year.
Of his 16 shots over the weekend, he finished 4-of-11 in the lane and 1-of-5 on jumpshots outside the painted area. I noted in my postgame thoughts column following the loss that the Razorbacks are 1-4 this season when Harris takes more than 10 shots in a game this season, and the lone win came in late January against Georgia, which is next to last in the SEC with only one conference win.
And on top of the shots attempted, Harris turned the ball over a career-high-tying five times, matching his outing against LSU in Bud Walton Arena in early January and in a loss to UNLV during his freshman season with the Lobos. He began the game with an errant entry feed to Gafford, then, in the final minutes, committed two turnovers - one an illegal screen on the perimeter.
Harris' splits this season in games Arkansas has won versus its losses are interesting to look at. In the Razorbacks' 14 wins, he averages 9.1 points on 39 percent from the floor and 6.4 assists per game while committing under one turnover. In the nine losses, he's at 8.6 points per game and is shooting 33 percent on better than nine attempts. His assists also drop off to a still-solid 4.4, but he commits an even three turnovers per game.
For the season, Harris' usage rate sits at 19.4 percent, which is good for third on the team behind Gafford and Jones, so Saturday's game could be chalked up to something of an uncharacteristic performance. It's not often that Harris goes solo and tries to create for himself.
But, with a lack of meaningful movement and screening action from teammates on the perimeter it can force Harris to take things into his own hands late in the shot clock, where, if in a hurry, poor decision making and shot selection can take place. Should Harris get back to playing his game - creating for teammates, pushing the pace, using his speed to open up the floor those around him - Arkansas should be in fair shape Tuesday at Missouri.
As I've written before, with Arkansas as average at it is on the offensive end this season, especially in conference play (100.2 points per 100 possessions - 12th in SEC), it almost cannot afford too many ill-advised shots. As Anderson has said throughout the season, working the ball inside-out and funneling offense through Gafford is the key.
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