Bama Hoops Hype

Braxton Key is Draft-Bound: What does that mean for the Tide’s future?

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After a stellar freshman campaign that left Tide fans craving the next season, Tide forward Braxton Key declared for the NBA draft — much to the surprise of members in the Alabama basketball community.  Key did not hire an agent, which means he is eligible to return should he decide before the deadline, but the decision has still sent shock-waves throughout the Tuscaloosa fan-base.

But should we really be that surprised? Key was by far the strongest member of the Tide roster last year, time and time again carrying Avery Johnson’s team throughout most of the season. He finished the year averaging a team-high 12.0 points, but that was far from the only category Key lead the team in (Our Player Report Card breaks down Key’s entire freshman season).

The other factor that could have played in Key’s decision was the incredible recruiting class that Johnson has coming in for this next season. While Johnson succeeded in bringing home the top-ranked recruiting class in program history, his class may have backfired; scaring his rising star into declaring for the draft early. While it was clear that Key was the man for the Tide this last year and managed to produce nearly every time he stepped on the floor, the hype surrounding the incredible backcourt of Collin Sexton and John Petty may have been too much. Perhaps the spot-light being placed on the fabulous freshmen on the way made Key believe his best shot at being noticed and capturing a roster spot in the NBA was becoming more and more a now or never decision.

Regardless of what provoked Key’s decision, it’s important to see exactly how this loss will affect the Tide’s upcoming season. It’s Johnson’s third year — the make-it or break-it year — and one that promises great success, but with the Crimson Tide’s number one scorer no longer returning, will the weight of the offensive load thrust upon these two super-star recruits be too much?

The back-court for this next season is incredibly strong and miles deep. Two five-star recruits do tend to fill it up quite a bit. Combine Sexton and Petty with the proven talents of Dazon Ingram, Brandon Austin, and Avery Johnson Jr. and you have a beautifully strong backcourt capable of taking over a game to work with.

The worry, however, appears to be in the Tide’s front-court. Riley Norris is the only returning “true” small-forward, and while Johnson could easily slide and extra guard into his three spot to provide a bit more pace to the line-up, there are times when size is what’s required to succeed and the Tide just don’t have that many experienced forwards to fill the hole that Key is leaving behind.

There are members of that record-setting recruiting class that offer a bit of hope to solve this issue for Johnson. Alex Reese — a 6’9, 220-pound, four-star forward out of Pelham High School — might just be getting a quicker call to action than expected, required to give quality minutes in a key role for the Crimson Tide this season. 6’5, 180-pound Herb Jones, the three-star signee out of Newbern, AL could be the finishing touch needed to ensure a deep Alabama roster in all areas of the floor this campaign.

While Avery Johnson’s intentions for the season as far as style of play is concerned are not entirely clear, the piece necessary for any successful team — a sturdy backcourt — is certainly present.

As far as big bodies go, the Tide are more than capable of competing with the biggest teams in the SEC and beyond. With Donta Hall and Daniel Giddens returning, combined with the promise of the Tide’s fifth and final signing of this recruiting campaign, Galin Smith, Tuscaloosa faithful can rest assure that rebounding should not be a worry going forward. The 6’10, 220-pound center from Clinton, MS was not ranked coming out of high school, but under the guidance and mentorship of both Johnson and his fellow big-men, the sky is the limit for where he ends up.

The announcement of Braxton Key’s departure to the NBA draft definitely shook the Alabama Men’s basketball fan base, but it should not rattle them. While the loss of the Tide’s freshman phenom from a year ago would be a blow to the Tide’s roster, the bright futures of those that remain should definitely outshine the darkness going into this massive year in the Avery Johnson era.

Johnathan Anderson covers Alabama Men’s Basketball for Bama Hoops Hype. You can follow him on Instagram, via @johnathananderson_ and Twitter, via @JohnathanA_.

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