A very easy player to write off after the horrendous season he had last year, A.J. Price
has bounced back incredibly strong to deliver a Big East player of the year type season, leading UConn to 10 straight wins at the moment, and solidifying himself as one of the top point guards in the country in the process.
In hindsight, its easy to realize why Price has struggled so badly last season, after sitting out two full seasons with health (a brain hemorrhage) and then legal (the laptop scandal together with Marcus Williams
) problems keeping him off the court. He had a hard time shaking off the rust last season, struggling through poor conditioning and a complete lack of confidence, but is now starting to show some of the terrific offensive skills that made him such a highly regarded high school player to begin with.
Price is a scoring point guard, quick, with average size and solid ability to change speeds and get by defenders off the dribble. Hes a very skilled and very aggressive offensive player, who makes his living primarily in the mid-range area. He loves to use the pick and roll to find space to get his shot off, looking terrific hitting step-back shots, and showing a terrific right-handed floater with range that extends all the way out to the free throw line. He elevates off the floor extremely well to create separation from his defender, is outstanding hitting shots on the move, and has one of the most lethal 15-foot pull-up jumpers youll find anywhere in the country.
When extending beyond the 3-point line, Prices jump-shot loses some effectiveness, although he can still make shots at a solid rate. He is hitting 38.5% of his attempts from behind the arc, albeit on a limited number of attempts. There are some question marks about how well hell be able to expand his range past the much further NBA line, though, as his shooting mechanics are somewhat unorthodoxkicking his feet, flailing his elbow out, and sometimes even releasing the ball on his way down.
In terms of his slashing, Price is quick enough to get by his man, and does a fairly good job of creating opportunities for himself, but still leaves something to be desired in his ability to finish around the basket. He lacks some size (hes probably closer to 6-1), strength and explosiveness, and therefore has a tough time finishing plays in traffic (hitting around 47% of his attempts at the rim). His very advanced mid-range game helps alleviate a lot of concerns here, though.
What makes Price intriguing is that beyond his scoring, he is also having a pretty spectacular season as a playmaker, surely when evaluating him statistically. Out of all the players in our database, Price currently ranks 4th in pure point guard rating
, and 3rd in assist to turnover ratio
. Even though he is a scorer by nature, Price does a very good job creating not only for himself, but also for teammates, especially with the work he does on the pick and roll. He executes UConns offense efficiently, finding the open man unselfishly, making solid post-entry passes from the perimeter, pushing the ball up the floor, and rarely turning it over.
Price is the type of point guard who does a better job finding players from the perimeter (often with bullet passes straight into the teeth of the defense) than he does on the drive and dish. At times he gets a little stubborn or single-minded looking for his own offense, but UConn would probably not have it any other way. Once hes on the move, though, particularly in transition, his court vision looks somewhat average, and hell at times miss an open man. Even though hes a redshirt junior, his all-around experience level isnt where you would normally expect it to be, and at this point, he is swimming in uncharted waters still. That could all change very quickly if he manages to lead his team deep into the NCAA tournament.
As skilled a player as Price is offensively, he might be just as poor at times defensively. It doesnt look like he was ever really pushed much on this end of the floor in high school, and its not hard to see how little effort he puts into this part of his game now. He gets caught behind screens on a regular basis (his lack of strength hurts him here), and doesnt quite have the size or length to fight through them and contest shots. Considering his average physical tools (his lateral quickness is nothing to write home about either), he will have to put much more effort into this end of the floor if hes to be considered adequate in the NBA.
From what we can tell so far, Price looks to have all the makings of a very solid backup point guard at the next level, but he could probably still show that he has even more potential for the NBA by returning to school next season. Unless he really explodes in the NCAA tournament, hed likely be best served using his senior year to improve on expanding his range, his perimeter defense, and his all-around experience as a floor general.