Alkins missed the Wildcats’ first nine games after needing surgery on a broken bone in his foot. Frankly, he’s been sorely missed. Arizona sits at 6-3, the first time they’ve lost three times in their first nine games since the 2011-12 season, a year they ended up missing the NCAA Tournament.
Rawle had a very good freshman season in red and blue and it should be assumed that he’ll step in and be one of the best players on this year’s Wildcat squad. However, bringing players on to the floor in the middle of the season is not always a simple process. And with three losses on the Wildcats’ record as it is, there’s not a lot of room for error. Let’s take a look at what Rawle Alkins adds to the team:
Arizona’s defense has not been pretty to start the season. There’s a lot of holes, scheme wise, and the players haven’t made up for those holes with their effort.
Effort from Alkins is never in question. He gives everything he’s got when he’s on the defensive end and that is something this team desperately needs. Alkins will be the guy taking each opponent’s premier perimeter scorer and will do his absolute best to lock that guy down. He’s no slouch in the post either with his large frame and footwork, a talent that will certainly come in handy on a team that has surrendered more points in the paint than any other Pac-12 team.
He averaged nearly one steal per game last season and at one point had nine straight games where he had at least one. His steals faded toward the end of the season but it wasn’t due to lack of effort. Alkins stays home on most defenders instead of playing passing lanes.
The biggest benefit of having Rawle back at the defensive end is his intensity and leadership. There’s enough freshmen on this team that Alkins’ mentality can be contagious, much like Kadeem Allen’s defensive mindset was a year ago. Arizona’s defensive effort must improve and if everybody follows Rawle’s lead, easy buckets for the opponent will be few and far between.
Alkins can truly do a little bit of everything and he proved that last season. In his freshman season, he averaged 10.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
Those averages are nice but they don’t tell the full story of what he’s capable of. Alkins had two double-digit rebounding efforts including a 15-rebound game in the regular season finale against ASU. He averaged nearly five boards per game while rarely being in the optimal defensive rebounding position. That’s because he was a machine on the offensive glass. He averaged almost two offensive boards per game and had three or more nine separate times last season.
He averaged more than two assists despite the fact that the team almost always had a point guard on the floor in either Kadeem Allen or Parker Jackson-Cartwright plus Alkins’ usage took a dip when Allonzo Trier returned to the team in January. It may feel like a long, long time ago but PJC missed nearly the entire month of December last year so Alkins filled the role of backup point guard in his absence. In that role, Alkins averaged 3.5 assists and dished out six assists in a game twice. With such skilled bigs on this year’s team, Alkins’ playmaking ability could come up huge.
And while he scored just under 11 points per game last season, he shot a surprising 37 percent from deep. When he came to Arizona, people expected Alkins to showcase a bully-ball game where he would drive to the rim with reckless abandon and try to eat opponents alive at the rim. He did some of that but he also showed a finesse to his offensive game and a legitimately reliable shot from deep.
A Third Option
Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier have carried the load on offense for Arizona so far and while they’re two of the best offensive players in the country, that can’t last forever. Before long, we should expect Ayton to see regular double teams in the post and Trier is already seeing more pressure as he struggled to get anything going against a Texas A&M defense that didn’t allow him to drive to the basket.
Alkins adds a nice third option on offense to take some of the weight off Trier and Ayton’s shoulders. Alkins won’t be the volume scorer that Ayton and Trier are — he topped 20 points just once last season — but his presence on the floor can take those double teams away from Ayton and pressure off of Trier. Especially if Alkins’ 3-point shot is falling like it was a season ago.
With Alkins being inserted into the Arizona lineup, as long as he’s not on a minutes restriction, he will likely start seeing 30 minutes per game very soon. As a freshman, Alkins averaged 28 minutes of action.
He’s earned the right to play close to 30 minutes but this does mean that the minutes will have to be taken away from other guys. The biggest detriment to Alkins deserving his time on the floor is it could end up halting the development of a few Arizona freshmen.
Ira Lee has received a minimum of 12 minutes in each game this season and has been Arizona’s most consistent interior defender. Alex Barcello has shown signs of being a good playmaker off the bench in his time on the floor. Emmanuel Akot has already seen a major dip in his minutes which has been credited to knee tendinitis. But how much do these guys play when Alkins is at full strength? Brandon Randolph has emerged as a contributor. Dylan Smith just had his best game as a Wildcat. Will they see less time?
This team has a chance of being one of Arizona’s deepest teams in memory. But if Ayton, Trier, Jackson-Cartwright and Alkins are all around 30 minutes per game, there’s not much time for the potential depth to get truly comfortable. It will be interesting to see how Sean Miller manages playing time.
As always, it’s not easy to just jump in to action, especially coming off a broken foot like Alkins. We could very well see a minutes restriction put in place until the coaching staff knows Rawle is at 100 percent.
It’s also unlikely Alkins will play at the breakneck pace he’s shown in the past. His return will be a process and it’s highly unlikely we’ll see the Rawle Alkins of a year ago on Saturday. But we will soon and now that he’s a year older, he’ll likely end up a new and improved version.
The Wildcats are now at full strength and they’re trending up. It’s time to live up to expectations.