While Nebraska brings back an important core of returners like Derrick Walker, C.J. Wilcher and Keisei Tominaga, the Huskers will once again rely heavily on newcomers this season. That includes Alabama transfer Juwan Gary.
Gary, 6-foot-6, 219-pound wing, started 16 of his 29 games with the Crimson Tide last season, averaging 6.5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per game as a sophomore. That numbers don’t really jump off the page at you, but he was still a rotation player for an NCAA Tournament team last season and brings a unique skill set to Nebraska’s roster.
To get a better feel for what Gary will bring to the table and identify his strengths and weaknesses, I dove into his Alabama film with the help of Synergy Sports.
Gary is a very limited offensive player, but he plays well to his strengths and still finds a way to be effective without much in the way of a jumper or advanced handle. He scored 1.027 points per possession (PPP), ranking him in the 87th percentile nationally and classified as “excellent.” He shot 51.4% from the field overall but just 22% from 3 and 61.1% from the free-throw line.
Gary’s most common play type last season was spot up, though it was also his least efficient by a significant margin. Spotting up made up 31.1% of his possessions (57 in total) and he scored just 0.579 PPP (10th percentile, “poor”).
The biggest problem is Gary just can’t really shoot at all. In spot up catch-and-shoot situations, he hit just seven of his 34 attempts (20.6%) with 31 of them (including all seven makes) coming from the corners. He had some wild misses mixed in there as well.
To expand on this issue even further, in his two seasons at Alabama, Synergy has him at just 9-of-46 on jump shots including 2-of-23 on unguarded catch-and-shoot opportunities. Fred Hoiberg is confident in his ability to develop shooting, but he has his work cut out with Gary.
Additionally, Gary struggled a bit when attacking closeouts. He shot just 3-of-9 from the field (he went 0-for-2 on floaters and got blocked three times). He drew six fouls but also turned the ball over seven times (three charges, two travels and two steals). Gary is strong and a solid athlete, but he isn’t terribly explosive in traffic nor does he display much wiggle off the bounce. He’s pretty much looking to get downhill and will try to go through his defender as often as around him, which can lead to some rough possessions depending on how he’s defended and officiated.
Fortunately, the numbers are much better for all of the other play types that saw any kind of volume last year.
Alabama used him as a cutter on 21.9% of his possessions and he scored 1.2 PPP (57th percentile, “good”).
He was most comfortable operating along the baseline and in the dunker spot (just outside the lane) as that area accounted for 24 of his 40 possessions as a cutter. He shot 11-of-19 with two two-shot fouls drawn and three turnovers. Among his buckets were four dunks and two and-ones.
He also went 4-for-4 on cuts from the weak side wing and 4-for-4 on broken plays (where the defense essentially broke down and left him open). He went 2-for-2 with a foul while cutting during baseline out of bounds plays, 1-of-3 while flashing to the middle of a 2-3 zone and 1-of-2 with a foul on other types of cuts.
Overall, Gary does a good job of finding open spaces, particularly on the weak side and along the baseline. His motor revs high and he doesn’t do a lot of standing around, which allows him to create easy scoring opportunities for himself without ever having to put the ball on the deck. However, he doesn’t have great touch and, again, he’s not particularly explosive. He left some points on the board by blowing a few of those opportunities around the rim.
Here’s a look at some of Gary’s buckets as a cutter last season.
His new coach and teammates have spoken about Gary on multiple occasions since he’s joined the program, and the one part of his game that has come up every time is his offensive rebounding prowess. In fact, Hoiberg has changed his philosophy regarding crashing the offensive glass because of the presence of Gary and others.
“Juwan Gary is going to be somebody that I think our fans will fall in love with right away because of just his tenacity of going to get the ball,” Hoiberg said. “We’re changing our offensive rebounding philosophy, and we’re going to get after it. I think our personnel fits better with multiple players crashing the offensive glass this year.”
Among rotation players, Gary was second on the Crimson Tide in offensive rebounding rate last season at 11.5%, behind only 7-foot- center Charles Bediako’s 11.7%. Put-backs made up 19.1% of his possession and he scored 1.2 PPP (66th percentile, “very good”). He shot 18-of-27 (66.7%) with three fouls and four turnovers.
Gary shot 16-of-22 with two fouls and three turnovers while pursuing a teammate’s miss and 2-of-5 with one foul and one giveaway following up his own miss.
Gary’s motor, feel for where to position himself, long wingspan and physicality make him a threat to go get the ball any time a shot goes up. Here’s a look at some of his put-backs.
“Juwan is ridiculous on the offensive glass,” Wilcher said. “He could probably get an offensive rebound every time a missed shot goes up type of deal. He’s one of those guys.”
The volume wasn’t particularly high, but Gary was also effective in the open floor for the Crimson Tide, which bodes well for his fit in Lincoln. He scored 1.4 PPP (93rd percentile, “excellent”) on just 25 possessions (13.7%). He shot 10-of-16 and drew eight fouls while turning the ball over just once.
Gary shot 5-of-6 with two fouls when he didn’t have to put the ball on the deck to get to the basket and finish. He shot 2-of-4 and drew four fouls while turning it over once when he caught on the perimeter and attacked the basket. He scored once and drew one foul on his only two attempts at leading the break himself. Heck, two of his nine made 3s came in transition as well as he shot 2-of-5 from deep on catch-and-shoot opportunities (2-of-4 from the corners).
One little-used area of his game that intrigues me is him serving as the roll man in the pick-and-roll. He logged just 12 possessions in that role last season but scored 1.167 PPP (74th percentile, “very good”). He shot 6-of-10 and drew two shooting fouls, and all eight of those scoring possessions came when he slipped the screen and found the gap in the defense. He was effective both catching at the rim and scoring (even sealing his defender for an easy catch and finish on one possession) and putting the ball on the deck on a short roll and attacking. However, he missed all three of his pick-and-pop 3s (including one airball).
Again, Gary logged very few self-creation possessions at Alabama. He shot 1-of-3 with a turnover in the post and 0-of-1 in isolation, and he turned the ball over the one time he ran a pick-and-roll as the ball-handler. He also logged just nine assists all season (and 14 in 734 career minutes). Gary is a play-finisher, plain and simple.
Defensively, Gary is a competitor. He isn’t blessed with elite lateral quickness, and he’s a bit undersized as he’s often guarding power forwards, and those weaknesses make him susceptible to a quick first step and taller bigs shooting over him. However, the same motor that makes him dangerous on the offensive glass shows itself on the defensive end of the floor as well.
Gary is physical (sometimes too much so as he’ll occasionally get a bit handsy) and doesn’t give up ground without a fight. He battles through screens, though he’ll switch when the situation calls for it and will sit down and guard to the best of his ability. His length and effort will occasionally allow him to recover even when he gets beat initially to either block or alter the shot at the rim.
Here are some defensive highlights from this past season showcasing all of the traits I described.
Juwan Gary isn’t likely to be a star in Lincoln, but he certainly has a chance to fill an important role based on what he showed at Alabama on both ends of the floor.
“Juwan just brings an edge to him, kind of like a dog mentality that we really need this year,” Sam Griesel said. “And I think he’s going to be just a very fun guy to watch, especially for our fans, just the way he competes.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.