Report Card 2016: Jalen Rhea

Photo credit: American University Sports Information

Photo credit: American University Sports Information

THE NUMBERS

Minutes
MPG: 16.6
% Minutes: 29.2

Offense
Points: 4.3 ppg
O-rating: 99.7
E-FG: 46.5%
Two-point shooting: 33%
3-point shooting: 33.8%
FT shooting: 66.7%
Turnover rate: 10%

Defense
Rebounding: 1.2 rpg
Defensive reb %: 4.7%
Steals: 0.5 spg

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STRENGTHS
The biggest takeaway is that Rhea went from a player at the beginning of the season who couldn't find the net and shot with little confidence to a key cog in the rotation during the Eagles' two winning streaks that turned the team's season around. When AU was playing well, Rhea — coming off the bench — was usually a part of it. Consider this:

Rhea minutes per game
AU wins he played in: 22.1
AU losses he played in: 14.3

Those numbers exclude the nine games Rhea didn't play in (five DNPs and four after he suffered a concussion diving along the sideline against Colgate Jan. 30). The Eagles were 3-6 in those games. They make it pretty clear that Rhea made the Eagles better when playing well. And that meant him making 3s.

Rhea shot the same from beyond the arc as from two, 33%, but took three times as many attempts from deep (65 to 21). His role on the team was simpler than anyone else's — make shots. It took him a while, but once he did, Rhea became an absolute zone killer — particularly from the corner against the 1-3-1. Navy tried that look Jan. 27, and Rhea's 5-8 shooting from downtown was the difference in a surprising Eagles road win against one of the league's best teams at the time.

Jalen Rhea 3-point shooting splits
AU wins: 17-32
AU losses:  5-33
Pre-Navy game: 6-38
Navy game & after: 16-27

Rhea's jarring shooting splits can be attributed to a couple factors. One, which coach Mike Brennan mentioned throughout the season's first months, was learning to play with the younger guys. Passes weren't always to his chest. Defenders didn't sag off. He often caught the ball away from his comfort spots. Secondly, though, Rhea got a lot of open looks and just missed them. Not getting anything from Rhea until the end of the season's third month was a reason the Eagles simply couldn't keep up offensively with opponents.

Credit to Rhea for sticking with it, continuing to shoot, and finding his stroke to help American on its impressive season-ending run.

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ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
This is tricky, because Rhea epitomizes role player for the Eagles. Asking him to modify his game or make drastic changes as a senior isn't fair or realistic. The 6-foot-2 guard is who he is, mostly. But don't get me wrong — Rhea improving is going to play an integral role in the success of the 2016-17 team:

Free-throw shooting: 66% (14-21) isn't good enough for such a smooth shooter. Rhea should be one of the team's top three at the line and a late-game guy.

Ballhandling: Rhea's good 10% turnover rate belies the fact that he's still shaky with the ball. I know he doesn't handle it much, but if he's out there in crunch time he might be thrust in positions where he needs to.

Defense: This is the  area that kept Rhea on the bench for long stretches of early season games and even out entirely for full games. Rhea is not the quickest lateral defender and when he loses focus that means getting burnt and layups for the opponent. But he improved throughout the year and the effort was always there. Another summer of conditioning, and Rhea can be an average to good defender as a senior.

He also needs to become a better rebounder (see below).

Defensive rebounding rate for Patriot League guards 6-foot-2 or shorter (who played at least 40% of available minutes)
Zack Rufer, 13.4%
Alex Ramon, 11.4%
Andre Walker, 10.4%
Stephen Brown, 9.7%
Austin Tillotson, 9.6%
Kyle Foreman, 9.4%
Bryce Scott, 9.3%
Tillman Dunbar, 8.8%
Cullen Hamilton, 8.5%
Anthony Thompson, 8.5%
James Washington, 7.8%
Kahron Ross, 7.2%
...
Jalen Rhea, 4.7%

Leadership: With Jesse Reed and Marko Vasic gone, there's once again a leadership void that needs to be filled. Charlie Jones and Rhea will be the longest-tenured active seniors on next year's team — Paris Maragkos and Leon Tolksdorf will be seniors in their second year of eligibility with the program — and regardless of whether he's on the court or not, Rhea will need to develop into an emotional leader for a team whose core will still be among the youngest in the Patriot League.

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GRADE: B-

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QUOTABLE
“I think it’s just in our offense where I happen to end up and drives come and the defense collapses and Jesse and Charlie and Delante and everybody are able to find me somehow in the corner and I just happen to be right there in the corner. I’m gonna keep shooting them, I know they’ll keep finding me. I don’t know what it is about the corner, but I’m going to try to stay close to the corner.”

— Jalen Rhea, Feb. 24, after making 3-4 from 3 in AU's 72-65 home win over Navy

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QUICK TAKE
The season had two halves for Rhea, and can almost be categorized as pre- and post-concussion (although pre- and post-first Navy game is more accurate). The most interesting thing to watch next year is whether A) Rhea will move into the starting lineup (doubtful) and; B) How Rhea will fit into the rotation when Brennan inevitably plays Sa'eed Nelson at point guard and James Washington off the ball. That lineup will be too small to also include Rhea, so expect him most likely to be the fourth guard for the Eagles behind those two and Delante Jones, who will also play some three.

Also expect Rhea to feel more comfortable in AU's offense during the season's first three months and have a more balanced season.