The Tennessee Volunteers are off to another slow start compared to their expectations. The Vols are 7-4 thus far; they have no wins over a top-50 ranked team in the RPI, they have a loss to UTEP who is ranked 173rd in the RPI, they have zero road wins, and they have already lost at home to a lesser team in North Carolina State. This was not the start that was expected in Knoxville. The Vols can explain away all of their losses, with the exception of the UTEP loss, but excuses don’t take away the Ls in the loss column. Part of the struggles can be pinned on Jordan McRae not being the player he was last season. McRae entered this season being projected as a second round pick or possibly a late first, but the Vols’ slow start and McRae’s absence as a playmaker has dropped his value.
McRae once again leads the Vols in scoring (18.7 points per game), assists (2.5) and blocks (1.2), while he is second on the team in steals (0.9) and fourth in rebounding (3.3). His stats show that he is the player that he was last season. That player was first team All-SEC, but the results are not good. Last season McRae had a coming out party midway through the year. He went on a scoring spree midway through the season and saved any hopes Tennessee had of making the NCAA Tournament. McRae was given more ball-handling duties when Trae Golden wasn’t getting the job done at point guard, and McRae showed an ability to get to the rim and get a shot whenever he wanted to thanks to his athleticism and wingspan. It worked for the Vols last year, but that isn’t what they need from him this year.
Last season McRae saved the Vols when Jarnell Stokes was struggling. McRae was given the green light by Cuonzo Martin because that’s all the Volunteers had, and he took full advantage. Tennessee doesn’t need McRae to be the scorer he was last season, though; they need him to be a facilitator. Tennessee is 7-12 in the 19 games that McRae has scored 20-plus points and 2-4 this season. With Jeronne Maymon back alongside Stokes, McRae and the Vols should be an inside-out team, but that isn’t the case. McRae should be in catch-and-shoot situations and be showing NBA scouts he is a better shooter, not trying to go one-on-one. His niche at the next level will not be as a scorer; he will have to be a defender, shooter and good passer.
McRae is not a great shooter. He isn’t bad either, but he is a volume shooter who is streaky. McRae is just as likely to go 3-for-10 as he is to go 10-for-13. It has become an all-or-nothing situation with McRae. As of now his NBA hopes fully reside in his ability to get to the rim, but that will be hard with his slight frame. If McRae is going to raise his NBA value he will need to become a more consistent shooter or get better off the dribble. He has shown in the past that he can handle point guard duties. That isn’t asked of him right now with Tennessee having Antonio Barton and Darius Thompson, but he has to be more involved. This team will not be successful with him only being a shooter.
If McRae is able to conform his game to what the Volunteers need, it will also boost his draft stock. His involvement in the offense as a facilitator, a creator, and a shooter will improve Tennessee as a whole and make him the possible diamond in the rough in the eyes of NBA scouts.
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