2017-18 SEC Player Preview: Braxton Key

In Features by Blake Lovell

The versatility of Alabama forward Braxton Key was fully on display during his freshman season in Tuscaloosa.

Key led the Crimson Tide in scoring with 12 points per game, finished second in rebounding with 5.7 rebounds per game, and offered many other contributions that went well beyond the stat sheet.

Now, after withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft and returning for what appears to be a promising year ahead for Avery Johnson’s squad, Key has a chance to show even more versatility.

While Alabama may not need him to put up 20 points every night, it will need him to offer the same type of production on both ends of the floor if the Crimson Tide are to challenge for an SEC crown.

Inside the Numbers

The scoring and rebounding numbers were good on their own, but the biggest sign of Johnson’s confidence in Key came via another statistic.

Key led Alabama in minutes per game, averaging 29.8 on the season. He played in every game and started all but four games on the year.

In the team’s final 16 games, Key only twice played less than 30 minutes.

Once again, it was Key’s versatility that forced Johnson to keep him on the floor as a freshman.

And that experience will do wonders for the even larger role that Key will play this season, both in terms of production on the court and leadership off the court.

What They’re Saying

“Braxton had a huge season for us in making the SEC All-Freshman Team, and that was a huge honor. He’s gotten stronger, he’s worked on his balance, and he’s worked on his decision making.

And really more than anything, he’s worked on just being a leader. He was voted one of our captains this year by his teammates, and I think he’s embraced that leadership role.”

– Alabama coach Avery Johnson on our Marching to Madness podcast in September

Lovell’s Analysis

It almost feels as though Key’s impact has been undervalued a bit due to the highly-talented 2017 recruiting class that’s created quite the buzz this offseason.

But the evolution of Key’s game has really been impressive to watch, and he’s had a tremendous roster of coaches him that have guided him throughout the years.

He had the opportunity to play for two excellent high school coaches in Steve Smith (Oak Hill Academy) and Drew Maddux (Christ Presbyterian Academy), and now he’s playing under a coach like Johnson who had plenty of success at the NBA level.

But while some players try to coast by on talent, that hasn’t been the case with Key.

He’s found ways to improve his game each year, and as we saw last season, that’s led to an overall product that will keep getting better from here. It’s the variety of ways that he can impact the game that gives Johnson the luxury of using him in many different areas.

Key is one of those players that always has a workmanlike demeanor to him, and that’s been important to his development.

If Key can continue to fine-tune his offensive skillset and use that added strength to be even more of a factor on the defensive end of the floor, he’ll get that opportunity to succeed at the next level.

However, for now, he’ll be the driving force in trying to guide Alabama to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

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Blake Lovell is the founder of Southeast Hoops. He hosts the Marching to Madness podcast, which features interviews with coaches around the country. He also hosts a weekly college basketball show on WNSR 560AM/95.9 FM in Nashville. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Athlon Sports, Rivals, FanRag Sports, and many more.