KNOXVILLE — Trae Golden’s offensive performance in Tennessee’s season opener against Kennesaw State wasn’t his best, but the junior point guard clearly demonstrated he’s up to the task of running the show, offensively and defensively.
And when Golden needs a break, it seems as though freshman Armani Moore is capable of providing one.
It’s difficult to gauge progress against an inferior opponent, but a canny observer of basketball can tell if a player understands his role and executes it properly. And proper execution tends to translate from opponent to opponent.
Counting last week’s exhibition game, Golden—who last Friday was voted second-team preseason All-Southeastern Conference by the league’s coaches—handed out 14 assists against just one turnover for the week. Granted he wasn’t seeing the defensive pressure he’ll face against some of the teams the Vols play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this week, but Golden seems quicker and more explosive getting into the lane. At 6-foot-1 and a solid 205 pounds, Golden resembles a runaway bowling ball that can take punishment and still maintain course.
His decision-making seems on target, too.
Golden, a prolific scorer in high school, has been working hard on learning the art of the point.
“I’ve been watching a lot of film of great point guards,” he said. “Coach (Tracy) Webster was a good point guard (at Wisconsin). I’m always going to him, trying to pick his brain. Coach (Cuonzo) Martin, we have a great relationship, and we talk all the time, or text. I’m Just trying to get better. I’m growing up and learning more about the game.”
After the Vols’ exhibition, Martin had little to nitpick about Golden’s performance.
“He did a great job running the team,” Martin said. “Eight assists. Zero turnovers. That was impressive. I don't think he passed up any shots either, and that was a good sign. One of things we don't want him to do is pass up shots. We want him to stay aggressive, looking for his offense."
Golden couldn’t recall turning down a shot.
“I’m pretty sure if I did, I didn’t mean to,” he said.
When the game counted four days later, against Kennesaw State, Golden was just 1 of 5 from the field and an uncharacteristic 6 of 10 from the free-throw line. But he handed out six assists against a single turnover. And he had to play only 26 minutes. Martin has said that one of the keys to this season will be whether Golden can get enough rest to be effective.
A year ago, the Vols struggled when Martin had to sub for Golden. This season Tennessee is hoping to get 10-12 minutes of backup support from Moore. Against Kennesaw his stat line was solid: seven points, 2 of 2 from the field, two rebounds, three assists, only one turnover, two blocked shots and a steal.
Earlier in the week, Moore nabbed three steals against Victory. At 6-5, he’s long and can get in passing lanes and alter or block shots, even on the perimeter. And he’s clearly been working hard in the weight room. He looks much bigger than he did when he reported for summer school.
Moore has displayed at least one the skills he was reported to have—the ability to finish at the rim. He seems a bit shaky going to his left hand on the dribble, something opponents will spot in their film work and seek to exploit until he proves it isn’t a weakness.
"I thought he did a good job on the offensive side of the ball,” Martin said after the Kennesaw State game. “He might be a step slow in some areas, but those were quick guards that were making him move off of the dribble. But he is 6-4, 6-5 and that is not an easy thing to do in moving off those screens and I thought he did a good job."
Golden was impressed with the rookie’s first effort under the lights.
“I thought he did a good job,” Golden said … “He just has to make sure he lets everybody know where they need to be. Once he does that, it’ll start clicking better. He just needs to continue to stay aggressive. It’ll all come to him.”