Aly Khalifa was BYU’s first pickup off the transfer portal and looks to be the one that will have the most impact. Coming from a Charlotte team that won its postseason tournament (CBI) he now gets to show his chops in the nation’s best conference and brings an interesting toolset as a stretch 5 that can also be the engine of your offense. Some analytics sites are pretty high on Aly and his impact this season with evanmiya.com starting him out at 59th in the country (best player on the team by 65 spots) and barttorvik.com also having him projected in the top 100 at 89th (best by 20). You’ve no doubt heard about his shooting ability (38% from three on 126 attempts - 40% above the break) and passing but let’s take a closer look at what he brings on both sides of the ball and where he can still improve.
Late cuts and short roll
There have been a good amount of highlights already showing Khalifa’s great feel passing the ball, especially in backdoor cut situations (check out this video, this clip, this one, and this if you haven’t seen any yet). He has a fantastic feel for ball placement and timing for sure but there’s one type of action I noticed while watching some of his games that I was really excited about: hitting the late cut. Usually in a handoff heavy offense like we’ve employed and Aly excels in, you’ll have a guard coming up and the big will refuse the handoff, allowing the guard to continue his cut into a cut to the basket. Since the defender is often trailing in these situations there is a moment where they are open late in the cut if you are good enough to get the pass to them. Aly is definitely good enough.
It’s a tough pass but really effective because defenders tend to let up for just a second after the primary action (the handoff) is through. It’s been a while since we had someone who could hit it consistently (Brandon Davies got quite good at it) and it’s another opportunity for points or a foul that can keep your offense versatile and a defense on its toes. I expect we’ll see a lot of it.
Another piece of passing that I’m excited about is Aly’s potential in the short roll. Some defense’s base ballscreen coverage involves a hard show or bringing the big up at the level of the screen which basically turns into a quick double team on the ballhandler. Last year teams started keying in on Dallin after he got cooking and having a release valve like Aly that can do damage in the short roll will be huge.
Khalifa has a great feel for catching the guard out of position or hesitating just long enough to let them move themselves out of position so he can hit a three point shooter. I especially like the depth he got to in one of the clips that really pulled the defender in and opened up a three pointer on the weak side. While he certainly has the capability it will be interesting to see how often he gets to exercise hit. He shoots well enough that most of his ballscreens are pops and playing alongside another big could make the lane very crowded. How we mesh double big lineups will be a big piece of the upcoming season but there are definitely ways to make it effective, particularly in hi low looks. Again, Khalifa is more than capable of making the pass
BYU has long focused on getting to those hi/lo looks in the offense but have had hit or miss success partially because of passing ability and having someone who can get that pass over the top. Last year Jaxson became the most reliable trigger man for those actions so freeing him up to be off the ball and space the defense more will pay dividends this year.
The nice part about having a versatile 5 who can pass or shoot the three is you can start doing some fun things with them to throw a new look at defenses. I don’t anticipate always running inverted actions with Aly but the potential to throw some interesting looks is really intriguing. Take this set Charlotte ran for him his freshman year against Arkansas that results in a foul
It’s obviously slower than the same action with a guard but look how out of sorts the defensive big looks for a second as the guard goes to set a pin down for Khalifa who correctly reads the defense and back cuts for a foul and free throws. This inverted action is really interesting to play around with. Maybe he’s having a game where he’s hitting threes at a high clip (had six games with 3 or more three point makes last year) so then you can throw in some fun inverted action to open him up for a three
This option to add to your offensive versatility could be a big factor this year as we look to create as many advantages as we can against lengthy athletic teams in conference. He didn’t do it much before but I could even see opportunities for him to bring the ball up the floor after a rebound or even go with a 1-5 ballscreen to try and get him an advantage to either score or, what he likes to do, face a defense out of tilt and find someone open. Having possible multiple levers to pull would be a big boon for BYU this year and Aly is a big piece of that puzzle.
Improve on his shoulder
As effective as he is, there is certainly some room to grow, especially in the low post. Though he was a little better than average in “post ups” at the 68th percentile and 0.94 PPP (per this College Basketball Scouting video), I think there’s some improvement we may see from him down there this year. He has a solid quick move to the baseline, especially when people try to forcefully push on him when he posts up, but at other times, he struggles to maintain his advantage and gets pushed off his line which makes his finishing inconsistent.
In the last clip there he did a decent job of creating space and maintaining his advantage but notice that his momentum is still taking him more away from the basket than towards it. This type of issue can be improved and refined with something our staff usually does a good job teaching our bigs and has been called getting a “good shoulder” on your turn. Here’s a quick look at what that looks like from Kolby and Yoeli
Notice that they are a lot more the aggressor and are more able to maintain their advantage in the post, especially as they turn to get their hook off. Khalifa was listed at 6’11” and 230lbs on Charlotte’s roster last year so there’s definitely potential to move people around a little more but a big question here will be how often BYU puts him in post ups. Sharing the floor with either Fouss or Atiki might cloud those opportunities a bit as he may be most useful in those lineups as another spacer but if and when the post ups come, I’m bullish on the possibility of him being an even more efficient post scorer this year, though.
Going along those lines I’m wondering how much the staff will ask him to do more “traditional” big man things in our offense. Being a stretch 5 and passing hub changes the calculus a bit but it seemed like there were still some opportunities for him to impact the game even more by taking advantage of opportunities to do more “big man” things like rim running, rolling, sealing smaller defenders off the ball, and setting good screens. His screening was here and there in the games I watched but he definitely has the capacity to get a body on people and he’s a big guy so it can be really effective. To be clear, these dirty work things are things that he already does as a smart basketball player, take this sequence in a game against UAB last year
After some nice recognition and head hunting on the screen he gets into the mix on the offensive glass for a tap out and second chance three pointer. He hits those “big man” notes already but I think there’s still room to grow in a couple of areas. Check out this play from the same game where UAB was in a zone and Aly was in the corner.
Usually in these situations BYU tries to get their bigs to seal off the small for a hi low look once that ball gets around the free throw line there. In this type of situation you’d initiate contact with the guard and push him up to open up room for the pass over the top but he doesn’t quite hit it with force and essentially lets the guard close off that opportunity without any resistance.
Similarly I also wonder how much he’ll get coached up on maintaining advantage on rolls as sometimes he wasn’t quite able to take advantage of a mismatch and let the defense scram into a switch back
He sets a great screen to free up the guard and force his man to help over but here you’d also like to see him stop the roll early to get the guard on his back and keep his advantage of two feet in the paint rather than floating out to beyond the block. With a catch so far out he can’t go directly into a move and his defender can recover back in a scram switch.
Another situation that will be interesting to see how it develops is his rim runs. Take this play where he hesitates at the three before realizing that the paint is open.
He eventually does get the catch in the mismatch and creates an advantage but I wonder if BYU will have it more ingrained in him to rim run rather than run to the three point line. Adding him to the mix gives you a lot more options so you don’t want to take away from that flexibility by putting him too much into the post but again but there may be some more efficiency and easy buckets that might be available in playing through him in the post.
Good hands on defense
Defensively by some metrics Aly finished last year as a decent defender. Evanmiya.com had him at 1.38 in its main defensive rating (Defensive Bayesian Performance Rating or DBPR) which is right around where Fouss ended up last year (1.39) and would be 6th on last year’s team. This year he’s projected to be 5th on the team at 1.22 DBPR (Fouss at 1.51 and Atiki leads at 1.92). He makes up for his lack of athleticism with knowing his limitations and having good hands. I was especially impressed with that second point as he’s always looking for opportunities for deflections or to mess up a play by getting his hand on a ball.
I especially like the third clip in that set where he reads the play and sags off to get a hand on it and force a turnover. If anything was clear watching some games of his, he has a good feel for the game, especially offensively, that extends to the other side of the floor and helps him mitigate some of athletic disadvantages that pop up.
Defending in space
When it comes to defending in space he has a pretty good handle on what he can and can’t do, often ensuring that he hangs back enough to not get completely burned in coverages like drop or when switched onto smaller/quicker guys.
I like the recovery angle he takes in one of those clips as well, highlighting his feel for the game again. He recovers to the pop man on a good angle to still be competitive defensively. I also like one of the latter clips in the set where he gets switched on a smaller player and knows that there’s a mismatch behind him so makes sure to keep his hands high and active to discourage an over the top pass.
While he does a decent job when he can get himself set and prepared, things can get dicey against really aggressive guards or when he’s on the move a little too much.
Now one caveat to these clips is that he’s up against a pretty elite guard, Jelly Walker, who spent some time on the Mavs roster before recently getting waived, so not everyone will give him that good of a look. Counterpoint to that is BYU is now in the Big XII where many of the guards are high level and could challenge him like that. It comes down a little bit to how aggressive guards will get because if you don’t challenge him all that much, things are fine. (Bonus points to him for staying on the guard on this off ball switch in this next clip too)
College basketball is such a crap shoot sometimes with how much players get hunted or don’t get hunted but if you put length behind him and rotate aggressively, you can definitely mitigate some issues if you’re choosing him to play at the level. I think most of his reps will come in drop as BYU tends to be in a drop as their base quite a bit and he usually plays his gaps all right in that coverage as far as not giving up a drive to the hoop. BYU has shown that it often is willing to give up pull up twos so this would fit really well with what Aly can give you in that coverage. This is another spot where playing alongside Fouss or Atiki will be interesting, though, as you can get a little more aggressive on ballscreens with them and possibly stash Aly in the corner or on a non shooter. Whatever strategy BYU decides to employ, overall Aly is a capable defender who certainly has limitations but uses his basketball IQ and good hands to compensate.
Aly may not be BYU’s leading scorer this year and I don’t expect him to be the leading rebounder with a guy like Fouss on the team but I think there’s a good chance he ends up being the most important player on the team. Analytics site barttorvik.com has a fun tool called RosterCast where you can add or subtract players on a roster and see how offensive, defensive, and overall rankings are affected. While only one data point in a sea of context, removing Aly from the current BYU roster drops BYU ten spots in overall rankings (from 44 to 54), a full point in offensive efficiency, and decreases their defensive efficiency by 0.6. Needless to say that’s a pretty big impact and only second on the team as far as ranking drop goes (removing Fouss drops BYU 16 spots). The combination of his feel for passing lanes and solid three point percentage gives BYU the ability to give teams a look they don’t often see. He also adds an element of playmaking that BYU lacked last year as the young guys got their legs and D1 experience underneath them and will ease the usage on a lot of the younger players while add another option to keep defenses from locking in on specific coverages. The spacing he provides as a pick and pop threat should also help the younger guards and wings be able to have some more room to operate in ballscreens/handoffs and it should be fun to see him operate on offense, generating a ton of threes and looks at the rim for our guys while possibly pulling a rim-patrolling big out of the paint to make those finishes easier. Aly doesn’t have a ton of experience against top end teams, playing only 2 games against P5 teams in his career so far (Arkansas and Wake Forest) and didn’t play super well against Final Four team Florida Atlantic last year in three games so like the rest of the team will have quite the adjustment going to the Big XII. Given his feel for the game and how the team overall competed against the best teams on their schedule last year, though, I am excited to see how everything comes together.