After a strong sophomore campaign in which he proved to be a clutch leader, Steele opted to return to Alabama for his junior season rather than claim a likely spot in the first round of the 2006 NBA draft. He has struggled to get into any kind of flow this season, and appears to be clearly bothered by ankle and knee injuries he suffered early in the season. Despite clearly looking like a shadow of his former self, he managed to again step it up with clutch plays for a big home win against Georgia on Saturday, where Alabama had to dig itself out of an early 18-2 hole right off the bat and was behind for almost the entire game.
Steele struggled to find his shot early, settling for far too many jumpers and displaying uncharacteristically bad shot-selection. He clearly lacks the explosiveness he possessed last season, and he never was going to blow you away with his quickness to begin with. This has negatively affected Alabamas entire rhythm, as theyve counted on him to be their sole offensive catalyst ever since Chuck Davis went down with a season ending ACL tear mid-way through last season. He still did a good job of controlling the tempo the best he could against the Dawgs, and created some nice looks for his teammates, even if his team never really got into any kind of real offensive flow.
Late in the game, Steele displayed the clutch ability he has been noted for throughout his college career. He hit 3 shots in the final couple minutes of the game, and made an off-balance buzzer-beater from 15 feet to give 8th ranked Alabama their 15th win of the season. The ability to lead a team has been one of the positives for Steele throughout his college career, and he proved that his leadership qualities were still there despite his struggles this year.
Steeles jump shot looks worse than it was last year at this point, and this can probably be attributed to his injury. He barely elevates off the floor, but is regardless relying on his jumper as a main scoring tool for the time being, despite not being able to create any separation from his defender. He is hitting over 44% of his three point attempts regardless, though, so the Georgia game could probably be considered just an off game as far as his 3-point stroke goes. Off the dribble, he struggles to get by anybody, and has to pass the ball off early in the offense on many occasions. This hurts his ability to create in the halfcourt, and score inside. Steele also lacks the energy he played with the past two seasons, and often struggles to stick with his man on defense.
Though he has clearly struggled this season, Steele still does a good job of involving everyone the best he can on the offensive end. He sees the court very well, and is actually averaging comparable assist numbers to last season. His assist to turnover ratio is almost at 2 to 1 on the season. Much like a savvy veteran NBA point guard would, Steele is using his head to get the job done effectively for his team, rather than his legs. Its not quite clear if this is exactly what NBA teams are looking for in terms of drafting a point guard in the 1st round, though.
Steeles numbers are still comparable to where they were last season, but the way he is playing has taken a step back when it comes to the NBA. It is clear that the injuries have taken a toll on him this season, but at this point he would have been better off declaring last season. If he can get his legs back for the conference season, and lead Alabama in the NCAA tournament, it could do wonders for raising his draft stock back to where it was. If not, look for Ron Steele to return for his senior campaign. Much will depend on the severity of his injury and the potential long-lasting effects he might be causing by playing over 32 minutes a game on it. If he can eventually be expected to return to his old self, he will surely be evaluated in a different light by NBA teams with strong scouting departments.