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Early Return(er)s: Quarter-Season Basketball Review

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A look at the early contributions by the 2nd year players and where each has improved or declined

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Texas Christian Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, we are approximately one quarter of the way through the college basketball season. Now that we have a month to wait before the bowl game with Alabama, I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there who are just now paying attention to Coach Romar’s squad. This is a good opportunity to get up to speed by looking at the returning players for the Huskies to assess how their roles have changed from last year. Five players who were a part of last season’s team are back this year playing meaningful minutes: David Crisp, Noah Dickerson, Malik Dime, Dominic Green, and Matisse Thybulle. Dime is a senior by virtue of being a JC transfer but all 5 are in their second year at UW. Let’s take a closer look at each in order to get a sense of how much a second offseason with the program changed their game. (All stats from either kenpom.com or basketball-reference.com)

David Crisp

One thing is evident from looking at the table above. David Crisp has been a really really good shooter this year. Shooting 46.2% from deep is completely unsustainable but Crisp was viewed as a great shooting threat entering the program and if he can settle in the 38-40% range for the season it would still make him a tremendous asset. Not only that but Crisp has also almost doubled his free throw rate which is the percentage of free throws taken for every field goal attempt and shows how often a player gets to the line. 29% still isn’t great but it is much better than it was and is mostly a result of the next point.

The biggest change between last year and this season is Crisp’s role. He is being asked to be the primary ball handler when Fultz is off the floor. Last year, either Dejounte Murray or Andrew Andrews was on the floor at all times so Crisp played almost exclusively off the ball. Crisp isn’t adapting very well. His assist rate has actually gotten worse this season despite being asked to distribute more often and unfortunately so has his turnover rate. No player on last season’s team had a turnover rate as high as his current 21.8% and this is an area where Crisp absolutely has to get better moving forward.

I included BPM to the stats table, which stands for Box Plus/Minus. It looks at a player’s value by seeing how much better the team does with them on the court versus off of it. It’s an adjusted number per 100 possessions so 0.0 is the average player, 5.0 is very good, and anything over that is exceptional (FYI, Fultz has an out of this world 12.0 so far). Despite shooting so much better this season, the team has been worse when he’s on the court. That isn’t necessarily to be unexpected when you factor in that he is out there for basically every minute that Fultz isn’t playing. And Crisp is no Fultz (nor is anyone else on this team). But the defense is a real concern. There are flashes where Crisp looks engaged and tries to get in his opponent’s grill but most of the time Crisp is slow to rotate, goes under or over screens opposite of the scouting report, and gets caught ball watching.

When beginning this research I was frankly surprised to see how good Crisp’s statistics looked. Watching every game makes you much more pessimistic about Crisp’s performance than the stats would otherwise suggest. He is just prone to bad basketball at times. At the end of the half against TCU on Wednesday, Crisp secured a rebound with 24 seconds left. Every person who has watched even a modicum of basketball knows the correct play is to slow down and play for the last shot. Instead, Crisp sprinted down the floor and jacked up a contested three and gave TCU a chance to extend their halftime lead. On the bright side, I felt the same frustration about Andrew Andrews during his sophomore year that I do about Crisp right now so there is definitely hope for the future. However, his game IQ and dedication to playing true point guard when Fultz is off the court need to improve to help the team right now.

Noah Dickerson

Coach Romar began the year bringing Dickerson off the bench before realizing that Sam Timmins is not quite ready for prime time and re-inserting Noah into the starting lineup. Right now, he is the only realistic post threat that the Huskies have. Last season Dickerson really struggled at times making shots around the basket in traffic. This year his shooting percentage is up significantly which is partly due to an improvement around the rim. It has also been helped by an increased ability by Noah to knock down the long 2. He’s demonstrated that he can become an efficient pick and pop player alongside Markelle Fultz and it can be a go-to look when the normal flow isn’t working.

It might be the move slightly away from the basket on occasion but his free throw rate has dropped almost 15% from last season. Dickerson is at his best being the bull in the china shop down low and using his strength to keep position while getting fouled. I expect that number to rise a little and it might just be a matter of small sample sizes and not getting the whistle to this point.

However, the increase in his counting stats may be a little bit of fool’s gold. His defensive rebounding percentage has gone up by 5% but Dickerson is not very athletic and is undersized when asked to go up against Power-5 big men. Playing against programs with 6-7 centers, as he has multiple times this year, naturally plays into his game. Later in the season he’ll have to improve his technique to sustain these results against conference opponents.

The athleticism is unfortunately a huge concern on the defensive end of the floor. While Dickerson does a lot of things well, the team has been worse when he’s been on the floor so far this season. BPM is broken down into offensive and defensive components and the team has been above average when Dickerson’s on offense but even worse in the negative on defense which measures up with the eye test. Noah puts in effort and is willing to hit the floor to take a charge but the coaching staff needs to do a better job figuring out ways to protect him on defense because he is very unlikely to ever be a true asset on that part of the floor.

Malik Dime

Malik Dime may be my biggest individual disappointment so far this season. He showed a lot of glimpses at a more sophisticated offensive game last season despite clearly being quite raw. I had hoped that he could become a reliable two points with a good entry pass this year. So far that hasn’t been the case. I was shocked to see that Dime’s usage rate has been constant between the seasons as it feels like he’s been pretty much invisible on offense. Part of that may be that Dime just hasn’t pulled down as many rebounds this season and thus isn’t getting the easy put back as often. Both his offensive and defensive rebounding percentages have decreased to this point which hopefully isn’t a long-term trend.

Dime has still been acceptable when he’s gotten the ball despite what I said in the previous paragraph. His shooting percentages are way down this year which may be a result of him getting the ball in different positions. It’d be nice if the team could run some sets early in the game to get Dime some touches with a chance at an easy dunk. His free throw rate has skyrocketed this year so if he can get back to shooting 75% at the line it will add a couple more points per game. Perhaps the most significant change though is that Dime is no longer a black hole. He already has more than 3 times as many assists this season as he had all of last season! Maybe we try running Dime out as the backup point guard while Fultz is getting a breather.

Without Marquese Chriss, Dime is the only true rim protector on the roster this season. Matthew Atawe has shown tiny glimpses of playing this role but his inability to contribute on offense means that Dime needs to be the guy defensively for the Huskies. He’s still blocking just as many shots to this point but I feel as if Dime is missing more rotations than he did last year. Several times he has been a step late and just slightly better awareness would really help this team avoid their struggles defensively. Additionally, he appears to be getting dragged out to guard the perimeter more often as at least 5 times this year a stretch four has knocked down a three-pointer over Dime. I wouldn’t hate seeing us run a little more zone to keep Dime out of foul trouble and limit his time spent guarding the perimeter playing against big men who can shoot.

Dominic Green

Of the five, Green had the most limited role last year but is receiving a good amount of minutes as a 6th man type this season. At times it seems as if he is determined to show that he has a more well-rounded game even if it’s occasionally to the detriment of the team. Last season Green was used as a spot up shooter as nearly 2 of 3 attempts from the floor was a three-pointer. So far this year that number is down to 50/50. Green is willing to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop and he’s already made more free throws than he did all of last season (although part of that is the incongruous 47% he shot from the line last year).

The biggest thing though is that whether inside or outside of the arc he has shot the ball much better this season. Keeping up these percentages may not be sustainable but if they are it bodes very well for his future as a reliable scoring presence. Green’s turnover rate is the lowest on the team outside of Malik Dime but unfortunately his assist rate is about half of what Dime’s is. On the offensive side of the ball, Green is a perfectly serviceable backup wing if he were to keep this up over the entire season.

Unfortunately, there’s the pesky matter of defense. Green is part of the trio of returners ,along with David Crisp and Noah Dickerson, who have frequent defensive breakdowns. He clearly has the length and the speed to be at the very least an average if not a good defender but the basketball IQ just isn’t there yet. Lineups that have to rely on Crisp at the point guard and Green as the two guard are pretty much layup lines for the opposition and Romar has to stagger minutes and manage fouls so that Fultz or Thybulle are out there at all times.

Matisse Thybulle

Speaking of Thybulle, along with Dime, I had very high hopes this season for Matisse and he has been hit or miss in meeting those expectations (although mostly hit). On the offensive end of the floor, Matisse has been dynamite with the ball in his hands. Across the board his stats have improved: points up, assists up, shooting percentages (all 3) up, free throw rate up, turnover rate down. He also has shown an improved sense of offensive flow. He can still knock down the 3 but he’s gotten better and smarter inside the arc. Last season, when Matisse drove to the rim the only outcomes were a dunk, a missed dunk, or a turnover. This season he’ll take a dribble or two and then pull up and nail a mid range jumper.

He also continues to be a menace on the defensive end. He’s so long and so athletic for his size that he gets his hands on absolutely everything. He’s top-200 nationally in both block and steal percentage which I’m sure can’t be a very common happenstance. The continuing problem though is his propensity to foul. His number of fouls per 40 minutes is identical to last season’s rate which is a disappointment. Matisse, Dime, and Fultz are the only three players on the team who have shown the capability of consistently playing above average defense and they can’t get into foul trouble and expect the team to win.

The most frustrating element has been a continued trend to foul immediately after a turnover. I don’t have a way of going back to check but I would bet that at least half of all of Matisse’s turnovers were immediately followed by a personal foul hacking the guy who got the steal. The strong desire to make up for a mistake is extremely admirable but Thybulle has to be smarter about it. The only part of his game that has declined has been the rebounding numbers. I don’t have a good guess as to why his rebounding percentages are down but Matisse is such a good athlete that I don’t expect it to be a long-term concern.

This season has confirmed my belief that Matisse has a good shot at getting drafted down the road. I would be surprised if it happened this season but then again, I’d have been surprised if you told me that Murray or Chriss were going to be drafted at this point last season. The 3 and D wing is one of the most coveted roles in the NBA right now and Thybulle looks like a prototype. I expect that more than a few scouts who show up to watch Fultz end up becoming enamored with Matisse if they show up on a night where he keeps the fouls under control. But for Romar’s job security he better hope that Matisse sticks around because the improvements he has made over the off-season show that his floor as a senior is likely as a 1st-team all-conference player.