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In-Depth Player Study: Noah Dickerson

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An analysis of the Husky’s starting PF’s strengths and weaknesses

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Utah Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

We are now one month away from the first game of the UW MBB season! This article is part 2 of a series which will provide an in-depth examination into each of the men’s basketball players returning in 2017-18. They will include a mixture of statistics, film study, and analysis. The statistics will come via a mix of Basketball Reference, Kenpom, and Synergy Sports. There are a lot of unknowns for next season given that the Huskies lost both their primary ball handler/star and their head coach. We may not know exactly how every player will be deployed but we can look at how they played last season and determine relevant trends to inform decisions moving forward. Find part 1 here: Matisse Thybulle.

Background

The 6’8” Power Forward out of Atlanta, Georgia was an unlikely Husky. Dickerson committed to both Georgetown and Florida before finally ending up at Montlake. The latter move only happened after he was released from his letter of intent following the jump from Florida head coach Billy Donovan to the NBA. On several recruiting sites, Dickerson was more highly rated than teammate Marquese Chriss who one year later became the #8 pick in the NBA draft.

Unlike Chriss, Dickerson uses polished footwork and strength rather than exceptional athleticism to score. His freshman season concluded with per 40 minute averages of 13.5 points and 9.3 rebounds. He struggled in particular on the defensive side of the ball where poor fundamentals and below average athleticism led to a plethora of fouls and resulted in Dickerson playing only 22 minutes per game.

Dickerson improved nearly across the board in his sophomore season although still with several struggles on defense. His per 40 minute averages improved to 18.5 points and 12 rebounds while his assist rate doubled and his turnover rate dropped from 18.5% to 13.9%. The combination of these factors with a 10% rise in overall field goal percentage caused his offensive rating to skyrocket from a below average 96.3 to a well above average 115.3.

Dickerson thrived in particular once Markelle Fultz was injured for the final 4 games of the season. In those games, Dickerson shouldered the offensive load and averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds per 40 minutes (and 21 and 10 on a per game basis). Only 3 players in the Pac-12 last year (Ivan Rabb, Josh Hawkinson, and Obinna Olekka) averaged a double double over the entire season. Dickerson’s strong conclusion raised expectations for him moving forward. Let’s dive in now for a more critical appraisal of Dickerson’s skill set.

Offensive Strengths

Posting Up on the Left Block

Dickerson’s overall offensive game is very old school in that it focuses mainly on post-ups with a variety of spins, hooks, and up and unders. While Dickerson is above average in this regard across the board, he is at his best when he sets up on the left block. From that location, Dickerson was in the 90th percentile nationally while scoring 1.132 points per possession and shooting 62.5% from the field. Only 17 players with at least as many such possessions finished at a higher clip including NBA 1st round draft picks Zach and John Collins as well as Wun-Wun impersonator Przemek Karnowski.

On this play, Dickerson’s defender thinks he has done an adequate job cutting off Noah’s angle to the hoop. He has Cameron Oliver waiting with the help defense should Noah choose to go back towards the basket. Oliver was in the top-50 nationally in shot block percentage and is now in the NBA so he normally would clean up in those situation. Dickerson gets around the defender but finds himself underneath the hoop and with Oliver closing in. Oliver is fully ready to meet Dickerson at the summit and block a dunk attempt. However, Dickerson recognizes that Oliver’s feet aren’t quite set yet and puts up the shot attempt without jumping. This allows the ball to get over Oliver’s outstretched arms and safely into the basket.

This up and under move is a favorite of Dickerson’s and shielding the ball on the other side of the rim is an effective way to make up for the fact that he doesn’t have the athleticism to rise up and dunk the ball in that situation.

This is a more traditional post-up attempt. The Huskies clear out and give Dickerson room to operate against Josh Hawkinson (although Malik Dime is too close and gives his defender a chance to help.) Noah is able to use his strength to create just enough separation for him to get a floater up over the defender that swishes through. Noah’s post game isn’t about spinning past a defender to throw down a tomahawk dunk. He’s crafty enough (usually) to know his limitations and to create enough space to get the ball around or over a single defender and into the basket.

Offensive Weaknesses

Playmaking Versus the Double Team

Before diving any further, I’ll give Dickerson some credit. He improved his assist rate from an almost invisible 2.4% in his freshman year to 5.4% this past season. So Dickerson is no longer a complete black hole from which no basketball has ever returned. But he’s still close. When Dickerson does recognize that the correct move is to pass, it can be extremely effective. On this play, Dickerson sees the double team coming and gets it back to Thybulle. This causes a mad scramble by the defense and ultimately results in Fultz hitting an open 3-pointer.

Most of the time however, Dickerson simply attempts to work his way around both defenders. Dickerson shot just 20% on attempts when the defense committed to the double team which ranked in the 14th percentile among all college players. In a one-on-one situation he can often use a series of fakes to get his defender off balance. But against the double team, Dickerson doesn’t quite have the strength to fight through multiple defenders and doesn’t have the size or athleticism to shoot over them both.

Shooting

Dickerson is never going to be a threat from the 3-point line and he doesn’t have to be to improve his shooting. Last season, Dickerson attempted to add a mid-range jumper to his arsenal of tricks. That shot really would have helped open up the offense when Romar insisted on playing Dickerson alongside either Dime or Timmins who also need to play around the basket to be effective.

Sadly, Dickerson wasn’t up to the challenge. There were 31 possessions last season when Dickerson was in a catch and shoot situation. On the possessions when he was unguarded, he made 50% of his attempts which was good for the 41st percentile nationally. Not great considering that most of these were free throw line distance jumpers but not terrible. When there was a defender nearby however, Dickerson made just one out of 13 attempts which was good for 2568th out of 2577 players with at least 10 such attempts.

Dickerson actually shot better from the free throw line than Markelle Fultz last season so he has the potential to be at least an average mid-range shooter. But he has to find a way to keep that same level of consistency when he doesn’t have an unlimited amount of time and there’s a defender closing in on him.

Defensive Strengths

Rebounding

Last season, Dickerson finished in the top-100 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage with a mark of 22.9%. The last Husky to play at least half of the team’s minutes and finish with that high of a percentage was Aziz N’Diaye who had about 4 inches on Noah. He has a wide enough frame that he can get position for rebounds. And he has to do that because he certainly isn’t going to be able to jump over anyone.

Post-Up Defense

This may be a surprise for those that watched Dickerson on the defensive end the past two years but the stats bear this out. When Dickerson was in single coverage against someone posting up last season they scored only 0.613 points per possession which puts Dickerson in the 88th percentile in those situations. These numbers don’t reflect the times when Dickerson didn’t get into position in time to prevent a layup or dunk but when he has position in the post, his strength and wide frame can make it hard for the opponent to score.

Defensive Weaknesses

Guarding Spot-Up Shooters

This aspect should not come as a surprise to those who have watched Dickerson extensively over the past 2 seasons. If there’s one physical limitation that Dickerson has, it’s a lack of explosiveness which impacts both his foot speed and his leaping abilities. That combined with shorter arms means he’s missing the essential characteristics you want in someone designed to step out and guard a shooter. That can be made up for in part by very well-developed defensive instincts but even if Dickerson had those (which he doesn’t) he’d still struggle to contest shots.

Let’s dig into some of the numbers. About 45% of the time that Dickerson was identified as the primary defender, per Synergy Sports, it was in a spot-up shooting situation which was by far his most common play type. College basketball has taken after the NBA and stretch 4’s are all the rage. Dickerson almost always played alongside Timmins or Dime and therefore was often asked to guard a big man who could shoot. He also mostly guarded one of the corners rather than under the basket in the zone. His spot-up defensive possessions were exactly divided half-and-half between man and zone.

When opponents attempted either a catch-and-shoot jumper, a dribble jumper, or drove to the basket they scored 1.2 points per possession. A player with that scoring efficiency on those play types would’ve finished 5th in the Pac-12 last year behind only Bryce Alford, Grant Mullins, Lonzo Ball, and Jordan McLaughlin. Dickerson essentially turned every player he guarded on the perimeter into one of the best shooters in the conference.

Next Steps

Basketball recruiting is much different from football recruiting in that 4 star players are expected to come in and be above average from Day 1. Noah has struggled at times to make the adjustment from high school to college but he appears to finally have become the player many envisioned when he entered the UW.

Shooting is king in this new era of basketball. But there’s still value in having a guy who you can give the ball to around the basket to get you 2 points when the offense is struggling. Dickerson has become that guy. What may help him more than anything else is to play alongside a fellow big man who can at least threaten a jumper. Whether Sam Timmins can become a stretch 5 or Hameir Wright makes an impact as a true freshman, limiting the number of double teams that Dickerson sees in the post will give him a real shot at scoring 18+ points per game. And this is without taking into account the possibility that it’s Dickerson himself who develops that jumper.

Having a savant passer in the post is a huge weapon but realistically, you just need a guy who is aware enough to pass out of obvious double teams. Dickerson raised his assist percentage by 3% between his freshman and sophomore seasons and a similar increase will push his passing ability into the acceptable range for a post player. That combined with his strengths of rebounding and scoring will turn Dickerson into a true offensive weapon.

The defensive side of the ball is where the true unknown lies. Dickerson will never be an above average defender. He simply doesn’t have the physical tools. But the question is can Coach Hopkins put him in a position to be merely slightly below average on defense? If that’s the case then Dickerson becomes a clear net positive rather than someone who hurts just as much as he helps. I’m skeptical that such a transformation can be made in one off-season. But I certainly hope I’m wrong.

2017/18 Predictions:

30 minutes per game, 16.7 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game, 57%/69.5% FG%/FT%

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