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In-Depth Player Study: Sam Timmins

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The Strengths and Weaknesses of UW’s Sophomore Kiwi Center

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Timmins

We’re finally here! This article is the last in a series providing 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. You can check out the other entries here: Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson, David Crisp, Carlos Johnson, Dominic Green, and Newcomers/Bench.

Background

The 6’11” center from New Zealand was viewed as a potential sleeper when he signed with the Huskies. Timmins was one of 22 invitees to make the New Zealand national team and Scout viewed him as equivalent to a 4-star recruit. Given that the last time Romar went overseas for a commitment it was eventual #3 overall pick Enes Kanter (Kanter later switched to Kentucky but was ultimately ruled ineligible for NCAA play), there were reasons for excitement.

Timmins arrived on campus in January of 2016 and Coach Romar decided to redshirt him even though the frontcourt could have used reinforcements. Romar raised some eyebrows last summer when he said “He’s going to have to develop and be a little more athletic and be a little bit quicker”. That evaluation seemed to be true as Timmins struggled with the speed of the game at times during his freshman season.

The big man played just 36.4% of the team’s minutes despite the loss of Malik Dime for much of the season with a hand injury. Timmins’s turnover problems gave occasional flashbacks to the first season of Aziz “Hands of Stone” N’Diaye. Timmins had an assist percentage of 3.3% and a turnover percentage of 30.5%. Aziz’s numbers in those categories his first year were 2% and 22.8% respectively.

However, Timmins did ok with his opportunities when he was able to get a shot attempt up. He shot nearly 51% on his 2-point attempts and averaged 8.7 points and 10.6 rebounds per 40 minutes. On the defensive side, he blocked 1.7 shots per 40 minutes which showed some promise as a rim protector.

Offensive Strengths

Offensive Rebounding

The one thing that no one can dispute about Sam Timmins is that he is big. And being big is a tremendous asset when going after offensive rebounds. Timmins’s overall offensive rebounding numbers are good but not spectacular. However, his conference only numbers are very good which suggests that he improved as the season went along even though it was against better competition. In conference play, his offensive rebounding percentage was 11.5% which over an entire season would have finished just outside the top-100 nationally.

Timmins was also effective once he got that rebound. He shot 72.7% on put back attempts which was good for the 79th percentile nationally. Additionally, only 8% of those rebounds resulted in a turnover which was significantly below his overall turnover numbers.

Offensive Weaknesses

Holding on to the Ball

This issue was brought up in the introduction but Timmins’s inability to hang onto the ball is the single biggest thing holding back his development right now. That problem is most prominent during his post-up opportunities. Timmins scored only 0.522 points per possession in these situations which ranked 1,999th out of 2,012 players with at least as many attempts. For a 6’11” center to score that infrequently is appallingly bad. There are several problems here.

The first is that Timmins just doesn’t have the court awareness necessary to perform a lot of moves that he’d like. On this play Timmins gets the ball in the post and wants to back his guy down. However, he turns directly into a double team that he 100% saw coming. He either has to go towards the baseline away from the 2nd UCLA defender or he has to stop his dribble and pass out of it. Continuing to slowly back up with an exposed dribble is not an option.

The biggest problem though is simply that Timmins doesn’t have good hands. He’s seemingly not quite as bad as Aziz N’Diaye was but he still struggles with the basics of catching the ball. Adding dribbling to the mix just serves as an exponential multiplier. Fultz gives Timmins a pass that is slightly high and slightly behind him but you would expect him to come down with it 99% of the time. Instead, it bounces off his hands and goes out of bounds on an uncontested play.

The key for Sam is to require the fewest number of basketball moves possible for him to get in position to score. If he can keep the ball high and lay it in then he can be an effective offensive player. Giving him the ball outside of the key and asking him to maneuver by himself the last 10 feet is asking too much right now.

Defensive Strengths

Defending the Post in a Zone

It makes perfect sense that this is Timmins’s best defensive attribute. In a zone defense, Timmins just has to worry about standing in front of the basket with his arms outstretched to deter penetration. He is supremely qualified to do that. Opponents shot just 33.3% on their post-up opportunities against Timmins while in the zone. Shockingly, he also never fouled someone in this situation. That total of 0.667 points per possession ranks in the 84th percentile.

I’ll note here though that what I saw in the exhibition game against Saint Martin’s worried me a little. The Saints repeatedly got the ball into the high post (which is what you want against a zone) and Timmins stepped out to contest the jumper. However, the Saints brought one of their wings in to crash a long the baseline and got a bounce pass for a layup before Timmins could turn around and stop it. That’s partially on the corner defenders who have to protect against a back door cut like that but it was enough to keep Timmins to just 4 minutes. He’s better in a zone than he is on man but he still needs additional athleticism to be a true weapon on defense in the post.

Defensive Weaknesses

Closing out on 3-Point Shooters

Timmins has long arms and isn’t exceptionally agile or speedy. You want that person to be rooted next to the basket. Timmins wants that too which is why he struggles mightily when forced to guard anyone with 3-point range. Opponents scored 1.579 points per possession on 3-point attempts with Timmins guarding them. That figure was in just the 2nd percentile nationally.

Not all of those situations are necessarily Timmins’s fault. Several times, someone else missed a rotation which caused Timmins to be forced to close out on the shooter. But if Timmins gets caught in the air and isn’t close enough to block the shot then he is completely out of the play. There’s no way for him to recover against a pump fake with his agility and second jump deficiencies.

Defending the Pick and Roll

This is another reason why Timmins wants to stay close to the basket as mentioned above. When he gets pulled into the pick and roll he doesn’t have the foot speed to stay with anyone off the dribble. The offensive player has Timmins at his mercy once Timmins is forced to defend both the basket and contest the pick and pop. Opponents scored 45% of the time when Timmins was forced into the pick and roll for a clip of 1.15 points per possession. That total ranked in the 17th percentile nationally.

Next Steps

Sam Timmins had better be ready for prime time this year because he’s going to be asked to play a significant role. It sounds like Hopkins will run a variety of defenses including the Syracuse zone but Timmins will likely be asked to anchor it when he does go that direction.

The redshirt sophomore from New Zealand has to improve on both ends of the floor to be an impact player for the Huskies. While it’d be great if he became an elite rim protector, I don’t see that happening and I don’t think it has to for him to be effective on that end. If Timmins can get in slightly better shape this season and work on his agility/footwork it would do wonders to make him above average in that regard.

Offense is where he has to show growth. Noah Dickerson is going to be a featured part of the UW offense and he’s so much more effective when surrounded by 4 shooters. It was only 11 possessions but last year Timmins shot 50% from the field in spot up situations including a 3-point make. If he could develop even the beginnings of a game similar to Thomas Welsh at UCLA it would be a huge spacing advantage for the Dawgs. That isn’t going to happen in one offseason but I’d like to see Timmins take steps towards it this year.

The simple fact is that Timmins just doesn’t have the ball skills to do anything that requires dribbling. If he can catch the ball, keep it high, and score then he’ll be fine. If he has to think about what post move to do or back a guy down then he’s toast. He can certainly improve but if he becomes actively good in those situations at any point then Coach Hopkins is a miracle worker.

Timmins has enough strengths that he can be put into positions to succeed by a good coach. On defense, he’s infinitely better suited to play zone unless he is matched up against a center who also can’t shoot or dribble. If he ends up starting alongside Dickerson then the team should start in zone. On offense, you don’t give him the ball in the post and tell him to back his guy down. Keep him away from the basket until someone drives and then let him cut and either get the ball moving towards the basket so he doesn’t have to dribble or be in position for an offensive rebound and a put back. I have no reason to doubt that Coach Hop will figure out how to effectively utilize the players on his team so I’m hoping he will do a better job than we saw last year of putting Timmins in a position to succeed.

2017/18 Predictions:

22 minutes per game, 4.6 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game, 53.5%/55.5% FG%/FT%

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