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Is Jaylen Nowell the Next UW One and Done?

The stud freshman has been UW’s go-to scorer so far this year

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Washington at Washington James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Huskies fanbase may have a more visceral reaction to the phrase “one and done” than any in the country. In 2007 Spencer Hawes left after one season to become the 10th pick in the draft after a 19-13 season with no postseason appearance. In 2012 Tony Wroten was the 25th pick of the draft following a 21 win regular season and a trip to the NIT. 2016 saw both Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray leave after a single year which again resulted in an NIT berth. And of course last year Markelle Fultz captained a 9 win team before being selected 1st in the NBA draft.

If it feels like no team gets less with more from their 1st round picks there’s a reason for that. Since 2010, the Huskies have had 4 “one and dones” (leave after their freshman year and become a 1st round pick). That is tied for the 5th most during that time period. However, the Huskies have been notably less successful than other programs in seasons with future NBA players.

# of Wins with One and Dones 2010-2017

Team # of seasons Wins Wins/Season # of 1-and-dones
Team # of seasons Wins Wins/Season # of 1-and-dones
Kentucky 8 249 31.13 20
Kansas 5 147 29.4 6
Duke 6 174 29 9
UCLA 3 84 28 4
Texas 4 83 20.75 5
Washington 3 52 17.33 4

Now clearly part of that is the talent on the roster outside of the one and dones as well but I don’t think one measly NCAA tournament appearance would’ve been too much to ask for. The secret blessing for many fans when Michael Porter Jr. took his talents to Columbia was that it would mean finally a season without having to worry about a one and done. Jaylen Nowell might have other ideas...

The Husky freshman had possibly the most impressive debut from a Washington freshman ever against Belmont with 32 points on just 18 shots including 15 points in the final 5 minutes when UW’s win probability was just 8%.

Since then he’s kept rolling with double digit points against every opponent except the most recent contest against Kennesaw State when he played a season low 22 minutes because the Huskies had a 20+ point lead for most of the game. Realistically, that will only be the case for another 3 games the rest of the season.

The Huskies will be relying upon Nowell since he has stepped in from day one as their closer and go-to scorer when the team absolutely needs a bucket. He’s averaging 18.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.7 steals per game so far. Those numbers are stellar for a college freshman. But are they good enough to propel him to be the latest one and done for the Huskies? Let’s find out.

We’ll start out with the caveat that it’s still very early. If Nowell struggles against stiffer competition in the Pac-12 and averages 8 points a game the rest of the way then this is all moot. But let’s say he finishes the year averaging 16 points per game. I went back over the last 8 years to find every power-6 freshman to average 16 points per game. There were 27 that met that benchmark. 19 of them left and all were 1st round draft picks.

That means 70% of freshmen meeting that scoring total end up bolting for the NBA. I looked at each of these players and averaged together their recruiting rankings from Scout and ESPN to come up with a composite star and national rank total. 18 of the 19 who left were consensus 5-star recruits ranked in the top-20 of the national rankings. That includes Washington guards Tony Wroten (18th) and Markelle Fultz (5th). The lone holdout: UW’s Dejounte Murray who was a consensus 4-star and ranked 44th nationally. By those same measures Jaylen Nowell was a consensus 4-star and the 67th ranked recruit in the country.

Here’s the list of players who decided to stay for their sophomore seasons.

Freshmen w/at least 16ppg who stayed 2+ years

Player Team Year PPG Stars Nat. Rank
Player Team Year PPG Stars Nat. Rank
Shamorie Ponds St. John's 2017 17.3 4 40.5
Miles Bridges Michigan State 2017 16.9 5 11
Josh Okogie Georgia Tech 2017 16.1 2.5 NR
Melo Trimble Maryland 2015 16.2 4.5 29
Jahii Carson Arizona State 2013 18.5 4 42
D'Angelo Harrison St. John's 2012 17 4 46
Jared Sullinger Ohio State 2011 17.2 5 3
Alec Burks Colorado 2010 17.1 3 NR

Both Alec Burks and Jared Sullinger ended up leaving after the sophomore season to become 1st round picks. Miles Bridges would’ve been a lottery pick but stunned everyone in coming back this year for Michigan State. Melo Trimble was a potential lottery pick entering college but he never really improved as he got older, left after his junior year, and is now playing in the D-league.

So only one player, Josh Okogie, has averaged 16+ points from a power-6 conference in their freshman season and been ranked as “poorly” as Jaylen Nowell coming out of high school and that player came back for year 2.

That all helps provide context but let’s look at Nowell as a player though rather than a data point.

The three most important attributes for an NBA shooting guard in this era are: shooting, one-on-one offense, and ability to defend multiple wing positioning.

Reportedly coming in at 6’4 and 190 pounds with a 6’7 wingspan, Nowell is average to slightly undersized for an NBA 2-guard which shouldn’t help or hurt his draft stock. He shows solid agility and there’s no reason to think physically that he wouldn’t be able to switch onto a point guard or small forward at the next level. Advanced defensive stats are bad enough in college but get even harder to evaluate for zone defenses. The eye test tells me that Nowell appears to be an average defender which for a freshman is pretty good.

Shooting is the biggest area of concern for Nowell. It’s great that he has an exceptional mid-range game but many teams are going to try to beat it out of him when they get their hands on him. A club like the Houston Rockets wants everything to be either behind the arc or at the rim which negates part of Jaylen’s game.

After a hot start, Nowell is down to shooting 30% from 3-point range. He’s got solid enough shot mechanics to be a ~35% shooter and if he can get back up to that level it really will help his stock. In 29 possessions as a spot-up shooter Nowell has scored just 18 points which would put him in the 16th percentile nationally according to Synergy Sports.

But Nowell excels in isolation. UW’s go-to play in a close game is to spread out all 4 players around the baseline and let Nowell take his man off the dribble. His numbers have dropped slightly from his stellar start but he’s still in the 65th percentile nationally per Synergy Sports when in isolation. That number goes up to 75th percentile when he drives to the rim and either pulls up for a midrange jumper or gets to the cup.

While I have no doubt that Nowell will eventually get drafted, I’m still not sure I see it happening this season. If he puts up the same numbers he’s posting right now against the Pac-12 then we can revisit this conversation. Nowell will have to prove he can be a better shooter across a large sample size because there’s no space in the league for a 2-guard who can’t nail an open 3-pointer. The best case scenario for Husky fans is for Nowell to keep up his efficiency with a slightly reduced workload, average 14-15 points per game, and come back as part of an NCAA tournament team in 2018.