One of the primary criticisms of Lorenzo Romar recently has been that he is no longer able to adequately develop talent. Exhibit A appears to be Nigel Williams-Goss. NWG was clearly a very good player during his 2 years at Washington after joining the program as a McDonalds All-American. This year however, he has become one of the elite point guards in the country, joining Markelle Fultz as one of 20 finalists for the Wooden Award. The counter argument is of course that NWG is now in his 4th year of college basketball and that it is impossible to say that he would be a worse player had he remained at Washington.
The vast majority of college players get better as time goes on. Who you are as a freshman and sophomore is not who you will be as a senior. The current version of UW basketball has no one that has been enrolled at Washington for a full two years and the only senior by class standing is a J.C transfer who has been injured for the last month. I want to pause here and point out that yes, I’m aware that Lorenzo Romar can be blamed for UW being in this predicament. Poor roster construction and management over a 3-year period led to the roster reboot. That doesn’t change the fact however that the young roster is likely to improve over the next several years through experience. Let’s look at the UW sophomores to compare their development to past Romar players in an attempt to see what they may become in the next 2 years.
David Crisp - Andrew Andrews
Crisp and Andrews have both similarities and differences. Crisp has always been more suited as an off the ball gunner while Andrews has always preferred to take the ball to the hole. Neither however, fits the traditional mold of a true point guard. You can see though that the season that Crisp is having now is essentially the same one that Andrews had as a junior. Both took a step back in their ball handling but their free throw and 3-pt shooting improved. The latter significantly.
Andrews is the better free throw shooter and Crisp the better long bomber but otherwise their numbers look very similar. More of Andrews’ attempt came from the line and from 2 and more of Crisp’s attempts have come from beyond the arc. Additionally, Andrews will always have the edge as a rebounder and Crisp will likely never be considered even an average defender. But no one thought that Andrews was capable of having the kind of senior season he ended up having. It’s unrealistic to expect someone’s assist rate to literally double in their senior year but Crisp could easily see it go to 18% and then 21% in the next two years which would make him a very reasonable combo guard.
Many of Crisp’s biggest problems are solved by maturity. He’s a very good shooter but is still in the stage of his career where he gets excited with the ball in his hands. Every time he touches the ball he imagines either canning a step back 3-pointer, pulling off a nifty scoop and under layup, or threading the needle to a wide open cutter. Some players are born knowing there’s a better way, some players only get it in their senior year, and some players never get it.
I don’t think this is an issue of Romar not coaching and telling Crisp to slow down. Earlier in the year, Crisp had a wide open transition layup but instead threw it off the backboard for Markelle to pull off an awesome dunk. Only Markelle wasn’t expecting it because it was a dumb idea and it ended up as a turnover. Romar sat Crisp the rest of the half and in the second half in a similar situation he passed the ball (albeit a little fancier than necessary still). After enough moments like that it usually sinks in. The infusion of 3 new and super talented guards means Crisp will never put up the raw totals of Andrews’s senior season but I expect his percentages to continue to slowly rise until he is an incredibly effective scorer and adequate emergency point guard two years from now.
Matisse Thybulle - Justin Holiday
Justin Holiday was essentially a benchwarmer in his freshman season so it makes more sense, especially given Matisse’s stats, to compare the two shifted by a year. Even in his sophomore year, Matisse is largely a more skilled offensive player than Holiday was by the time he graduated. Holiday also didn’t take on the same role that Matisse has in the offense until his senior season. One of the primary criticisms of Thybulle’s play this season has been his passivity but he is essentially tied for 3rd on the team with Dickerson for shot attempts.
Thybulle isn’t the rebounder that Holiday was but otherwise he is essentially a better all-around player than Justin’s senior year while being a full two years younger. The biggest difference not seen in the table above is fouls committed. Matisse commits 4.1 fouls per 40 minutes which is equal to Holiday’s sophomore season. However, Justin brought those numbers down to 3.1 and 2.9 the following two seasons. If Thybulle can do that then he will be able to play more minutes and really help this team.
Given the incoming talent to the program, I would expect that Matisse never becomes a go-to-guy but serves as an extremely efficient 3rd option who plays high level defense just like Holiday was. Passing is definitely a weakness for Thybulle but by improving his assist and turnover rates by a percent or two per year it will put him in a good spot as a 3 and D player.
Noah Dickerson - Matthew Bryan-Amaning
This comparison isn’t perfect but there haven’t been a lot of traditional big men to compare Dickerson to and Jon Brockman certainly isn’t the right guy. MBA was an inch taller and infinitely more athletic but otherwise they’re almost the same size. It’s clear to see that as a freshman, Dickerson was essentially the same player that MBA was as a sophomore and as a sophomore he has been what MBA was as a senior. On the offensive end, Noah has improved by leaps and bounds across the board. He’s a better rebounder, a better shooter, a better ball handler and better at finishing around the rim. It’s not shown in the table above but his assist rate has doubled between the two years and is borderline acceptable for a low-post threat after being a black hole last year.
On the defensive end, there’s no comparison to be made. MBA was an elite shot blocker in addition to everything else and if Dickerson ever becomes an average defender it will be gravy. But his tremendous offensive improvement has already made him one of the better big men in the conference. Dickerson is currently 15th in the Pac-12 in offensive efficiency among players with as high of a usage rate as Noah. Only 6 of the 14 ahead of him are big men and two of them are NBA lottery bound freshmen (Leaf and Markannen) and another two are seniors (Boucher and Hawkinson). Next season with any kind of additional growth, it’s likely that Dickerson will be competing for a 1st team all-Pac-12 spot.
A lot of people have looked back at the recruiting rankings from last year and laughed at the fact that Dickerson was a higher rated recruit than ultimately one-and-done teammates Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray. Noah’s game is not about athleticism but about physicality and technique. It’s much harder to make that translate to college basketball and it has taken a couple of years but I think next year we’ll see his transition to an elite college power forward.
Next year will see the addition of four stud freshmen recruits added to the University of Washington roster. Obviously, they will be the main event but it’s likely that the success or failure of that team is decided by the growth of the three players featured above. Kentucky and Duke are able to reload year after year but their recruiting classes feature something closer to four guys in the top-30 rather than 4 in the top-100. Some level of veteran leadership is necessary to succeed in college basketball for all but the very top programs. Last season, Andrew Andrews was able to fill that role and keep an impossibly young Husky team afloat. Next year it will be Crisp, Thybulle, and Dickerson’s job to mature both as players and young men. The past shows there’s hope of that happening.