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Husky Basketball Plus/Minus Part I

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Who has been on the court when the Dawgs are playing their best?

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

We are now nearly 40% of the way through conference play and the Huskies have over-performed pre-season expectations to start out 4-3 in conference play. The schedule generally gets worse before it gets better but the Huskies are still capable of getting back to at least an NIT berth with an outside shot at the NCAA tournament. We’re far enough along that I’d like to look at the specific lineups the Huskies have been using and which ones have had the most impact. I don’t care that Sam Timmins was a +40 during the Bethune-Cookman game playing against a 6’7 center. I care about the big boys. So we’ll be looking at the first 7 games of conference play plus the Gonzaga and Kansas games.

Let’s start wide and slowly zoom in by starting with everyone’s +/- on the court and off the court during those nine games.

Individual On/Off Court +/-

Player Minutes Plus/Minus On Court +/- per 40 Off Court +/- per 40 Performance Gap per 40
Player Minutes Plus/Minus On Court +/- per 40 Off Court +/- per 40 Performance Gap per 40
Michael Carter III 60 38 25.33 0.27 25.07
Carlos Johnson 28 9 12.86 -3.86 16.71
Jaylen Nowell 278 5 0.72 -13.66 14.38
Noah Dickerson 236 9 1.53 -10.32 11.85
Hameir Wright 157 6 1.53 -5.71 7.24
David Crisp 316 -25 -3.16 1.82 -4.98
Nahziah Carter 102 -18 -7.06 -0.78 -6.28
Dominic Green 136 -25 -7.35 0.36 -7.71
Matisse Thybulle 281 -40 -5.69 8.61 -14.30
Sam Timmins 204 -50 -9.80 6.92 -16.73

Some of these results are going to make sense and some of them are head scratchers. We’ll begin with the latter.

Matisse Thybulle is probably the frontrunner for Pac-12 defensive player of the year or at least is one of the handful of top candidates. And yet, the team has been much better when he hasn’t been playing. There are a few possible explanations for this. The first is that his defensive numbers have slipped a little against top competition. His steal percentage is at 4.3% in conference play. That’s down from 5.84% in the non-conference. The Pac-12 number is 3rd in the conference but he had been 3rd in the country so it’s costing UW one fast break opportunity per game and probably a 3-ish points swing. His 3-point and free throw shooting are also down. Matisse shot 81% from the line in the non-con which has become 53% in conference play including several front ends of 1-and-1’s. An extra 6 points at the line would help a little.

However, probably the biggest reason is wrapped up with the person below him: Sam Timmins. One thing to note about +/- is that there are a ton of variables that might have nothing to do with an individual player. That’s why sample sizes are important. One of those factors is that it’s impossible for your +/- to improve while you’re playing defense. If you get a stop then at absolute best you hold constant. That’s a problem for players who play more defensive possessions than offensive ones.

Coach Hopkins loves to switch offensive and defensive lineups late in games. It’s one of the reasons that this year’s team has done so well in close contests. Whenever there’s a stoppage after an offensive possession, Sam Timmins gets inserted into the game for Noah Dickerson and after the possession they switch. That means Sam gets credited with a slew of -2’s and Noah gets credit for the +2’s when Jaylen Nowell hits a pair of free throws down the stretch. While Thybulle plays on both ends normally, he’s guaranteed to be on the court for the defense-only lineups.

As noted in the middle of that, the two mainstays in the offense-only lineup are Noah Dickerson and Jaylen Nowell for which the team not coincidentally have the worst off-court numbers. This team really struggles to score when one of them is out of the lineup and they really really struggle to score when both are missing.

Given the importance of sample sizes, it’s not that surprising to see that the two highest scorers have also played by far the fewest minutes. Of the two, I think Carlos Johnson is the most likely to be an outlier. The team was a +12 in the 14 minutes that he played at Washington State and they weren’t coincidental either. He won 2nd half MVP and saved that game. In all other instances this season the team is -18 over 117 minutes with him on the court. I also trust Hop that if Carlos isn’t in the rotation that there’s a good reason. If Hop thought this team was actually dramatically better with him playing heavy minutes then that’s what we’d see.

The performance gap for Michael Carter III isn’t sustainable but I’m not shocked to see him have positive numbers and think it could continue. With Carter’s length playing for David Crisp at the front of the zone it seems that he’s a clear upgrade defensively. And while it’s in many fewer attempts, Michael Carter III’s 3-point percentage is about 2.5x better than David Crisp’s in conference play.

There are still concerns though. While the team has been dramatically better in his 60 minutes, he hasn’t really been a point guard during that time. Carter III only has one assist since his return from the wrist injury. Only having two turnovers in that span is good but he still needs to demonstrate he can be an effective point guard. Like with Carlos, sample sizes are also a concern. The team was a +23 in 16 minutes during the Cal game and are +9 in 67 minutes the rest of the season. A similar split to Carlos Johnson with the difference being that both numbers are positive. The team has also had a positive +/- with him on the court in every game since he’s returned. I expect David Crisp to have a much shorter leash the rest of the year with a viable backup option but don’t think we’ve seen quite enough yet to call for a change in the starting lineup.

Come back tomorrow for part 2 when we go deeper by examining player pairings and 5-man lineups.

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