The Huskies are now 7-3 after their most recent win against Seattle which means they’ve played 10 games. With 31 games on the schedule we are already essentially 1/3rd of the way through the season (pretty sure my math checks out there). My how time flies. There are areas in which the team will get better over the final 20 games and ways in which they will get worse. But for the most part the Huskies are what they are. But what are they?
Washington brought back almost everyone from last season’s team so it was reasonable to expect them to be nearly the same in terms of on court production. To see if that’s the case I’m going to examine the stats in which we’ve seen the biggest variation from last year to this year so far for both the team and each individual player. Strap in folks. This is a long one. But there’s no college football right now so what else are you going to do to kill the last half hour at work?
All advanced stats are courtesy of either KenPom or Synergy Sports.
3-pt Defense/2-pt Defense
In year 1 under Coach Hopkins the Syracuse zone yielded some impressive results particularly with the way the Huskies were able to shut down opponents from behind the arc. The UW defense forced opponents to shoot just 33.5% from downtown which was good for 92nd nationally and that figure got continually better throughout the season. The bigger challenge for them was defending inside the arc where opponents shot 50.9% on 2-point shots which was 217th nationally.
Through 10 games it feels like the Husky defense was cast in Freaky Friday. The 2-pt defense now ranks 11th in the country at 41.8% while the 3-pt defense has fallen all the way to 236th at 35.6%. It’s possible that part of that is schedule related. 3 of Washington’s first 10 games were against top-45 teams in 3-pt percentage and things get even tougher with a game against Virginia Tech on Saturday who is #3 in that particular statistic.
While he’s been phenomenal on offense it has to be said that a big part of that fall has been Jaylen Nowell losing track of the shooter in his corner. Nowell’s assignments have shot 57% on catch and shoot opportunities through 26 attempts so far. Last season it was 34%. Overall teams are shooting better against the Huskies whether the shot is contested or not. So some of it may be bad luck and some of it may be poor defense. But that number has to get better.
The improvement in 2-pt defense has 2 main causes. The first is much better transition defense. Last season teams shot 54% in transition and roasted the Huskies all year long. That figure is just 39% to this point and they’ve shaved down about 2.5 transition opportunities per game. The second improvement is in their post-up defense. Last season the Huskies were abysmal in that category, giving up a basket almost automatically if it was caught next to the hoop. Noah Dickerson was the main culprit after finishing in just the 8th percentile nationally in post-up defense. So far in 2019 that figure is the 50th percentile which has raised the team overall from 12th percentile to 53rd percentile. Once we get into Pac-12 play maybe Dickerson gets abused by power conference big men down low but so far his defense at the center position has been markedly improved.
Defensive Possession Length
One of the signs of a successful defense is the ability to make an offense work to score. That isn’t always the case as sometimes you have a defense that is extremely sound until the offense passes the ball 4 times and then gives up an easy layup. But generally it’s a good sign. Husky opponents are 348th in the country (out of 353) in length per offensive possession. It takes them an average of 18.7 seconds to end their possession whether by shot attempt or turnover. Tony Bennett at Virginia has the highest number in the country right now and his teams always rank near the top in both this category and just among the best defenses in the nation. Last season the Huskies were much closer to average at 240th.
The Huskies weren’t a good shooting team last season but Dominic Green, Matisse Thybulle, Jaylen Nowell, and Naz Carter all shot better than 35% from deep. Those 4 supported below average 3-pt shooting from David Crisp and Hameir Wright to finish pretty middle of the road at 188th in the country by making 34.6% of 3-pt attempts. That number seems like a fever dream given the way the Huskies have shot so far. UW has made just 31.7% of their 3-pt attempts which is 243rd in the country.
The individuals responsible for that drop may be obvious, and will be addressed individually below, but there’s not an obvious explanation. As a team the Huskies are shooting about 5% worse than last year on catch and shoot attempts whether they’re contested or uncontested shots. And the ratio of contested/uncontested looks hasn’t really changed so it’s not that they’re just getting worse looks. This really does seem to be a case of either bad luck over a relatively small sample size or else multiple players being in simultaneous funks. I still think there’s a good chance that the numbers regress towards the mean over the course of the year which in this case means that the final shooting percentage ends up closer to the nearly 35% of last year than the 32% of this year.
2018-19 per game stats: 18.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 56.9% FG, 44.1% 3pt, 71.7% FT
The stellar sophomore has taken another leap on offense as his stats with the ball are almost universally higher this season. The shooting percentages are better from all areas except the FT line and in particular from beyond the arc where Nowell has improved from 35.1% to 44.1%. It’s a small sample size but Nowell has made 4 of 7 spot up jumpers after a dribble this year when he made just 31% of those attempts last season. He’s also made a big leap as a pick and roll ball handler moving from the 29th percentile last season to the 67th percentile this season. Anecdotally his performance in the first 3⁄4 of the Seattle U game on Sunday was the best I’d ever seen him in that regard.
Nowell has also looked more comfortable as the primary ball handler and his assist rate is up from 17.7 to 24.9 which leads the team. Unsurprisingly, his turnover rate is also higher given the increase in ball handling duties but at least to my mind it hasn’t been by enough to discourage Hop from playing him more at point guard. Other than the turnovers the only thing that’s gotten worse is his FT shooting but a drop from 80% to 72% could be sample size related and is still above average even if it continues at this rate.
2018-19 per game stats: 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 54.7% FG, 75% FT
You would kind of hope this for an all-conference 1st team senior but Noah’s offensive stats are remarkably similar to last season. The FG% and FT% numbers are a couple of percent worse but not by much. That’s fine especially factoring in that he’s been been banged up for much of the early going. His defensive rebound percentage is the lowest it has been since his freshman season but his offensive rebound percentage is the highest of his career so it’s a bit of a wash. I noted the improvement in post defense above and that can be seen by career highs in both block and steal percentages. Finally, after finishing 19th in this category last season Dickerson is now 5th in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Noah’s still a bull in a china shop with the ball in the post and it’s that trait that continually props up so much of the Husky offense.
2018-19 per game stats: 9.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 36.6% FG, 27.9% 3pt, 67.7% FT
The hope in the off-season was that David Crisp would have an Andrew Andrews-esque epiphany entering his senior year and become the point guard this team desperately needs. Instead we’ve gotten same old Crisp. His assist rate, turnover rate, and shooting percentages are almost identical to last season. On the bright side his usage rate has gone down so at least he uses 1-2 less possessions per game which are generally lower efficiency than whoever else is shooting and so helps the team.
Crisp has actually seen an improvement knocking down unguarded catch and shoot shots (from 28% to 34%) but it’s corresponded with a worse percentage on guarded ones (24% to 17%). If he stops taking nearly as many contested 3’s and bumps up his percentage on open ones a little bit then he could maybe reach the 33% from deep necessary for him to be an average offensive player. But after 1.25+ years asking for change I’m not expecting it now.
2018-19 per game stats: 7.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.6 steals, 40% FG, 26.2% 3pt, 84.6% FT
Everyone who has watched the Huskies for more than a few games probably knows that Thybulle has started the year in a massive shooting slump as his 3-pt% is down from 36.5% to 26.2%. However, he also had a really slow start last season. After 8 games in 2017 he was shooting just 27% from deep. He shot 40% the rest of the way. It’s not unreasonable to think that we see a similar turnaround this season and he’s just been too good of a shooter over his career to slump for an entire season at the current rate unless there’s something else going on. And his FT percentage has yo-yo-ed from 84.1% to 71.4% last year back up to 84.6% this year so it’s unlikely a mechanical issue.
A bigger change may be that his role has changed a bit on offense. Matisse has taken about 2.5 less shots per game this year and 10% of his shots have shifted from 2-pointers to 3-pointers. He might get better looks if he drives the ball a little more often and his efficiency is correspondingly up almost 8% on those shots. However, you might have to take the good with the bad since his turnover rate is down from 20.6 to a career best by a wide margin 16.1 partly because he isn’t driving quite as often.
2018-19 per game stats: 7.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 40% FG, 40% 3pt, 77.8% FT
There haven’t been many changes in Green’s play style or efficiency numbers from the end of 2017 to 2018. His 3-pt shooting is down to 40% but you can’t really complain about someone only shooting 40% from deep especially for a team as desperate for shooting as the Huskies are. Green’s percentage of shots taken from beyond the arc has actually risen from 73% to 83% so he’s become even more of a sharpshooting specialist. The free throw percentage is also up from 68% to 78% which should hopefully hold as it seemed weird that a guy shooting better than 40% from 3 couldn’t shoot at least 75% from the foul line. Finally, Green’s defensive rebounding rate is up from 9.3 to 14.0 and from the eye test he seems more willing to get in the mix and secure a tough rebound in traffic so hopefully that continues.
2018-19 per game stats: 3.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 22.2% FG, 17.6% 3pt, 78.6% FT
We’ll start with the bad news. Hameir Wright’s offense was very bad last year and somehow it still has managed to crater through the early going. He’s shooting an appalling 26.3% on 2-pt attempts which has to be one of the worst marks in the country. Wright has had 22 offensive possessions where he was either in the pick and roll, in transition, in isolation, or posting up. He’s scored 4 total points on those possession. Yikes.
Wright has had more success when either spotting up or cutting to the basket. The 18% mark from 3-pt range is obviously not ideal but in spot up situations he has driven to the basket about 1/3rd of the time and has done well either scoring or getting fouled on those occasions. And once fouled he’s experienced a major turnaround at the FT line which has been encouraging. Wright already has almost as many FT makes as he did last year on less than half the attempts by raising his FT% from 41% to 79%. As long as it’s above 70% or so it makes it a lot easier to keep in him in the game for his defense in a close contest down the stretch.
2018-19 per game stats: 6.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 41.8% FG, 23.5% 3pt, 73.1% FT
There have been 2 big changes in Carter’s offensive game and they likely cancel out for the most part. A quick peruse makes it clear that his 3-pt shooting has taken a major dip from 40.9% down to 23.5%. There’s not a clear explanation for this other than he’s missing shots that he was making last season. Carter shot almost identically on contested vs. uncontested catch and shoot jumpers both last season and this season. But this year both figures are around 25% and last year they were around 40%. He knocked down 47% of no dribble jumpers a season ago and that figure is down to 26% this year. Last season was an aberration in a good way from his high school shooting numbers but if he ends up around 35% by the end of the year then he is still useful from there.
We expected Carter’s usage to go up and it has. He’s taking about 1.5 more shots per game this season but obviously as noted above they’ve been a little bit less efficient. However, the biggest upgrade has been in his avoidance of turnovers. Carter’s turnover rate has dropped from 20.3 last year to 12.7 this year. Some of those turnovers are turning into missed shots but since those at least give UW a chance at an offensive rebound you’d much prefer that outcome. Just a quick note that his steal and block numbers are both down from a year ago but opponents are shooting just 22% on jumpers with Carter guarding them so his defense has still been very good despite the lack of counting stats.
2018-19 per game stats: 1.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 0.6 blocks, 50% FG, 0% FT
No player on the team has seen a bigger change in their play/usage patterns than Sam Timmins. Last season Timmins was a perfectly serviceable, average big man. He ranked in the 49th percentile in offensive points per possession and the 44th percentile in defensive points per possession. It stood out that he was worse on offense than Noah Dickerson and worse on defense than Hameir Wright but he was more well-rounded than either. But this season has been a disaster. So far, Timmins ranks in the 12th percentile on offense and just the 16th percentile on defense. That has resulted in Timmins losing his starting gig and playing 8.2 less minutes per game.
There are two primary issues. The first is Timmins’ propensity to commit fouls. Last year he committed 5.8 per 40 minutes which is slightly higher than you’d like but fine for your center playing 18 minutes per game. In 2018 so far that number is a staggering 10.2 which means he’d essentially be fouling out of every single game if he were still playing 18 minutes. It just really doesn’t matter how well you play outside of that if you foul that often.
The second issue is that his turnover rate is at a career high 34.2 (up from 25.1 last season). You have to be shooting about 80% from the field to make that kind of turnover rate acceptable and he’s shooting 50%. Compounding that is Timmins can’t get to the FT line anymore. His aversion to contact has reached an all-time high and his FT rate is down from a very good 60.8 last season to an abysmal 7.1 this year. At 6’11 that number is a downright crime.
Sam looked better against Seattle U than he had all season and he has seemed prone to self-confidence failures throughout his career so hopefully he can refocus and thrive in his new role as the 3rd big, especially with BPJ out for 6 weeks as an emergency 4th option. At this point the bar is just for him to play as well as he did last year. And he has come nowhere close to it after 10 games.
You can follow me @UWDP_maxvroom for all your UW Men’s Basketball News and Notes