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Season Preview: Player Profiles Part II

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Our season preview series continues with a look at some of the options at shooting guard

NCAA Basketball: California at Washington Lindsey Wasson-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, we put out our first player profile edition, which you can check out here, mostly focused on the potential point guard options. It makes sense then that today then we’ll look at the three players that are most likely to fill in at shooting guard (although it’s more likely to say they’re 2/3 style wings): Erik Stevenson, RaeQuan Battle, and Jamal Bey. We begin with the new transfer joining the team from Wichita State.

Erik Stevenson, Guard, Jr., 6’3, 200 lbs

2019-20 Stats (Wichita State): 31 games, 11.1 ppg, 2.3 apg, 4.7 rpg, 37.7% FG, 30.4% 3pt, 78.3% FT

Background

Stevenson was rated as the 200th best player in the country by 247 Sports in the class of 2018 coming out of Timberline High in nearby Lacey. Traditionally, that kind of prospect is viewed as good enough to make a Pac-12 roster as a 4-year player but not someone who is generally going to become a star player. Lorenzo Romar hadn’t offered Stevenson before he was fired but Mike Hopkins extended an opportunity within a few months of taking over the Husky job. It was too little too late though as Erik decided to commit to Wichita State a month later over offers from UW, WSU, Utah, and LSU.

Stevenson came in as a freshman and took on a 5th/6th man role. He struggled with his efficiency, shooting just 27.8% from deep on 158 attempts but flashed playmaking ability and was a great defensive rebounder for his size/position. As a sophomore his role increased although odd substitution patterns meant Stevenson played only an extra 3 minutes per game. Still, Stevenson increased his points per game by 67% and improved his efficiency a little bit while crossing over the 30% mark on his 3-point shooting.

There was clearly massive discontent internally over the way Gregg Marshall handled the season despite Wichita State being an NCAA bubble team and there was a mass exodus in the spring. 6 players transferred including most of the team’s starters. Things became clearer a few weeks ago when an incredibly damning report on Marshall’s conduct was released including several past incidents when he allegedly assaulted players and staff. Stevenson took the opportunity to return home and play at UW where it has not yet been publicly announced that he has received a waiver to play immediately but given all of the factors is a complete certainty.

Analysis

When looking at Stevenson’s potential impact on this Husky roster the first thing that stands out is the field goal percentage. 37.7%. That’s a pretty abysmal number and it’s not difficult to see it and assume that Stevenson is a net negative on that end of the floor. Let’s dive inside that number though to try to figure out what’s driving it. Here’s Stevenson’s shot chart last season.

Synergy Sports

There are a few bright spots. Stevenson is extremely efficient finishing around the rim as that 56.2% figure is what you would generally see from a quality post player. He’s exceptional cutting to the basket. That’s not something we’ve seen a lot of in recent years from the Husky offense with Noah Dickerson or Isaiah Stewart camped out at the rim waiting for an entry pass. But with a supposed commitment to a more guard-oriented perimeter attack this season it will open up cutting lanes for players like Stevenson.

Now about that 3-pt shooting. There’s no question that someone making just 30% of their outside shots should be attempting fewer heaves from deep. We can naturally assume that Hopkins will want to rein in Stevenson’s free shooting nature.

However, let’s see if it’s more than just “don’t take as many 3’s”. Stevenson shot 44.7% on unguarded catch and shoot attempts last year. When he gets an open shot in the flow of the offense he’s extremely capable of knocking it down. His career 79% free throw percentage speaks to his overall ability as a shooter. The big problem was he took twice as many contested shots as uncontested ones and shot just 29% on those attempts. If Hop can get Stevenson to make the extra pass rather than try a hero ball shot then he instantly becomes a much more valuable player.

The other big hole in Stevenson’s offensive game is that he is a terrible isolation player. He made just 1 basket in 18 isolation possessions last year which is obviously a problem. The lesson throughout all of this? If Stevenson isn’t serving as your primary ball handler he’s a much better player. He’s capable in the pick and roll but his best skills are primarily working off the ball and he should be a perfect complement playing alongside a point guard like Quade Green.

There are still ifs with Stevenson’s offensive game but where he should certainly be an asset is on the defensive end. Last season Stevenson had a steal rate of 3.5% which was a top-75 mark in the country and would’ve tied with Jamal Bey for the team lead on Washington. He’s not going to be Matisse Thybulle at the top of the zone but between Stevenson and Bey there should be an expert thief on the court at all times.

Wichita State played almost exclusively man defense but Stevenson’s numbers were exceptional. Opponents scored just 0.699 points per possession with Stevenson defending them which was good for the 85th percentile nationally. He is also an awesome defensive rebounder. Last year Stevenson’s defensive rebounding rate was 19.6% as a 6’4 guard. Need some context? Isaiah Stewart’s rate was 19.4%. I’m sure part of that is Wichita State’s system which may try to have their bigs block out and let their guards come in for rebounds but it shows that Stevenson may have a knack for the ball in an area that is naturally an issue for the Husky zone.

Expectations for 2020-21

Technically we don’t know for a fact that Stevenson is going to be eligible this season but I’d be flabbergasted if he’s not. So where does that leave him? Given his skillset as seemingly the perfect partner next to Quade Green I fully expect Stevenson to be the starting 2-guard playing at the top of the zone when the Huskies take the court in the season opener.

It’s really up to Stevenson and the coaching staff whether he winds up being an exemplary player or merely a good one. If Stevenson learns some lessons from his play at Wichita State (mainly that less might be more) then he has a chance to put up similar scoring numbers despite cutting down on his total shot attempts. With a new coach and a new situation I find that a more likely outcome then if we’d seen him do what he did at Wichita while in a Washington uniform last year. I’m going to guess we don’t see a switch completely flipped but that there’s definite progress that makes him a very productive option.

Projected 2020-21 per game stats: 12.2 points, 2.7 assists, 45.7% FG, 34.7% 3pt, 77.2% FT

RaeQuan Battle, Guard, So., 6’5, 175 lbs

2019-20 Stats: 20 games, 4.9 ppg, 0.3 apg, 1.4 rpg, 33.0% FG, 26.5% 3pt, 78.6% FT

Background

Battle emerged playing for Seattle Rotary on the Nike AAU circuit after starting out in relative obscurity at Marysville-Pilchuck. The Huskies offered in spring of his junior year and it didn’t take all that long for Battle to decide that he wanted to stay home and play for Washington. Battle ended up the 80th ranked recruit in the 247 Sports Composite and a 4-star player after averaging 22 points and 9 rebounds per game as a senior in high school. He came to Washington with the reputation as a knock down shooter but with an extremely impressive vertical leap to go with it.

It looked like Battle would redshirt as a freshman when he played a combined 13 minutes in UW’s 13 non-conference games. But the team needed a shooting infusion after Quade Green went out and Battle ended up starting 3 games and had 4 games where he made at least 3 shots from behind the arc. However, Battle had the ultimate green light and it didn’t exactly serve him or the team well considering he finished the season making just over 14 of his 3-pt attempts.

Analysis

It’s clear that talent isn’t the problem for Battle. Mike Hopkins called him one of the best shooters he’s seen in practice but that didn’t always translate when he was on the court. Nearly 86% of Battle’s attempts while he was in the game were 3-pointers and given his miniscule 5.8% assist rate it’s clear that just about every time he touched the ball behind the arc he put up a shot.

Not all 3-point shots are created equal however. View Battle’s shot chart below.

Synergy Sports

When RaeQuan sat in the corner waiting for a kickout pass then he was an extremely effective shooter. Battle shot 34.2% when attempting a jump shot without taking a dribble. That ranks in the 63rd percentile nationally and it would be nice if he were a little more efficient in that regard but it’s still good enough for him to be a good offensive player.

The problem however is when Battle tries to do anything else. He made just 2 of 11 jump shots off the dribble and was 0 of 8 shooting off of screens. Battle may be a good shooter but he’s not J.J Reddick and hopefully spent his offseason working on how to make shots when he’s not perfectly set.

Battle only attempted 14 shots inside the arc last year but he made 10 of them and it shows that there’s another part of Battle’s game that he may be able to unlock. He has serious hops and defenses know his reputation as a shooter and will close out hard to defend him. If Battle can just marginally improve his ball handling then putting up a pump fake and driving for layups is a real possibility. As is getting the defender to think about ball denial then Battle cutting backdoor for easy looks at the rim. Regardless, the Huskies need to take advantage of his ability to finish at the cup and knock down free throws.

The biggest reason why Battle might not see his playing time greatly increase is due to his play on the defensive end. Using points per possession defensive numbers from Synergy is somewhat dubious in the zone but the results aren’t encouraging for Battle. Opposing players with Battle as the nearest guy scored better than 1 point per possession which put Battle in just the 6th percentile nationally. Not great. The team as a whole gave up 0.997 points per possession with Battle on the court compared to 0.929 points per possession when he wasn’t in the game.

Battle’s steal rate of 3.0% is a good number that speaks to his potential to get in passing lanes with his length and athleticism. But given the rest of his advanced stats it might be a case of Battle playing a little too much of a freelance role that causes more problems than it solves. It would also be nice if Battle rebounded just a little bit more than he did last year.

Expectations for 2020-21

The good news for the Huskies is that many of Battle’s problems are easily fixable. He needs to rein in his shot selection in a major way. He’s fully capable of making some of the long 3-pointers that he takes but they aren’t efficient shots and just a little bit more willingness to move the ball in those situations will result in better outcomes for both Battle and the team.

I think we ultimately see Battle used in a similar role that he held during the majority of conference play. He’ll come off the bench and if he knocks down his first couple shots and shows confidence then he may play 30 minutes but if he starts out 0/3 the following game then he may only play 10. Either way I think we end up seeing big gains in his shooting percentages by cutting out the worst shots from his arsenal.

Projected 2020-21 per game stats: 5.9 points, 1.3 rebounds, 40.8% FG, 36.2% 3pt, 72.0% FT

Jamal Bey, Guard, Jr., 6’6, 210 lbs

2019-20 Stats: 32 games, 5.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.5 spg, 37.0% FG, 25.4% 3pt, 74.2% FT

Background

Jamal Bey was viewed as a middling 3-star prospect when he committed to the Huskies a little over 3 years ago. He announced his plans to visit both Washington and Gonzaga but decided to pull the trigger and head to UW. In the meantime, Bey exploded in his senior year at Bishop Gorman HS in Las Vegas and averaged 22 points and 8 rebounds per game. He impressed enough to get bumped up to a 4-star by the time the final rankings came out.

There wasn’t a lot of playing time available for Bey as a freshman with a veteran Husky team that made the NCAA tournament which included Jaylen Nowell, Matisse Thybulle, and Dominic Green on the wing. Still, he showed tremendous growth over the season and 3 of his 6 games playing 10+ minutes came in UW’s final 3 games: the Pac-12 tournament final and the two NCAA tournament games. During that time Bey clearly deferred to the veteran talent on the team but showed he was comfortable doing the dirty work.

Analysis

Coming into last season it looked like Bey was a clear breakout candidate. There was the clear potential for him to immediately step into Matisse Thybulle’s shoes and be 80% as productive on defense but maybe 120% as productive on offense to compensate. That didn’t come close to materializing.

Not all of that was Bey’s fault. With limited experience at the point guard position the Huskies spent about 140 minutes experimenting with Bey running the show in a supersized defensive lineup. It lived up to its defensive billing but the Huskies scored an abysmal 84 points per 100 possessions with Bey out there alongside none of Green, Hardy, or Tsohonis. We can go ahead and scrap the idea that Bey has enough passing chops to run the offense. He’s a fine passer but it’s not fair to Bey to try to have him play as a point guard.

By comparison the Huskies spent almost no time (25 minutes) with Bey playing small forward on offense however the Dawgs put up a blistering 117 points per 100 possessions in that lineup. Jamal made just 4 of 20 jump shots off the dribble last year so playing off the ball is an absolute must for him. Bey’s theoretical skillset as someone who can both cut to the rim for dunks and knock down catch and shoot baskets is definitely best served as the 3rd, 4th, or 5th option.

Unfortunately, Bey didn’t live up to that theoretical billing as a sophomore. It was extremely clear that by seasons’ end he had lost all confidence in his shot. Bey turned down wide open looks and was hesitant to do much of anything except continue to swing the ball. This was a similar funk to the one that we saw from Dominic Green when he was a sophomore and which Green burst out of to become a very deadly shooter his last 2 years. The hope is that Bey can do similarly.

Synergy Sports

Despite Bey’s offensive issues he was still a plus on the other end of the floor. Bey led the Huskies in steals with 48 of them despite playing just the 6th most minutes. That resulted in a steal rate of 3.0% that was top-75 nationally. It’s far short of Matisse’s ridiculous 6.7% in his senior year but still a very good mark that speaks to his defensive impact. Per Synergy Sports Bey was in the 73rd percentile nationally last year as opponents scored 0.761 points per possession with Bey as the primary defender.

Expectations for 2020-21

It’s hard for me to envision Bey being nearly as bad on offense as he was last year. It seems clear in hindsight that the coaching staff put too many responsibilities onto his plate. If Washington gets healthy seasons from Green, Stevenson, and Tsohonis then it should allow Bey to settle into a role in which he appears to be more comfortable.

It’ll be interesting though to see how things change on defense with Bey in a smaller lineup. We’ve generally seen the Huskies want to deploy Bey at the top of the zone defensively to be that force causing havoc in passing lanes. If the Huskies start both Green and Stevenson then it requires one of Bey or Stevenson to shift to a corner role.

Projected 2020-21 per game stats: 7.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 37.8% FG, 32.5% 3pt, 77.5% FT