Last time out we examined the point guards and the smaller wings on the Husky roster in our preview series parts one and two. Today we’ll still be covering some players listed at guard but who are more likely to play small or power forward for Washington and occupy the corner spots of the UW zone. Unfortunately, we start with a player that may not suit up at all for the Huskies.
Nahziah Carter, Guard, Sr., 6’6
This would be the place in the preview series where I would have placed Nahziah Carter who was projected to be the team’s leading returning scorer. Unfortunately, Carter was indefinitely suspended last month that has only publicly been referred to as a violation of the Intercollegiate Athletics Code of Conduct. Carter has said that he is appealing the suspension but we really have no idea whether he’s going to be available at any point this season.
I’m making the assumption for the purpose of this preview that Carter will ultimately miss the entire year. It would be an unfortunate blow for the Huskies but there were definitely signs that Carter’s raw stats looked better than his advanced numbers. The team was 8 points per 100 possessions worse when he was playing versus when he was off the court in 2019-20. The only regulars worse than that were Tsohonis and Battle and both of them were victims of not playing alongside Quade Green in the non-conference to help their splits.
I would still much rather have Carter available than not as his ceiling for this season is higher than any other non-Green Husky. Beyond the physical attributes, Carter is a senior and this was his chance to become a veteran leader. It’s unfortunate it looks like he won’t get the chance.
Cole Bajema, Guard, So., 6’7, 190 lbs
2019-20 Stats (Michigan): 10 games, 2.6 ppg, 0.4 rpg, 76.9% FG, 57.1% 3pt, 100% FT
Bajema was almost a complete unknown nationally until a massive weekend on the AAU circuit put him on college’s radars. Coming from Lynden, WA near the US/Canada border it wasn’t necessarily a surprise that he hadn’t been scouted very heavily. The Huskies were one of the teams to offer Bajema immediately after his breakout and it looked like they would be a shoo-in. Cole’s older sister Kara is a star for the UW volleyball team so there was a clear family connection.
But the Bajema family actually grew up in Michigan before moving to Washington and it was Cole’s dream to play for Jon Beilein in Ann Arbor. He actually sent his highlight tape to Beilein and the second that he offered, Bajema committed on the spot. Of course, in a cruel twist of fate Beilein left the Wolverines for the NBA (and didn’t even last a year there) before Bajema could arrive on campus. With a new coach that didn’t recruit him taking the reins it became clear that Cole was never getting a fair shot. He decided to transfer this offseason and come closer to home to play for the Huskies.
We finally got word this past week that Bajema has received a waiver and will be immediately available which adds an intriguing if raw skillset to the team. Bajema’s calling card has been his shooting and in the limited playing time he got in Michigan that certainly rang true. Cole knocked down 10 of the 13 shots he took as a freshman as well as both of his free throw attempts.
At a lanky 6’7 Cole has the size to get his shot off against most defenders. He has a quick release and a pure stroke that makes it really difficult to profile ever being a poor shooter. As you might expect he doesn’t have the greatest handle in the world but that would really be a bonus. If we see a lot of Bajema this season it’s because he’s willing to stand in the corner and knock down shots off of kickouts rather than be relied on to be an integral part of the offense.
There are definitely legitimate questions about whether Bajema can fully take advantage of his size because of his thin frame. From a height/weight perspective (and essentially no other perspective) Bajema is essentially a 2 inches shorter Jaden McDaniels and we saw that McDaniels really struggled when driving in traffic. Again, that isn’t going to be Bajema’s role in general but it might suggest he won’t be able to rebound as well as you might like out of someone who is 6’7.
The real question is going to be how well Bajema is able to adjust on defense. If there was a question coming into college for Cole it was how he was going to slide his feet on the defensive end when guarding out on the perimeter. Luckily for Bajema that isn’t something he’s really going to be asked to do in the Husky zone. In the UW defense Bajema will almost certainly be exclusively in the corner which means his responsibilities are to use his long arms to get in passing lanes on the perimeter, close out on shooters, and provide weakside shot blocking or rebounding. Hopefully, when confined to those roles there’s a good chance that Bajema can be at least average on that end of the floor.
Expectations for 2020-21
If anyone is able to take advantage of Carter’s absence it may end up being Bajema although I’m not projecting that to happen. There are clear reasons why we may end up seeing a lot of Bajema. If the Huskies are committed to getting their best shooters onto the floor this season and are willing to take some defensive hits to do it then it’s hard to imagine Bajema not being one of those guys.
At the same time, he’s new to the defensive system and could clearly use another year to work on his body and put on muscle mass in order to become a more effective rebounder. Even with Carter potentially out there needs to be some players who take a seat in order to shorten the rotation and it makes sense to let this be more of a learning year for Bajema.
Projected 2020-21 per game stats: 1.4 points, 0.3 rebounds, 66.7% FG, 50.0% 3pt, 75.0% FT
J’Raan Brooks, Forward, So., 6’9, 220 lbs
2018-19 Stats (USC): 28 games, 2.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 44.2% FG, 35.3% 3pt, 44.4% FT
It was an interesting college recruitment for Brooks coming out of nearby Garfield. The Huskies were rumored to be favorites before Lorenzo Romar was let go but Brooks never gave Hopkins much of a chance once he arrived. He instead committed to USC only to reverse course once they were involved in the FBI investigation. That led to a commitment to St. John’s on an official visit but Brooks again changed his mind back to his original choice of USC.
That first season in L.A was filled with internal dysfunction for an extremely talented team and Brooks decided he wanted out and headed back to Seattle via transfer. He sat out all of last season due to transfer regulations as he was a year early from everyone getting their waivers approved.
Brooks is listed as a power forward by most but upon leaving high school he stated that he saw his offensive game as being more along the lines of a small forward. He’s comfortable operating in the midrange and shot 50% on 2-point attempts outside the paint in his one season at USC. That’s generally not an efficient spot to shoot the ball from but is extremely useful to have if the defense doesn’t respect your shot and/or you’re going up against another zone defense.
He also has the ability to stretch the defense and extend his jump shot to the 3-pt arc. Brooks shot just over 35% on shots from behind the 3-pt line and that seems like a fairly reasonable expectation for him moving forward despite the small sample size.
Unfortunately, this season due to the departures of Isaiah Stewart, Sam Timmins, and Bryan Penn-Johnson it appears the Huskies will be in the market for someone who can play more like a traditional big man. It’s unclear whether that is realistic for Brooks. He was primarily a jump shooter in his one season at USC although he had to play around a talented pair of big men in Bennie Boatwright and Nick Rakocevic. It might be that we see more of Brooks’ true talent level without having to find space down low from a pair like that.
The two biggest potential flaws in Brooks’ offensive game however are free throws and turnovers. Brooks’ free throw rate of 17.3 as a freshman would’ve been next to last for the 2019-20 Huskies ahead of only RaeQuan Battle who did basically nothing but launch 3’s. It’s nice to have a big man that can knock down jumpers but Brooks still needs to be able to battle down low occasionally. Given Brooks’ shot profiles his turnover rate was also quite high for someone who was primarily a jump shooter. And if he does get the ball down low more often those numbers are liable to get only higher.
There was never an expectation that Brooks was going to become a rim protector on the defensive end. The Huskies are thin at the center position this season but Brooks isn’t seemingly a viable alternative to fill that role. I’ve never seen an exact posting of his wingspan but he’s not nearly as long as Hameir Wright who is also listed on the Husky roster at 6’9.
If Brooks is able to be a difference maker on the defensive end it will likely be through his rebounding. In his limited playing time at USC Brooks was a so-so rebounder given his size. However, he played many of his minutes at that small forward spot as the third tallest player on the court for the Trojans so it’s tough to fault him too much. His defensive rebounding rate that year was similar to Jaden McDaniels this past season and if he puts up similar numbers playing roughly the same spot in the defense then that’s probably good enough.
Expectations for 2020-21
The transfer out of Bryan Penn-Johnson really helped open a clear path to playing time for J’Raan Brooks. Not because Brooks is going to step in at that center position but rather because it means Hameir Wright will likely need to do so and therefore open up more minutes at the power forward spot. We’ll get to Wright during our next addition of the preview but I see Brooks playing a reduced role from what Wright did a year ago.
I expect Brooks will be one of the first 2-3 players off the bench and play close to half the team’s minutes rotating between the 3 and 4 spot but always playing in the corner in the zone defense. When he’s paired alongside Wright as the two primary big men the Huskies will have 5 shooters on the floor at the same time and we’ll find out if the offensive gains are big enough to make up for the potential rebounding woes.
Projected 2020-21 per game stats: 4.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 41.0% FG, 35.0% 3pt, 62.5% FT
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