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Season Preview: Player Profiles Part IV

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We wrap up our player by player look at the Husky roster with the options to play center

NCAA Basketball: Seattle at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

We’re finally at the end of our player profiles. To catch up on the previous installments you can read about the point guards, guards/wings, and forwards at each of those links. That just leaves us today with the potential centers. At this point we may not know exactly when the season is officially going to start but that doesn’t mean we can’t still get ready for it.

Hameir Wright, Forward, Sr., 6’9, 220 lbs

2019-20 Stats: 31 games, 5.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 34.9% FG, 33.6% 3pt, 63.0% FT

Background

When Hameir Wright committed to Washington it was almost out of nowhere. He made the unofficial visit out to Seattle, received an offer from Hopkins, and committed on the spot. He was originally going to be in the class of 2018 but re-classified in order to join the Huskies a year earlier following the lead of AAU teammate Nahziah Carter who signed on shortly before him. Wright’s last year in high school he was named the Gatorade New York Player of the Year after averaging 16.7 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.9 blocks per game so expectations were rightly quite high.

Right from the jump it was clear that Wright’s offensive game was a work in progress but that his length could cause major problems for opponents on the other end of the court. Wright was a major rotation piece during his first two seasons for the Dawgs but saw a jump in playing time as a junior. Now as the lone senior on this roster (pending Carter’s indefinite suspension) he’ll try to make a leap and provide the Huskies with much needed leadership.

Analysis

During the Mike Hopkins era there’s been no bigger punching bag for the Husky basketball fanbase than Hameir Wright. It’s not exactly difficult to see why even if it’s a little unfair. Wright just doesn’t have the offensive skillset you want for someone in his position. Everything he does is just slightly more difficult for Hameir than it needs to be. He’s prone to the boneheaded pass, and the blown layup, and the badly missed 3-pointer. For someone who is 6’9 with a 7’3 wingspan he plays as if he’s just 6’3 with the ball in his hands.

Wright is never going to be a serious low post threat. That just isn’t his game. He doesn’t have the ball security and doesn’t play physical enough to score through contact. That means that he has to be a good shooter to provide value on the offensive end and he’s made major strides in that department. After taking almost an even amount of 2 and 3-point shots in his first two seasons, Wright took 75% of his shots from deep as a junior and hit a career high 33.6% of those shots. It was even better in conference play as Wright knocked down 40.4% of his 3-point attempts against Pac-12 competition which was 8th in the entire league.

Many of those looks are wide open so the misses stand out in your head but if Wright is able to shoot anywhere close to 40% from deep over the course of an entire year then it doesn’t matter how bad the misses look. That’s an extremely efficient shot.

When Wright isn’t open he’s prone to dribbling into traffic and losing the ball or attempting an ill advised entry pass. The latter should be less of a concern this year with an offense not based around the post up game. And with lanes to the basket that are less congested we may see more success of Wright driving if someone bites on a pump fake. Although that’s still probably not extremely advisable even if it sometimes only takes Wright 2 steps to get to the rim with his long legs.

Synergy Sports

Part of the reason why Wright is unfairly maligned by the fanbase is that much of what he does on the defensive end isn’t captured in the box score. The guy knows how to be in the right place at the right time and cut off plays before they happen even if he doesn’t wind up with the block or the steal. Last season Wright had the 3rd highest split between his on court/off court impact on the team’s net points per possession trailing only Quade Green and Isaiah Stewart. The mistakes are particularly jarring but in general the team was much better when he was on the floor than off it.

In Wright’s first two season he ended up having to play a decent number of minutes as the center in the zone defense due to the liability of having Noah Dickerson in that spot. Last year that almost never happened with Isaiah Stewart leading the team in minutes. Wright played just 25 minutes at center and the team was absolutely gouged on the defensive end in that time. It was a small enough sample that I’m not willing to condemn the possibility of putting Wright at center again this year.

The change in circumstance caused Wright’s block percentage to fall almost in half from his underclassmen years and I’m guessing that the totals will bounce back to the 8-9% range from last year’s 3.5%. Wright’s knowledge of the system and long arms make him a legitimate rim protector despite weighing just 220 pounds.

The biggest flaw in Wright’s defensive game however comes as a rebounder. At this point I think we have to say that Wright likely is what he is in this regard. The zone is particularly vulnerable to giving up rebounds and Wright just struggles when going up against players with legitimate center size. I’m hopeful that Wright’s ability to stretch the floor on offense will make up for the rebounding deficit on the other end but it’s certainly possible that it’s too much of a liability.

Expectations for 2020-21

As the only senior on the roster the Huskies need Hameir Wright to take charge and lead by example. Quade Green is the clear captain of the UW offense and Wright needs to be the guy on the defensive end. I think Wright will be a regular starter although whether it’s at center or power forward may depend on the opponent. Regardless, I expect Wright to see times where he’s sharing the court with Nate Roberts and ceding the center spot to him and otherwise manning the middle when Roberts is on the bench.

On offense it’s hard to see how the Huskies are more valuable if Wright tries to be anything more than the 5th offensive option and serving as a jump shooter. At this point he is what he is although a little more consistency could cause his percentages to increase even if we don’t see entirely new skills develop.

Projected 2020-21 per game stats: 6.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 38.2% FG, 36.0% 3pt, 62.1% FT

Nate Roberts, Forward, So., 6’10, 260 lbs

2019-20 Stats: 19 games, 1.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 52.6% FG, 37.5% FT

Background

Roberts was rated as the 244th overall prospect in the class of 2018 by the 247 Sports composite and committed to the Huskies over Syracuse and Nebraska. He was somewhat of a mystery as a bench player at national powerhouse Brewster Academy who underwent a growth spurt near the end of high school. After playing his junior year as a 6’7 wing he sprouted up to 6’10 and started putting on muscle. Ultimately, Bryan Penn-Johnson also joined that recruiting class and the Huskies had a pair of potential center prospects which was a huge roster need at the time.

There were rumblings that Roberts was showing out as the better player in practices but showed a willingness to redshirt and adjust to the system and he played 0 minutes in year one. Nate transformed his body in that time and Coach Hopkins compared him physically to Dwight Howard last fall. He looked great in the trip to Italy but still was unable to see much of the court with stud freshman Isaiah Stewart and veteran option Sam Timmins in front of him.

Analysis

For the last 2 years it’s been a battle for Roberts to try to find playing time but all of a sudden the Red sea has parted. Stewart (draft), Timmins (graduation), and Bryan Penn-Johnson (transfer) are all gone now which leaves Roberts as the closest thing to a pure center that exists on the roster.

There’s no question that Roberts is the best rebounder on the team by a huge margin. He has the combination of bulk and length that you need to succeed in that regard but he also shows impressive instincts with a nose for the ball. The bulk may actually be more of an issue than it should as Hopkins called him out last month for having gained a little too much weight during the offseason. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if he has to work himself into shape over the course of the season which cuts into his playing time.

No matter what, it will be an adjustment for this Husky offense without someone that can catch an entry pass, put up an excellent post move, and score a large percentage of the time. Washington was spoiled with Noah Dickerson and Isaiah Stewart during the Hopkins era. Roberts is unlikely to be completely ineffective in this regard but he’s not worth building an offense around like those two were.

It was limited action last year for Roberts but he did manage a free throw rate of 84.2%. For context, Isaiah Stewart was 59% and Noah Dickerson was at 85.2% his senior year which was second in the country. At the very least it suggests that Roberts should be able to draw fouls through brute strength even if he doesn’t have an elaborate array of post moves having only switched to center during his last year of high school. Nate made just 3/8 free throws which is too small a sample size to draw many conclusions from but suggests it may be a jarring adjustment after Dickerson’s career 70.7% free throw percentage and Stewart’s 77.4% last year.

There was some thought that Roberts might be able to be a credible 3-point threat given his history as a small forward before his growth spurt but he didn’t really show off that skillset in limited time last year. Expect something around the lines of Stewart’s 3-pt shooting last year where he’s left wide open after screening and so maybe puts up close to 1 attempt per game.

Synergy Sports

I mentioned Roberts’ rebounding proficiency and that will probably be his biggest impact on the defensive end of the floor. However, as the man set to play the most minutes at center there will also be a need for him to show out as a shot blocker. We didn’t see much of that last season with his block percentage of 2.2% which was the worst of any of the Husky big men. It was in a small sample size so we may see better figures over the course of a full season but it’s definitely something to pay close attention to once games start.

If however, you’d like to have a small sample size alert that shows in Roberts’ favor then you need only look at his on/off court splits. Roberts was 4th on the team last year just behind Hameir Wright in that regard and when Nate was on the court the Huskies had the best defense in the country. Again, he only played 11% of the team’s minutes so that’s not sustainable but potentially a hint at what he can do. Roberts played about the same # of minutes at center as Hameir Wright last year and the Huskies gave up 77 points per 100 possessions compared to 130 for Wright.

Expectations for 2020-21

If Roberts is to turn into a complete stud right away then there’s certainly room for him to play a ton of minutes for this Husky squad. Given the propensity of young bigs to get into foul trouble especially when they’re dealing with conditioning issues I’m not exactly expecting we’ll see that. I’m split on whether I think Hopkins will start Roberts and have him be the first person subbed out before shifting Wright to center or if Wright will start and have Roberts be the first off the bench. Either way, something in the neighborhood of 25 minutes per game seems reasonable and a team leading in rebounds should go along with it.

Projected 2020-21 per game stats: 5.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, 51.4% FG, 20.0% 3pt, 61.2% FT

Riley Sorn, Center, So., 7’4, 255 lbs

Background

The big, big, big man out of Richland, Washington was rated the 375th prospect by 247 Sports but didn’t have a grade in the composite rankings. His immense height made for an intriguing option but Sorn was obviously extremely raw and ended up averaging 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks as a senior. He had a scholarship offer to Saint Mary’s but decided instead to join the Huskies as a preferred walk-on. Sorn wanted to study aerospace engineering and agreed to a deal of walking on for his first 2 seasons with a scholarship waiting for him if he still wanted to pursue basketball. He apparently still does and so Sorn was put on scholarship for the 2020-21 season.

Analysis

There’s not a whole lot here for the sake of analysis. Sorn played a combined 1 minute last year and put up no statistics of any kind. At 7’4 it’s clear that just by standing anywhere near the hoop Sorn has the ability to either dunk the ball or block a shot. The biggest question marks were his strength, agility, and basketball IQ.

Playing center in the Husky zone is often about length but it can be more about knowing what to do if there’s penetration and knowing when to step out to challenge a potential 10-foot jump shot and risk letting a back door layup behind you. That is less of an either/or proposition with enough athleticism to recover but there’s no indication that Sorn has those kind of physical skills.

Expectations for 2020-21

Sorn may be on scholarship now but I don’t see him being a viable option still unless there’s an injury to either Wright or Roberts. The hope is that Sorn has progressed to the point where he can step up if other big men are in foul trouble and play 4 quality minutes without being a complete liability and soaking up a few fouls if necessary. That’s good enough to have Sorn appear in something like half of the games and play somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-10 minutes depending on whether or not the game is out of reach. And if Sorn winds up being a legitimate contributor? Complete gravy.

Projected 2020-21 per game stats: 0.6 points, 0.4 rebounds, 80.0% FG, 50.0% FT

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