Unfortunately Washington was one of the few basketball programs whose 2019/20 season was not affected by the emergence of COVID-19. Unfortunate because they were eliminated in the 1st round of the Pac-12 tournament the day before the entire sports world shut down. We’re approaching 4 months from the end of UW’s season which means the focus in the basketball world is mostly on next season and in what form it may come.
However, I spent the 4th of July weekend catching up on entering in Washington game data into a format ripe for some on/off court analysis. I recorded the points scored/given up and numbers of possessions for every lineup on the floor. That gives us the ability to see exactly how well the team played when individual players, combinations, or entire 5-man lineups were in the game versus on the bench. Which means we get to take a time machine back to 4+ months ago and refresh what happened and what it suggests for next season.
We start though with a giant caveat. Last season was bizarre for many reasons. The Huskies appeared poised for an NCAA tournament berth and were on the heels of thrashing a solid USC team at home by 30 points when starting PG Quade Green was ruled academically ineligible for the remainder of the season. The Dawgs finished 4-13 without him.
That makes some of the on/off court analysis difficult. Washington played hard games while Green was in the lineup. They faced Baylor, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Houston, UCLA, and USC. But they also played Maine, Seattle, and Eastern Washington. Opponent adjustments are necessary to truly compare apples to apples. Was the team so much better with Green on the floor because Green was that good or because the schedule was easier? The answer is almost certainly a mix of the two but it’s tough to gauge by how much.
In order to limit the impact of the easiest games skewing the data I’m going to be removing the games that fell into Quadrant 4 in the NCAA’s NET system. It’s not a perfect way to make adjustments but it makes things a little more even.
You’ll see that I refer to the numbers when a certain player is playing a certain position. I’ll use the traditional 5 positional labels but of course Washington’s zone defense means you really only have 3 positions and double up on the spots in the front and corners of the zone. In order to make the assignments I ordered players so that the first player on the court from this list is always the point guard and the last is always the center where SG, SF, and PF depend on the order. Jamal Bey did more ball handling than RaeQuan Battle so he is always one spot closer to PG than Battle when the 2 shared the court. When Timmins and Stewart played together Timmins played center on defense so Stewart is considered the PF etc. The order for those curious is: Green, Hardy, Tsohonis, Bey, Battle, Carter, McDaniels, Wright, Roberts, Stewart, Timmins, Penn-Johnson.
Finally, the primary metrics we’re going to look at are points per 100 possessions. If I say that a player has 105 offensive points per 100 possessions that means that while they were on the court the team scored 105 points per 100 possessions. Similarly if they have 95 defensive points per 100 possessions the team gave up 95 points per 100 possessions while they were on the court. That means the player overall was +10 (105 minus 95). When on the court they outscored their opponent by 10 points over the course of 100 possessions. Last season Washington averaged about 70 possessions per game so a +10 mark would be equivalent to roughly a 7 point average victory depending upon the opponent.
Against Quadrant 1 through 3 opponents Washington scored 98.4 points per 100 possessions and gave up 96.0 points per 100 possessions. That’s a mark of +2.4. Given that factors in some of their non-conference wins against mid-majors and how many close losses the team had it’s not shocking to find they’re just barely on the positive end.
For those interested in the contrast, against Quadrant 4 opponents Washington scored 110 points per 100 possessions and gave up just 83 for a +27 mark. Combine their results in totality and it’s 100.0 points scored per 100 possessions and 94.1 points given up for a total of +5.9 or more than double Q1-Q3 alone.
The Quade Quandary
As noted in the intro the single biggest factor skewing all of the results is that the team was vastly better when Quade Green was on the floor. How much better?
Even when you take out the games against Quad 4 opponents the Huskies scored 106.9 points per 100 possessions and gave up 95.8 while he was on the floor or a +11.1 margin. The team was essentially just as good on defense with or without him but they became markedly better on offense. Not a surprise considering he was both the team’s best ball handler and best shooter. That margin was miles better than when anyone else was running the point. The team was +1.1 with Elijah Hardy as the primary ball handler, -3.2 with Marcus Tsohonis, and -3.3 with Jamal Bey.
There’s still the question of how much Green’s numbers are influenced by the relatively larger number of games against Quadrant 3 opponents than say Tsohonis. So let’s look at what happens if we only take into account games against Quad 1 and 2 opponents. Green’s numbers plummet while Hardy’s jump up. The split becomes Green +4.3, Hardy +4.1, Tsohonis -3.5, and Bey -25.8 (dear God those Bey numbers, yeesh). Hardy and Green look almost identical although with an 11 points per 100 possessions difference between their respective offensive/defensive numbers. Elijah Hardy had an abysmal individual offensive season but his defensive impact was for real and he’ll take that on to Portland State.
Of course you can make excuses for Green’s numbers as well. He didn’t get to join the team in Italy and wasn’t cleared until the week before the season. If you just take out the game against Baylor his totals against Q1/Q2 opponents jump up to +6.8. He was playing his best basketball right when UW’s schedule was starting to get tougher.
Even if “all” that Washington gets next year with Quade returning is a point guard who can post a +4.3 margin while on the court against elite opponents it will be a welcome change from getting outscored by that much over the course of the past season whenever he wasn’t on the floor.
Lack of Shooting Guard
Washington did not exactly live up to the spirit of the position in 2019/20. About 60% of their minutes at the SG spot were occupied by Hardy, RaeQuan Battle, or Jamal Bey who shot 15.2%, 26.5%, and 25.4% from 3-point range respectively. It was also unfortunate that the players that spent the most time at the position had the worst numbers.
Jamal Bey and Nahziah Carter played over 85% of the shooting guard minutes against non-Q4 opponents and were a +1.6 and +1.4 per 100 possessions respectively during those minutes. The team was slightly better on offense with Bey than Carter and slightly worse on defense but the two were nearly identical when on the court. Things got marginally better when it was RaeQuan Battle alongside whoever was at point guard as the team performed at +2.5 or almost identical with the overall totals.
The sample sizes were very small but when 2 of the 3 point guards played at the same time Washington was a much better team than when one of the wings was their de facto secondary ball handler. Across 63 minutes the team was better than +12 per 100 possessions with 2 out of Green/Hardy/Tsohonis on the court together. The Green/Hardy combo was abysmal on defense but otherworldly on offense in limited minutes while Tsohonis with either Hardy or Green was slightly above average on offense and much better on defense.
I don’t think there’s quite enough of a sample size to make broad proclamations. However, it does suggest that Washington is in much better shape when it can have 2 players capable of playing point guard on the floor at the same time. Next season with Green and Tsohonis back plus adding in Nate Pryor and (if he can get a waiver) Erik Stevenson means we are likely going to see a lot more of Washington sacrificing a little size at the front of their zone to ensure that 2 of those 4 players are on the court as much as possible.
Not So Small Forwards
The majority of the time the small forward position was occupied by either Jaden McDaniels or Nahziah Carter with a little bit of RaeQuan Battle and a tiny splash of Jamal Bey and Hameir Wright depending if UW went small or jumbo.
We’ll start with the oddity. In the 25 combined minutes when Jamal Bey was playing the SF spot the Huskies were +30.7 per 100 possessions. Now based on my definitions that can only happen when playing alongside 2 of the 3 point guards and we just read about the effect that had. I think it likely that’s more due to the effect of having the 2 point guards on the floor at the same time but then again in those 2 PG lineups without Bey also on the court the team was almost dead even. Since Bey did play some point guard minutes last year maybe the true secret is just that the Huskies need to play at least 3 competent ball handlers at the same time. More ball handlers isn’t a bad thing.
Jaden McDaniels played about half the team’s minutes here and it was by far his most effective position. We’ll get to his performance when in the role of the 4 shortly but UW was a +5.8 with Jaden occupying the SF spot.
Meanwhile, Naz Carter played the next most minutes and was a -2.4 per 100 possessions when here.Perhaps the least encouraging part of doing this analysis was the results for Carter. Washington was worse against non-Q4 opponents when he was on the court at a slight -0.4 per 100 possessions. His numbers at SG were better than at SF but it’s unfortunate for next season that Washington was worse when their leading returning scorer was playing.
Finally, Washington was a -3.8 per 100 possessions with RaeQuan Battle at the SF spot. That includes giving up a terrible 109.3 points per 100 possessions on defense. I think it’s safe to say that Battle still is undergoing some growing pains adjusting to Washington’s zone defense.
Similar to Bey at the SF spot or Hardy/Tsohonis at the SG spot, when Washington went small with Carter essentially at the 4 they were +8.2. Once again though that only happened for about 24 total minutes so it’s an extremely small sample size.
By far the most common scenario was for Hameir Wright to occupy the power forward spot and the team was usually better for it. Washington was a +4.7 with Wright playing the 4 as they were about even on defense and a couple of points better per 100 possessions on offense. Wright gets criticism for some of the careless turnovers he commits and his limited skill set but he knocked down just enough 3’s last year to improve the spacing and keep defenses honest.
Unfortunately the Huskies were much worse when one of their 5-star freshmen were in this spot. Jaden McDaniels had a margin of -4.1 points per 100 possessions when playing power forward which was drastically worse than the totals at small forward. It’s tough to attribute it to an individual quality but almost the entire difference was on the defensive end. Without another plus defensive rebounder on the court beside him the team struggled when trying to go small with Jaden at the 4 (from a weight not height standpoint).
It’s not exactly surprising that Washington was -2.8 with Isaiah Stewart at the PF spot because that means he was playing alongside either Sam Timmins or Bryan Penn-Johnson. A consistent factor of the early Mike Hopkins era has been the clogging on offense when two primarily back to the basket bigs are playing at the same time. While each of Stewart and Timmins were able to step out and occasionally hit a 3, the infusion of length on defense didn’t cancel out the losses on offense.
Finally, in a very encouraging sign Washington was +4.8 minutes per 100 possessions with Nate Roberts at the PF spot in over 100 minutes. We’ll touch on Roberts more in just a moment.
Front and Center
While the team was good in more minutes with Roberts at PF they were a juggernaut when he was at the center position. I’m fully aware that it’s just 24 minutes and an incredibly small sample size but the team was a +22.7 with him at center last year. Particularly they were a defensive juggernaut giving up just 77.3 points per 100 possessions. With the losses of 3 of the 4 remaining players that saw any time at this spot last year the odds are good that Roberts will play a major role in deciding the outcome of the 2020/21 season but this analysis shows a promising start.
Of course, Isaiah Stewart played about 80% of the team’s minutes at center and was dominant during that time. The team was just a +3.0 per 100 possessions with him at center but since we’re talking about 80% of the overall minutes it’s essentially impossible for him to be dramatically better than the overall team total. The splits in Q4 games are absolutely mystifying though. Washington with Stewart on the court against Q4 opponents were +39.4 points per 100 possessions and with Stewart off the court were -20.8. They were 60 points per 100 possessions better with Stewart on the court. It’s only in 200 total minutes (5 games) but even at that sample size that is wild.
Because of that split above the minutes that Timmins played center against Q1-Q3 teams were actually better than Stewart’s. However if you include just those 40 or so minutes he played against Q4 teams and was absolutely slaughtered then Sammy looks like a net negative. No matter how you slice it Bryan Penn-Johnson’s minutes were a disaster but he rarely ever played with the starters and it’s in a limited sample size so it’s tough to blame him too much. I’m still disappointed he transferred and would’ve liked to see what he could do with more time this upcoming season.
Finally, in 23 minutes against quality opponents with Hameir Wright at center the Huskies got outscored by 38 points per 100 possessions. In particular the defense cratered giving up 130 points per 100 possessions or turning every offense into the best in the country. With Roberts the only other returner with experience playing center in UW’s zone that’s not a very inspiring thought. Although I think Wright’s performance at the center spot was better in years past.