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Men’s Basketball Season Preview Part I- Guards

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With the football team on a bye it’s time to start previewing the very new look basketball squad

Stanford v Washington Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The esteemed philosopher Jalen Hurts recently said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that when something really bad happens you do your best to forget it and move on. That’s mostly true but obviously it’s best if you try to figure out why things went wrong and learn from it without letting it destroy your confidence.

That is the monumental task ahead of Washington head coach Mike Hopkins as he enters his 5th season at the helm of the Huskies. The 2020-21 season was a complete disaster on the court and it unsurprisingly led to a number of changes at all levels. Gone are assistant coaches Dave Rice and Cameron Dollar who have been replaced by former Cal head man Wyking Jones and former Husky great Quincy Pondexter. Also gone are 61.8% of the minutes played from last season, 78.4% of the points, 57.4% of the rebounds, and 90.7% of the assists.

We don’t have to look very far back into the past to find the last time Coach Hop had to deal with a full rebuild. That was just 2 years ago after the wildly successful senior core of Thybulle, Dickerson, Crisp, Green plus Pac-12 Player of the year Jaylen Nowell all graduated or entered the draft. And while things took a sudden nosedive part way through the season it was a lot easier to envision success coming out of that era with 5-star freshmen Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels coming aboard.

This time around the losses almost entirely came via the transfer portal and the replacements came the same way. Gone are Marcus Tsohonis (VCU), Erik Stevenson (South Carolina), Hameir Wright (North Texas), J’Raan Brooks (UC San Diego), RaeQuan Battle (Montana), as well as Quade Green. Replacing them are Daejon Davis (Stanford), Terrell Brown Jr. (Arizona), Emmitt Matthews (West Virginia), PJ Fuller (TCU), plus freshmen Jackson Grant, Samuel Ariyibi, and Dominiq Penn.

To get ready for the season which starts in about a month we’ll go player by player through the roster and include some predictions for their performance this season. We will kick things off with the guards, none of whom played a minute for Washington last season.

Daejon Davis

6’3, 190 lbs- 5th Year Senior- Transfer from Stanford

2020-21 Per Game Stats: 10.3 pts, 3.2 reb, 2.9 ast, 1.0 stl, 45% FG, 35.9% 3pt, 81% FT

Background

It took much longer than expected but we’ll finally get to see Daejon Davis suit up in the purple and gold. He verbally committed to Washington coming out of Garfield High School alongside teammate Jaylen Nowell and originally signed with UW. After the dismissal of Lorenzo Romar however he decided to reverse course and ended up at Stanford.

Davis started every game he played as a true freshman in Palo Alto and immediately looked like a future star averaging double digit points and more than 4 rebounds and assists per game while shooting 40% from the 3-point line. Turnovers were the big issue though for Daejon as he also averaged 4 of those per game.

Instead of taking a leap into an all-conference performer after that debut Davis’ production largely plateaued. His 4.8 assists per game average is still his career high, as is his 40.3% 3-pt percentage. Still, there were gains to be found as Davis matured. His turnovers per game have dropped every season of his career and his steal rate rose up until this past season as he became more comfortable on the defensive end.

From an efficiency standpoint Davis hit a new peak as a senior last year but injuries derailed his season. In Stanford’s first 3 games, all against top-50 competition, Davis was averaging 16.3 points, 4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.7 steals per game and earned KenPom Game MVP honors twice. Instead he got banged up in their next game and after that missed 6 of the next 7 contests. He came back for the Mountain road trip but struggled with just 4 points in a loss at Colorado and then was sidelined again for the next 7 games.

Davis returned to play 6 of Stanford’s final 7 games down the stretch but only started 2 of them and and went scoreless over 31 minutes in those final 2 games. It was a very unsatisfactory end to his Cardinal career and helps explain why he wanted another go at a college season in the Pac-12 after he faded from the rotation in his final days at Stanford.

Playing Style

As mentioned above, Davis hasn’t always been the most efficient player in the world. He’s a career 35.2% 3-pt shooter and 70.6% from the foul line which are both pretty close to average for what you’d want from a lead ball handler. This past season is the first time Davis finished with an offensive rating above 100 (105.3) which is generally an indicator for an average offensive performer.

As Davis’ role in the offense diminished a little at Stanford down the stretch he ran fewer pick and rolls but that made up about 40% of his possessions over the past 2 seasons. He has been generally adequate running the pick and roll over the course of his career but it would be great to see his numbers take another step up as a 5th year senior. Davis’ turnover rate is nearly 25% for his career out of the P&R so he needs to take fewer chances with the ball in traffic.

Up until this past season Davis really excelled in transition which hasn’t exactly been a strength for Washington in the recent past. As a sophomore and junior Davis averaged better than 1.0 points per possession in transition opportunities and presumably a loss of some of his explosiveness with his nagging injuries hurt his numbers a little in 2020-21. If he’s back and fully healthy it would really help a Husky offense that has often gotten bogged down in the half court without guards capable of pushing the ball in transition.

Where Davis has really become increasingly a menace is on the defensive end of the floor. Per Synergy Sports’ defensive tracking data Davis has given up 0.858 points per possession then 0.868 then 0.729 then 0.670 over his career. Stanford played almost exclusively man-to-man during his time there so we don’t know what Davis will be able to do in Mike Hopkins’ zone.

Davis isn’t exactly a Matisse Thybulle with go-go gadget arms but with a wingspan in the 6’5-6’6 range he definitely has adequate length to play at the top of Washington’s zone. Given Davis’ comfort getting out in transition we could see a lot of him streaking for quick baskets if he’s able to get deflections that turn into steals.

2021-22 Outlook

Davis sat out from the Crawsover this summer and will hopefully be returning to the court this fall fully healthy. If that’s the case then he immediately slots in as one of Washington’s starting guards and will give them a flexible option who can play on or off the ball. There will definitely be a few dumb turnovers with Davis but he has plenty of veteran savvy as well and should be able to keep Washington’s offense consistent after it has stagnated for long stretches over the past several years. I don’t think it’s likely that Davis leads the team in points but he could absolutely end up as the team leader in assists and should provide leadership for a team that hasn’t found it in recent seasons.

Per Game Projections: 11.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 46.5% FG, 34.4% 3pt, 70.5% FT

Terrell Brown Jr.

6’3, 185 lbs- 5th Year Senior- Transfer from Arizona via Seattle U

2020-21 Per Game Stats: 7.3 pts, 3.5 reb, 3.5 ast, 0.9 stl, 39% FG, 36.8% 3pt, 77.6% FT

Background

There were certainly Husky fans clamoring for Washington to add Brown into the fold after he carved up the Dawgs for 21 points a few years ago and it has finally come to fruition. He played his freshman year at Shoreline Community College before joining Seattle U. In Brown’s first season there he averaged 14.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game before upping his production as a junior to 20.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game.

When Brown decided to transfer to Arizona he had to take down his usage rate several notches as he instead was relied upon as a steady, veteran cog in the machine. After finishing 16th in the country taking 34.9% of his team’s shots while in the floor for Seattle that number got cut more than in half in Tucson at 16.8%. Despite the dramatic reduction in touches Brown still found ways to thrive. He shot a career high 36.8% from 3-pt range and finished with a nearly 4 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.

After a midseason stretch where Brown hit double figures in points 7 times in 9 games he then never scored more than 8 points in any of Arizona’s final 10 games. Part of that was due to just not getting up shots as he only eclipsed 6 shot attempts in 3 of those contests. Still, Brown found ways to contribute by boasting a 36 to 10 assist to turnover mark during that time.

Playing Style

Given the way Brown’s career has gone there are really 2 completely different approaches to the game we’ve seen. When playing at Seattle it wasn’t completely unfair to consider Brown to be a bit of a ball hog. He had a sky high usage rate and even though he also averaged better than 6 assists per game as a junior he still took a ton of shots. That affected his efficiency as he really was the definition of a volume scorer.

In 2 seasons with Seattle Brown shot just 42.9% on 2pt attempts, 30.9% on 3pt attempts, and 73.9% from the free throw line. For context, last year Erik Stevenson finished with 41.7/29.8/78.9% splits for Washington. Brown was essentially a better passing Stevenson who dominated the ball from a shot efficiency standpoint. However, their games are completely different.

We may live in the 3-point era but Brown is an old school player who would much prefer to either drive the ball or pull up for a midrange jumper. Over the course of his career Brown has only attempted 15% of his shots from behind the 3-pt line. Brown’s free throw rate last year was higher than every single Husky except for Nate Roberts so we should expect to see more trips to the free throw line than in recent years, especially from the guards.

Playing at Seattle about 35% of Brown’s possessions came as a pick and roll handler and 15% as a spot up shooter. While at Arizona mainly playing off the ball those nearly flipped at 25% P&R and 37% spot up shooting. Brown’s points per possession in the pick and roll went down a tiny bit for Arizona but his efficiency as a shooter increased. We’ll see if he can keep up those gains for UW when he’ll be back to having the ball in his hands more often.

Where Brown has the chance to really make an impact for Washington though is with his ball security. Even when you factor in the years where he had the ball on basically every possession for Seattle he has a career 2.15 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. Last season Brown’s turnover rate would’ve been the best on the team while his assist rate would’ve been second only narrowly to Quade Green.

As a defender Brown has been pretty close to average throughout his career. Last season he had a career best opponent’s points per possession of 0.759 but his steal rate has only been so-so in general. Similar to Davis at Stanford, Brown has only played 12 career possessions of zone defense over 3 seasons. He’s going to have to completely learn Washington’s system even if he has more experience in general than your average new addition.

Brown was listed at 6’1 on the team roster while at Seattle but magically has grown 2 inches since then on the Arizona and UW rosters. It’s possible he grew at age 20 but more likely is that he was given a bit of an artificial boost in that regard. When picturing Brown playing at the top of the Husky zone I would think more along the lines of David Crisp and Quade Green than Marcus Tsohonis.

2021-22 Outlook

I’m expecting that to begin the year Brown will be a starting guard next to Davis but it wouldn’t shock me if he ends up moving to a 6th man role. No matter what though Washington needs to try to keep one of Davis or Brown on the floor at all times which puts the floor on playing time at probably about 27 minutes per game. I’m anticipating somewhat of a hybrid season for Brown as he’ll need to provide more of a scoring punch than he did at Arizona but also won’t need to carry the offense completely by himself like he did for Seattle.

Per Game Projections: 9.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 42.5% FG, 32.4% 3pt, 78.9% FT

P.J Fuller

6’4, 175 lbs- 3rd year Sophomore- Transfer from TCU

2020-21 Per Game Stats: 5.8 pts, 2.0 reb, 1.9 ast, 0.7 stl, 38.9% FG, 30.4% 3pt, 72.5% FT

Background

Early in his high school career it looked like P.J Fuller was going to be the next in the long line of star guards from the Seattle area. He bounced around from high school to high school but won wherever he went. Washington seemed fated to land Fuller but then he transferred to Findlay Prep out of state for his senior year. Fuller had a family friend connection with one of TCU’s assistant coaches and he wound up heading to Fort Worth instead as a 4-star combo guard.

Things were rocky from the get go for Fuller at TCU as he struggled mightily as a true freshman shooting just 25% from the 3-pt line while starting 8 games. In year 2 Fuller’s playing time increased as he averaged an extra 3 minutes per game and started 10 additional games but his stats were nearly identical. He averaged 0.1 more points, 0.2 more rebounds and the same number of assists on slightly better shooting percentages.

TCU collapsed down the stretch winning just 3 of their final 15 games and Fuller announced in May that he was transferring back home to Washington. It took a while for that to come to fruition though as the team only officially announced his transfer last week as he presumably had some final classes that needed to get taken care of for his eligibility.

Playing Style

It’s tempting to think of Fuller as a potential lead guard at 6’4 but he gave no indication during his time at TCU that he is going to be a distributor. For his career Fuller has 86 assists and 108 turnovers. In 57 total games. Last year Fuller only had more than 3 assists in a game once (4 versus Texas A&M). He’s just not a point guard so he has to be playing with either Terrell Brown or Daejon Davis at the same time in order to put out a functional offense.

Okay so we’ve established that Fuller doesn’t normally operate as a primary ball handler and distributor so what offensive tendencies did he have at TCU? 45% of Fuller’s shot attempts last season came as a spot up shooter. That wasn’t great for his efficiency given that PJ shot just 29% on 3-pt spot up attempts and 44% on midrange jumpers. While it would be better to see Fuller have more opportunities at the basket, he’s a shooting guard who struggles to shoot the ball. You’re not going to see any time on the floor if you don’t at least try to keep the defense honest.

Fuller’s next most common play type were transition opportunities and while his turnover rate was higher than you’d like at 25% he at least shot 54% from the floor and got to the free throw line 18% of the time by attacking the basket. Unfortunately on 28 possessions last year running the pick and roll or attacking in isolation PJ shot just 38% and turned the ball over on 25% of those possessions. If it’s not in transition it’s really hard to find places where Fuller has been able to be successful on the offensive end of the floor.

Once again TCU played almost no zone defense so this will be a new system for PJ. His opponents’ points per possession numbers were solid but not spectacular at 0.858 last year and his steal rate was a little below average for a guard at 1.8%. Fuller has solid length to play at the top of the zone and the best hope for him finding success in a Husky uniform is that he completely buys in on that end of the floor and is able to help create and then run fast break opportunities.

2021-22 Outlook

There’s no question that Washington is going to have to rely on PJ Fuller this season given their guard depth. At the same time that’s not a sentence that makes me feel at ease. I would love to see a PJ Fuller rebirth in Seattle but the facts are that he just was not a good player at the Big 12 level and it’s tough to say that’s going to suddenly change in the Pac-12. Fuller doesn’t have dynamic athleticism, isn’t a great shooter, and doesn’t have great court vision. When you’re not well above average in at least one of those categories it makes things very tough. Fuller’s 3-pt% went up by 3% from his freshman to sophomore years. If he sees a similar improvement this season it would really help him find a spot on a team that is going to struggle enough with shooting as it is.

Per Game Projections: 4.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 38.5% FG, 30.8% 3pt, 74.4% FT

Dominiq Penn

6’2, 170 lbs- 2nd year Freshman

Background

We’re already at 3,000 words so don’t worry, this is going to be a quick one. Penn was completely off the radar when he announced his commitment to Washington back in January. Not only was there no reported offer from the Huskies for Penn but there were no even semi-recent reports on his recruitment. Dominiq’s dad Scoonie was an All-American at Ohio State and was on the coaching staff at the beginning of Dominiq’s high school career. That resulted in an offer from hometown Ohio State and it seemed like a slam dunk open and shut recruitment.

Penn’s dad ended up working with the Memphis Grizzlies however and that Ohio State recruitment seemingly went away. Add in the pandemic shutting down the opportunity to turn heads on the AAU circuit and Penn decided to reclassify to the class of 2021. We still don’t know the exact turn of events but it somehow Hopkins heard of Dominiq and offered him a scholarship with the chance to sign midseason and he joined the team starting Winter quarter of 2021. Penn didn’t appear in a game although he technically could have and it was probably most akin to a player in football joining the team for spring ball.

Going through Penn’s most recent high school highlights he is primarily a 3-pt shooter and per Maxpreps shot better than 40% from deep as a senior. Penn isn’t exactly going to win a dunk contest but he also seems to have a solid vertical leap on the few occasions he takes the ball all the way to the basket.

2021-22 Outlook

It’s not impossible that Penn ends up seeing the court at some point this season. If either Brown or Davis miss an extended stretch of time there may be no choice but to play Penn as the backup point guard unless P.J Fuller magically improves in that regard. Despite the recruiting attention early in his high school career Penn is still essentially an unrated recruit who didn’t really appear to have anyone actively going for him when he committed to UW. It’s possible Washington found a hidden gem in Penn but I’m going to have to either see it on the floor or hear some rave reviews from the coaching staff before I believe Penn is going to be an impact player.

Season Projection: Not Part of the Rotation

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Next time we’ll be back to go player by player through the Husky wings.