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Men’s Basketball Season Preview Part II- Wings

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An in-depth look at the wings on the Husky roster

Washington State v Washington Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Last time out we went player by player through the guards on the Washington men’s basketball roster. Naturally that means this time we are going to bump it up a few inches by talking about the Husky wings. If you love your basketball players between 6’6 and 6’8 then you’re going to love this segment.

Jamal Bey

6’6, 210 lbs- 4th Year Junior

2020-21 Per Game Stats: 10.3 pts, 3.7 reb, 1.1 ast, 0.9 stl, 45.8% FG, 50.7% 3pt, 73.0% FT

Background

Washington earned a commitment from Bey over Gonzaga while he was viewed as a 3-star recruit coming out of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. However he quickly shot up recruiting rankings after earning Gatorade Player of the Year honors in Nevada with a strong senior showing and ended up a consensus 4-star.

His freshman season was Washington’s senior-laden trip to the NCAA tournament and so playing time was scarce. Still, Bey emerged over the course of the season and had 3 of his 4 highest minute totals in the last 3 games of the season which were the Pac-12 title game and in the NCAA tournament.

Hopes were thus high for Bey to emerge as a breakout contributor as a sophomore. The opposite happened instead as his confidence completely eroded. Bey shot just 21% from 3-pt range during Pac-12 play and actively started passing up wide open shots. The good news was he showed some of his potential as the spiritual successor to Matisse Thybulle and led the team with his 3.5% steal rate.

Despite everything that went wrong last year for Washington the biggest bright spot was Bey’s shooting. He ended the season making 50.8% of his 3-point attempts which was 6th in the country and best in the conference. As great as that was however the rest of his game either didn’t progress or took a step back. Bey’s steal rate dropped more than in half all the way down to 1.6%. Bey’s free throw and 2-point shooting percentages went down a little bit and his rebounding only picked up marginally. Coming into this season it still feels like Bey is tantalizingly close to putting it all together.

Playing Style

Finishing 6th in the country in 3-pt% is obviously a very big accomplishment but there’s still reason to doubt that Jamal Bey is truly one of the elite sharpshooters in the nation. Despite his season-long blistering hot streak he still only attempted fewer than 3 shots from behind the arc per game. Across his entire career Jamal Bey has put up 156 total 3-pointers compared to 450 in 3 years for Erik Stevenson for example. Combine the outlier good year and the outlier bad year together and Bey is 38.5% for his career which seems closer to the truth moving forward than 50%.

That sample size issue gets into one of the larger problems with Bey’s game which is his passivity. He’s too talented to float out there and wait for the perfect opportunity. Bey led last year’s team in minutes but was 6th in shot attempts per minute behind essentially all of Washington’s guards. That translated to one shot attempt every 4 minutes on the floor. You could argue to some degree that those guys weren’t sharing the ball enough but Bey had opportunities to be assertive and rarely took them.

Unsurprisingly Bey was primarily used as a spot up shooter last year and shot an incredible 61.5% when taking a no dribble jumper in those situations which was 3rd nationally among players with as many attempts. If Bey caught the ball in rhythm with space to shoot he was almost automatic. Podcaster Mark Titus likes to say that no one should ever shoot better than 40% from 3-pt range and if you are then it means you’re simply just not shooting enough. I would love to see Bey’s total 3-point attempts double this season because even if he drops to his career average it’s still a better offensive possession than almost anything else the Huskies could be doing.

The next most popular play type for Bey was in transition where he was good compared to Washington’s overall performance but still just in the 34th percentile nationally at 0.911 points per possession per Synergy Sports. In fact basically every possession type that required Bey to make plays off the dribble saw below average production. Almost 1/3rd of Bey’s possessions came running the pick and roll, in isolation, posting up, or coming off screens. He finished between the 21st and 48th percentile nationally in all 4 categories. Bey has the theoretical size to back down smaller guards or get past big men but he has rarely shown enough skill to take advantage of those strengths.

The big disappointment for me in last year’s Bey performance was his seeming regression on the defensive end of the floor. In a zone defense Synergy’s assignment of which defender was responsible on a given play can be difficult but Bey graded out in just the 11th percentile nationally giving up 1.038 points per possession. Some of that is probably bad luck as opponents shot nearly 42% on 3-point spot up attempts against Bey. Last season Baylor was the best shooting team in the country at 41.3% so essentially everyone Bey was guarding turned into Baylor. I expect that to regress towards the mean this year.

Bey spent a lot more time playing the 3 or even the 4 for Washington last year which meant that he was largely stuck in the corner of the Husky zone. That certainly gave Bey fewer opportunities to take advantage of his length and to cause havoc in the passing lanes by getting steals. Hopefully this season Washington is able to better take advantage of his strengths as he still has the potential to be a plus defender and a difference maker on that end of the floor.

2021-22 Outlook

I would expect that Bey will see a lot of time playing small forward alongside Davis and Brown but I would hope we’ll see plenty of him with only one of them as well to let him play at the top of the zone more often. New Husky assistant coach Quincy Pondexter is the poster child of players taking giant leaps in year 4 and the hope is that he can help inspire Bey to fully tap into his potential. I’m going to hedge my bets a little and expect that we see progress but that Bey is going to fall short of being a true all-conference performer.

Per Game Projections: 13.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 47.2% FG, 37.8% 3pt, 70.5% FT

Emmitt Matthews Jr.

6’7, 215 lbs- 4th Year Junior

2020-21 Per Game Stats: 7.8 pts, 4.0 reb, 1.1 ast, 0.6 stl, 40.9% FG, 30.0% 3pt, 76.6% FT

Background

There were seemingly opportunities for the Huskies (Washington that is) to wind up with Matthews out of high school. He initially committed to Connecticut but stepped away from that in the spring of his senior year when they made a head coaching change. After an opened up recruitment he decided to still head east and signed to play for Bob Huggins and West Virginia.

It took a little while for Matthews to get established but he ended up starting the final 12 games of his freshman season during which he averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds. In the Big 12 tournament he had a career effort upsetting eventual runner-up Texas Tech with 28 points and 8 rebounds. That helped secure his starting role as a sophomore although Matthews only saw an incremental increase in his stats despite more playing time. This time Matthews faltered down the stretch averaging just 4 points and 3 rebounds per game in the final 9 contests during which West Virginia went 3-6 overall.

In his junior season Matthews again saw his numbers stagnate on a per minute basis even though he played an extra few minutes per game. He never had that truly dominant game and finished with a season high of just 14 points although he had 6 games with at least 12 points. After improving on his 3-pt percentage from years 1 to 2 he once again shot just 30% from deep as a junior. It was somewhat surprising that he would transfer but Washington quickly prioritized Matthews once he became available.

Playing Style

Matthews has been much more comfortable taking the ball to the basket to this point in his career than playing the shooter. Only about 1/3rd of his career shots have come from behind the 3-pt line and he’s a career 28.2% shooter from that range. Those numbers don’t improve if he’s unguarded so it’s not as if the poor shooting is the result of only taking crazy contested shots (*cough, Erik Stevenson, cough*). At this point we can just kind of assume that if Matthews is taking a 3 that it isn’t likely to go in but it certainly isn’t hopeless.

About 40% of Matthews’ possessions last year came in transition, on cuts to the basket, or putback attempts and he scored at least 0.93 points per possession in all 3 play types. There’s no question that he’s at his best when he’s able to attack the basket and stays aggressive going towards the rim. Matthews had a career high 32.3% free throw rate last season while converting almost 75% of his foul shots. Washington needs to try to put Matthews in spot where he can catch the ball moving towards the basket and allow him to get dunks and/or trips to the free throw line.

Based on Matthews’ frame he looks like he could be a prototypical versatile defender. He has the length and athleticism to stay with 2 guards and is still sturdy enough to do an adequate job guarding most power forwards. However Matthews’ numbers never quite lived up to his billing.

He gave up 0.91 points per possession on defense per Synergy Sports which ranked in the 33rd percentile nationally. However he only gave up 0.7 ppp when guarding either in isolation or when posted up compared to 0.91 guarding jump shots. Matthews is likely to play a corner spot in the Husky zone so his strength will likely be a bigger asset in that position.

2021-22 Outlook

Matthews should be a valuable swiss army knife for Washington this season capable of playing either the 3 or the 4 depending on who else is on the floor. I’m expecting that Matthews will be the de facto power forward in the starting lineup but given how many options the Dawgs have at that spot he’ll often shift up when UW wants to go big. Bob Huggins’ teams are always known for their physicality and the coaching staff is hoping that attitude will rub off on a team that was missing toughness last season.

Per Game Projections: 8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 41.2% FG, 30.8% 3pt, 74.5% FT

Cole Bajema

6’7, 190 lbs- 3rd Year Sophomore

2020-21 Per Game Stats: 3.1 pts, 1.6 reb, 0.3 ast, 0.5 stl, 39.7% FG, 38.7% 3pt, 80.0% FT

Background

Similar to RaeQuan Battle before him, Cole Bajema was a complete unknown on the recruiting trail until he exploded one weekend playing AAU ball over the summer. Offers started to roll in for the prospect from just South of the Canadian border but Washington appeared in great shape given their proximity and that Cole’s older sister Kara is a volleyball legend for UW. It turned out that the Bajemas grew up in Michigan and Cole was a huge fan of their coach John Beilein to the extent that he personally sent him workout tape and committed to UM as soon as the offer came through.

Unfortunately for Cole, Beilein decided to to leave for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Juwan Howard took over. Bajema produced whenever he got in the game for Michigan but only played 39 total minutes while scoring 26 points. Howard who never recruited Bajema and has since become one of the elite recruiters in the game seemingly made it clear to Cole that he was going to get recruited over by top-50 recruits if he stayed and so Cole returned closer to home to Washington.

Bajema got off to a slow start like just about everyone for Washington last year. After a DNP in a loss versus Washington State Bajema became a key part of the rotation. He played 20 minutes per game over the final month and while he didn’t shoot the ball very often he made 45% of his 3-pt attempts.

Playing Style

There’s no question that Bajema’s biggest strength is his shooting and it’s the focus of his offensive game. 50% of Bajema’s offensive possessions were as a spot up shooter and he surprisingly only made one-third of those attempts despite his overall solid shooting percentage. However when Bajema got an unguarded catch and shoot look he made 54% of them. If Bajema is wide open on the perimeter with his feet set then he’s going to convert a very high percentage of those looks.

Even though Bajema has no problem putting up 3-pointers he still has attempted as many 2-pointers as he has 3’s in his career. We saw plenty last year of Bajema putting up the pump fake and driving to the basket attempting a finger roll or scoop shot to try to get the lay-in. The efficiency was severely lacking on those plays but if Bajema is able to improve in that area it would really make him a well-rounded scorer.

Bajema doesn’t exactly have elite foot speed on the defensive end but he’s a solid athlete with length and down the stretch he showed plenty of hustle which helped keep him in the rotation. Washington got torched giving up 98 points in the season finale to Utah but Bajema had 3 steals in that game and was one of the bright spots on that end. Put it all together and Bajema gave up 0.898 points per possession which was below average but not as atrocious as some of the Husky defenders last year.

2021-22 Outlook

You may have noticed that none of the additions Washington has brought in this year covered so far in the previews are lights out shooters. The Dawgs absolutely have a need for that skillset and because of that Bajema is going to play a good amount as long as he makes shots and at least competes on defense. I’m skeptical we’ll ever see Bajema start but he should play 20-25 minutes per game as one of the first players off the bench.

Per Game Projections: 5.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 41.5% FG, 37.5% 3pt, 85.0% FT

Samuel Ariyibi

6’8, 190 lbs- 1st Year Freshman

Background

It was early morning on March 25th when Travis Branham tweeted out that Samuel Ariyibi committed to the University of Washington. I had never heard of Ariyibi before and there were very few people that had. Ariyibi is originally from Nigera and played at the NBA Africa Academy which prepares players for coming over to the United States and hopefully making the NBA.

He had been on scout’s radars for a couple of years before deciding to come to Seattle. Mike Schmitz who is now an NBA Draft scout for ESPN tweeted out more than 2 years ago that he had been impressed by Ariyibi particularly on the defensive end. Schmitz had this to say about Ariyibi back in the summer of 2019 at a Basketball Without Borders camp:

The clear-cut MVP of the camp, Ariyibi kept his foot on the gas all four days, shining as a slashing, playmaking wing who defends multiple positions with incredible energy at 6-foot-8. He has made tremendous strides since joining the NBA Academy Africa in October 2018, fine-tuning his ballhandling and playmaking while becoming more of a threat in midrange spots, though shooting remains his biggest weakness. While he impressed as a driver, facilitator and finisher, it was Ariyibi’s overall intensity that stood out most. If he doesn’t corral the defensive rebound, he’s the first one down the floor. If he’s not in the primary action on offense, he’s scrapping for loose balls to create extra possessions. On the defensive end, he’s picking up 94 feet, pestering point guards, battling bigs, rotating for blocks and diving on the floor...

Ariyibi, who compares physically to a young Shaun Livingston, shoots on the way down at times, doesn’t always look at the rim from 3 and has a slender frame. But when you combine his defensive versatility, competitiveness, offensive feel and approach to the game, he has a chance to be drafted one day. Ariyibi is a Class of 2020 recruit who continues to gain steam at the NCAA level.

At 6’8 with a wingspan in approximately the 6’11 range he has a body type like a slightly more filled out Jaden McDaniels. In Hop’s zone defense that is prototypical size for a combo forward that can provide weakside shot blocking help from the corner.

On the offensive end of the floor there’s a chance that Ariyibi develops a more polished game but at this point we should expect most of his points to come rolling to the basket and looking for put back opportunities. Although clearly there’s not a firm scouting report on him to know if he has developed his shot in the last year or so to become a legitimate outside threat.

I’ve yet to see an interview with Ariyibi since his commitment and Hop hasn’t gone into much detail about how he popped on to UW’s radar and how they landed his pledge. However there have been plenty of other schools that have gone and found gems via the international route while Washington has almost never tried. We’ll find out hopefully sooner than later whether Ariyibi can be that for the Huskies.

2021-22 Outlook

I’m not going to outright dismiss any possibility of Ariyibi finding playing time this season. However given UW’s roster they already have another 4 players between 6’7 and 6’10 who are capable of playing power forward. And until we find out whether Ariyibi has a legitimate 3-point shot I think that’s probably his best position for Washington. Based on all of that I’m going to assume that Ariyibi is a clear redshirt as he acclimates to the US and college basketball until I get a closer look at him.

Per Game Projections: Not a part of the rotation.