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Season Report Card: Hameir Wright & Cole Bajema

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How did we grade the performance of the Husky forwards?

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

We’re grading the seasons of each of the Husky players 2 at a time and started on Monday with centers Nate Roberts and Riley Sorn. We’ll continue working our way down from center to point guard among the major rotation pieces which gets us the two players who played the most power forward for Washington down the stretch.

Hameir Wright- Senior, 6’9, 220 lbs

Max’s Per Game Predictions: 6.7 pts, 5.2 rbd, 1.3 blk, 38.2% FG, 36.0% 3pt, 62.1% FT

Actual Per Game Averages: 6.2 pts, 4.1 rbd, 1.1 blk, 37.9% FG, 29.0% 3pt, 62.9% FT

Prior Seasons

Excitement for Wright was high after he reclassified having been 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 his final year of high school. 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 in his first 2 seasons averaged between 2-3 points, 2-3 rebounds, and 1-2 blocks per game while shooting between 24% and 28% from 3-point range. As a junior he became a full-time starter and his numbers jumped up with the corresponding improvement in playing time. After a slow shooting start, Wright ended up making 40.4% of his 3-pt attempts in conference suggesting he may have turned a corner.

Season Summary

It was a rough year for Hameir but particularly at the beginning of the season. Any hope that Wright would be able to transform his offensive game vanished fairly quickly. He took 12 shots including going 1/10 from the 3-pt line in a loss to UC Riverside when the Huskies only mustered 42 points. He started out just 6 of 41 (14.6%) from beyond the arc over Washington’s first 9 games.

That number eventually picked up. Wright finished out the year at a 38.9% clip after that point thanks to an 8/13 hot streak in the final 2 games of the season. Still, Wright took over 2/3rds of his shots from behind the 3-pt line which was actually a better percentage than the previous year. His efficiency when he did take the ball to the hoop soared this year at 57.8% (20%+ higher than the previous 2 years) but since he only did it 2 times a game it wasn’t as noticeable in his final numbers.

Wright’s primary value has always been on the defensive end but without a Noah Dickerson or Isaiah Stewart there was hope Wright’s rebounding would pick up. His defensive rebounding rate went up from 13.1 to 15.5 but that’s still below average for someone who ended up playing as many minutes as the sole big on the floor as Wright did.

2020-21 Hameir Wright Shot Chart

Synergy Sports

Advanced Stats Breakdown

Obviously if you let the opponent get every single offensive rebound then it doesn’t matter how many misses you force on the first attempt. That’s a definite black mark for Wright but even with that and his tendency to foul there’s no question he’s a good defender. He finished in the 68th percentile nationally defending post-up attempts and in the 58th percentile on spot up shooters. There aren’t a lot of players who are capable of being above average against both sets of play types.

As mentioned in the Nate Roberts/Riley Sorn report cards, there was a seismic shift in the UW defense halfway through the year that benefited Hameir Wright. Wright’s defensive versatility in a switching scheme shone through and Washington was much better with him on the court late in the year. How much better?

In the season’s first 11 games the Huskies were within 1/100th of a point worse per 100 possessions with Wright playing versus on the bench. Essentially identical. However, that’s because the offense got 9.5 pts per 100 poss worse with Wright on the floor and the defense got 9.5 pts per 100 poss better.

In the final 15 games the defensive improvement was nearly as stark but the offense actually got better by nearly 5 pts per 100 poss with Wright on the court. Put it all together and the team was +5.8 pts per 100 poss when Wright played versus when he didn’t across the entire season. His offensive liabilities may be frustrating to watch but for the second consecutive year the team was better when Wright was on the court. He’s going to be missed next season a lot more than many fans realize.

Conclusion

This was year 4 of the Hameir Wright experience and it’s tough to say that he really got that much better at anything other than team defense from his freshman season. His rebounding and turnover rates were nearly identical. His shooting percentages improved slightly but his free throw rate went down. Wright’s blocks went down as he played less center but his steals went up a little bit. Overall, there just wasn’t much player development happening.

And yet as I’ve noted throughout the article it didn’t mean that Wright was a bad player. He had serious flaws and his biggest strengths were things not easily captured by a box score. Wright knew when to make a rotation and was willing to take a charge to force a turnover. We’ll always wonder what might have been if he was ever to just make an extra 5-10% of his 3-pt shots or became just coordinated enough to reliably take an opposing big man off the dribble. Still, I’ll appreciate Hameir for his time in Seattle

Final Season Grade: B-

Cole Bajema- Sophomore, 6’7, 190 lbs

Max’s Per Game Predictions: 1.4 points, 0.3 rebounds, 66.7% FG, 50.0% 3pt, 75.0% FT

Actual Per Game Averages: 3.1 pts, 1.6 rbd, 0.2 ast, 39.7% FG, 38.7 3pt%, 80.0% FT

Prior Seasons

When Bajema broke out in high school the Huskies were one of the teams to offer Bajema and it looked like they would be a shoo-in. Cole’s older sister Kara was 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.

Season Summary

It was an inconsistent first half of the season for Bajema. He played double digit minutes against Baylor, Utah, Seattle, Stanford, and USC but that was because those were the biggest blowouts. In their other 9 games out of the first 14 he played 32 combined minutes including 3 DNP-CDs. It seemed like as the rotation shortened that Bajema would not be a major part of it. Understandable since at that time he was just 5/17 (36%) on 2-pt attempts and 2/9 (22%) on 3-pt attempts with 1 assist against 7 turnovers.

However, Bajema ended up playing double digit minutes in all of the team’s final 11 games and played 18 or more minutes in all but 2 of them. It became a bit of a chicken or egg situation. Did Bajema’s numbers improve because he was playing more and got in a rhythm or did he get more playing time because he was playing better? The end result was that Bajema in those last 11 games shot 8/14 (57%) on 2-pt attempts and 10/22 on 3-pt attempts (45%) with 5 assists against 9 turnovers.

Put it all together and the shooting percentages are about what you’d expect for someone who was billed as having a nice outside shot but wasn’t a superb ball handler. He finished just under 40% from 3-pt range and just over 40% from inside the arc. Watching Bajema’s lanky frame get inside the lane brought up a lot of Hameir Wright flashbacks. It felt like his variety of finger rolls at the rim should go in at a much better rate than they actually did. Wright never really got dramatically better over the course of his career but Bajema is young enough that improvement is possible.

Part of the reason Hopkins was willing to give Bajema extended time though was because of his defense. His block percentage was only slightly below that of Nate Roberts and his steal percentage was only slightly below that of Hameir Wright. He finished with 3 steals in 2 of the 3 games against Utah this past season and seemingly always hustled on that end of the floor. If we’re just going off the eye test it felt like even when Bajema committed a foul on defense he was close to getting all ball or it was a ticky-tack hand check call.

2020-21 Cole Bajema Shot Chart

Synergy Sports

Advanced Stats Breakdown

The season-long numbers for Bajema from Synergy Sports weren’t particularly favorable. His 0.85 points per possession on offense was in the 45th percentile nationally and the 0.90 ppp on defense ranked in the 35th percentile. However, both of those marks were better than the team as a whole finished so I guess it could obviously be worse.

On offense Bajema saw the vast majority of his possessions either as a spot up shooter or in transition. The splits as a shooter were stark. Bajema finished just 1/10 on contested catch and shoot opportunities which was in the 2nd percentile nationally but finished 8/15 when wide open which ranked in the 94th percentile. If he’s playing alongside anyone with the ability to drive to the lane, suck in the defense, and kick it out to him with his feet set then Bajema is going to continue to be a very efficient player.

Trying to assess Bajema’ impact on the court it seems reasonable to primarily look at those last 11 games where he played around half of the team’s minutes. Washington scored about +4 points per 100 possessions on offense when Bajema played during that span and were -1 pts per 100 poss on defense for a net +3. The team also did better when he was essentially playing the power forward spot with only one of Wright, Roberts, or Sorn on the court alongside him.

The season-long on/off court numbers look even better but the majority of his early playing time came in blowouts where the opposing team already had the game wrapped up which makes me trust those totals a little less.

Conclusion

The way that Bajema’s season went reminded me a lot of Jamal Bey when he was a true freshman. Bey saw limited playing time for a team that went to the NCAA tournament but in the final 3 games played 11+ minutes in each of them and shot 6/8 from the floor. It’s not an identical situation but both clearly became increasingly comfortable as the year went on and set the stage for an increased role in year 2 in the program.

Ultimately, Bajema surpassed my expectations as his usage in the first half of the season is closer to what I was expecting. During those final 11 games he averaged 5 points and 2 rebounds per game while generally playing as the 4th or 5th option on offense. Next year he’ll need to work on cutting down his turnovers and improving his rebounding but I saw enough from Bajema to feel confident that he’ll play a major role next year and that he showed enough to be considered one of the building blocks for the program moving forward. He may never be a star but Bajema has cemented his status as a very useful rotation piece.

Final Season Grade: B