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Dunklake City

How well have the Huskies turned dunks into wins in recent years and what does it say about this seasons’ prospects?

NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Washington Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

The dunk is one of the most exciting plays in basketball and it has created many iconic posters over time. It’s an energy creating play that can get a crowd up on its feet and help ignite a team. Some will also say that a dunk is over-rated because it’s still just two points, especially in today’s day and age of basketball where the 3-point ball rules all.

Dunks are fun and entertaining but winning is the most important thing for any coach, player and fan.

What if I told you that there might be a correlation between dunks and winning?

Sounds like a stretch but let me entertain you with some numbers. Let me also preface by saying there are of course other factors like defense, rebounding, turnovers, 3-point shooting, etc., that also contribute to winning but you may find some of these results fascinating below.

This is not a complex algorithm or anything like that. It’s a rather simple analysis that could probably be poked and prodded but from a high-level, I think there is something there. Also, to set a foundation here, not necessarily saying that the more dunks the better but as we will see with the data below, there is a correlation between the higher amount of dunks and making it to the post season.

Let’s also be real, the Huskies will not be breaking any 3-point records this year, but this team does have a good chance to be pretty good defensively. If the 3-Ball will not be a position of strength, the Huskies will need to find ways to score and be a legit defensive squad.

Washington Huskies Dunking Analysis

Using Synergy and Bartovik, I was able to look at every UW team since 2009 and see exactly how many dunks, layups, and 3 pointers by each team. Synergy and Bartovik does not have a lot of data before 2009 unfortunately so was unable to see how the earlier teams with Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Jon Brockman, Spencer Hawes, Quincy Pondexter, etc. performed but would have been interesting to see as well.

Let’s start with the 6 most prolific Husky dunking teams since 2009:

As you can see, the top 6 “dunking” teams all happen to have winning records and only the 2015-2016 team with Freshman Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss were just below 20 wins. We all remember how that team was a Stephen Thompson non-called travel and buzzer beater away from winning 20 games and a potential NCAA tourney berth but did make the postseason NIT after being picked 11th preseason. UW was led by uber athletic Marquese Chriss with 55 dunks and Malik Dime with 41 dunks. That team was also very young and didn’t have a lot of bulk in the post which led to some deficiencies on Defense (80.8 points allowed/game).

The 2011-12’ team finished 1st in the Pac 12 but was infamously left out of the NCAA Tournament that year. That team had its deficiencies as well but was good enough to be an NCAA Tournament team with a 14-4 Pac 12 and a 1st place record. However, a painful 1st round loss to the Oregon State Beavers in the Pac 12 Tourney ultimately did that team in.

In this exercise, let’s say 90 Dunks is a benchmark for a successful season. 90 dunks does not guarantee an NCAA Tournament but each one of these teams above played in the Post-season (NIT or NCAA).

Now let’s look at the Bottom 7 Dunking teams since 2009:

The 2014-2015 season was 16-15 and had 82 dunks that notably had Robert Upshaw kicked off the team. As you may recall, Robert Upshaw only played 19 games before he was kicked off the team. UW was 14-5 after losing to a Nationally ranked Top 15 Utah when Upshaw was kicked off the team. With Upshaw, they were on their way to a 20+ win team most likely and would have been on the bubble with their RPI. Upshaw had 35 dunks in 19 games which was on pace for over 60 just by himself.

Coincidently, the 2019-2020 season finished at the same number and had a similar issue of losing a Key player (Quade Green) after a marquee non-conference win. Quade was not a dunker of course but had an issue of inexperience without their Star PG. Per KenPom, they were rated #319th in Experience and had a KenPom Luck rating of 353 out of 353 teams. Mostly due to playing 5 Freshman and 3 sophomores. However, I would also say that this team had the length and athleticism with Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels and Naz Carter to finish at a higher dunk total but floor spacing and offensive flow really made it difficult for UW to score easy baskets.

Interestingly, none of these teams were above 18 wins and none made the post season. The highest ranked team in the Pac 12 standings were the 2012-2013 season that finished 6th, led by C.J Wilcox, Scott Suggs, Abdul Gaddy, and Aziz N’Diaye. Makes sense as that team was more perimeter oriented with only Aziz and Desmond Simmons in the middle. They lost a lot of explosiveness and athleticism in losing Terrance Ross and Tony Wroten from the year before.

So what can this tell us about last season’s team?

In the preseason, there were some expectations that UW was going to be much more athletic by bringing in Transfers Emmitt Matthews, Daejon Davis, PJ Fuller and Junior College Transfer highflier Langston Wilson. Terrell Brown Jr. as well of course but was not known for above the rim highlights. In the Exhibition game versus Central Washington last season, it was pretty apparent that the athleticism was there, and they recorded 9 dunks in the blowout win. Compared to the year prior with the 5-21 team that only had a total of 40 dunks, it seemed like the athleticism had increased dramatically.

However, the Huskies got off to a really slow start as the team was figuring each other out and only had 3 dunks in the first 4 games, losing two of those games. In fact, UW started comically shooting 1/6 on dunk attempts to start the season which mirrored the start of the season.

Then in the two wins in South Dakota, Washington had 5 dunks in the George Mason win and 3 dunks in the South Dakota State game. Not surprisingly, Washington would follow up with only 1 dunk total in the consecutive losses to Nevada and Winthrop, probably due to tired legs and apparently Covid hit the team hard while in South Dakota.

To me, a big reason for the early struggles had to do with the team feeling each other out and a clear disfunction early on but when the offense was performing well, they found easy ways to score.

Let’s look at the first 10 games in non-conference play where UW went 5-5 and ultimately ruined any chances of postseason play early on:

  • In the 5 losses, UW was 4/9 on Dunk Attempts
  • In the 5 wins, UW was 13/17 on Dunk Attempts

Again, this is a good representation that the Huskies struggled mightily on offense in the 5 losses and could not get easy shots, mostly settling for outside jumpers or tough mid-range shots. Looking deeper, in the 3 worst losses of the year (Northern Illinois, Winthrop and Utah Valley at home), the Huskies had 1 dunk total! A sign that the Huskies could not get out in transition and could not generate any good looks on offense to create high % shots.

However, in the 5 wins, UW was moving the ball around and finding easy ways to score.

During the Pac 12 season versus much better competition, the offense seemed to open up and the defense was leading to more breakaway steals. This allowed UW to average almost 2.7 dunks per game the rest of the season compared to only 1.7 dunks in the first 10 games.

Another good example would be the development of Langston Wilson’s game throughout the season. Like the Huskies, Wilson started out very slow and was figuring out where to be on the court and was not always in the right place early on. Known for his pre-game dunking abilities, it was expected for him to put on a highlight show the moment he stepped on the court.

However, Wilson struggled early on and only had 3 dunks in his first 20 college games. Things started to click for him during the Bay area trip and finished with 2 monster dunks against Stanford. The rest of the way, Wilson finished with 8 dunks in his last 10 games. Which is again a sign to me that Wilson was more comfortable on offense and was in better positioning to score.

So what can we expect from the 2022-2023 team?

The Huskies come into 2022 with a group of new faces from the Transfer portal and incoming freshman. Even with losing their top two Dunkers in Emmitt Mathews (26 dunks) and Nate Roberts (21 dunks), it seems like the Huskies have added even more size and athleticism across the board.

If we are to assume that UW will get off to a better start (which is not a given of course) and that the Huskies have improved their post presence, the Huskies could find themselves in a good position to score high % baskets this year. A wise man once said, If you can’t go around them, go over them.

Let’s look at the guys that UW brought in:

- Keion Brooks: 30 Dunks at Kentucky

- Franck Kepnang: 25 Dunks at Oregon

- Braxton Meah: 23 Dunks at Fresno State

- Noah Williams: 2 Dunks at WSU

Just with the guys brought in, that is 80 dunks last year from their respective seasons. Of course, it is impossible to guarantee this will transfer over and can be argued that players like Brooks and Kepnang played for more offensive minded coaches who put them in the right position to score on offense. However, on the other hand, all 4 of these transfers should see their minutes and usage rate go up.

Keion Brooks played 24.5 minutes per game and had a usage rate of 22.4%. Both should increase quite a bit this season. Franck Kepnang had 25 dunks in only 14.5 minutes per game and expect that number to go up a bit. 7-footer Braxton Meah had 23 dunks in only 8.1 minutes per game! If you haven’t watched much of Meah, his main job is to dunk on someone and he does it well. He has been the definitely of a high % shot with a whopping 78.4% from the field this past season. So even if Meah just plays 10 minutes or so off the bench, he could make quite an impact in the post.

2022 Dunk Projections:

- Franck Kepnang 30 Dunks

- Keion Brooks: 25 Dunks

- Braxton Meah: 20 Dunks

- Langston Wilson: 20 Dunks

- Jackson Grant: 8 Dunks

- PJ Fuller: 3 Dunks

- Noah Williams: 2 Dunks

- Cole Bajema: 2 Dunks

- Jamal Bey: 2 Dunks

o Total: 112 Dunks

As you can see, I am bullish on the prospects of this year’s team in terms of scoring high % baskets. The 112 Dunks would be 3rd highest total of dunks in the last 13 years and that’s with being a little conservative on a few of the projections.

Keion Brooks has the potential to increase his numbers but projected him at 25 in case he will garner more attention from opposing defenses. Franck Kepnang has the chance to be a force inside with more playing time and his energetic play, especially the way he runs the floor in transition. Meah will come down to what his playing time will be but his Mentor from Fresno, Quincy Pondexter is very high on the 7-footer. Both Wilson and Grant should both come in this season with more confidence and especially Wilson should pick up where he left off last season.

Another reason for optimism is the fact that UW is hoping to be a top defensive team in the conference and use their defense to create more transition baskets, which is where UW was at their best last season. In an interview with Mike Hopkins in the Field of 68 Almanac, Coach Mike Hopkins said “My first two years here, our defense was No. 1 in the league. We have that capability this year.”

There is no Matisse Thybulle of course but UW could throw a lineup of 6’4, 6’5, 6’7, 6’8 and 6’11, with a 7’1, 6’11 and 6’9 off the bench. All in all, there should be a good combination of length and athleticism on the team this year. Hopkins also commented on the tempo they want to play this year “We want to play faster, especially because our big men can really get up and down the floor, but we also have to be careful and can’t throw the ball all over the place.”

Will it translate to wins? We shall see, but has the prospects of a fun an entertaining team this season.

So does this mean UW will go Dancing?

Again, lets assume that the Huskies do get off to a good start and end up with 112 dunks this year. Does this guarantee the Huskies will make the Post-season? No, it does not but it does dramatically increase the chances because it means that the Huskies are getting high % shots and most likely the defense is creating a lot of opportunities.

However, lets also remember that the 2015-2016 team had the highest total of 133 dunks and was still a win or two away from the NCAA tournament so they ultimately fell short. As mentioned earlier, that team had a lot of deficiencies and was one of the youngest teams in the country. Another interesting note is that they were 133/160 (83%) on dunk attempts, which means they left a lot of easy baskets on the table. This is well below the normal average but interestingly was slightly better than this past season’s team that shot 79% on dunk attempts (ouch).

Of course, none of this will matter if the Huskies have a low offensive efficiency (#158 on KenPom last season) and if the defense doesn’t improve from their #103 rating last season. However, my theory is that the Huskies will be less dependent on perimeter scoring and will ultimately have a much higher FG % than recent seasons. Also, the success of the season will mostly fall on the success of the defense and the # of dunks will be more of a result of a defense that creates turnovers and easy transition baskets.

Around the Pac 12:

Again, this is not to say that dunks tell the whole story but this narrative does cross over to a lot of other teams. Not just the Pac 12 but also around the country. In fact, of the top 50 Dunking teams in the country, only 6 teams did not make the postseason which means that 88% of the teams made the NIT or NCAA Tourney. 12 of those teams made the NIT but only 6 of those were Power 5 teams if we’re trying to compare with UW.

This doesn’t cross over to every team however and UCLA for example had the 2nd lowest number of dunks with 40 total in the Pac 12. However, they are one of the most efficient teams on offense and defense in the country. Their 50.5% Effective FG percentage compared to Washington’s 46.4% is a big difference. Many ways to skin a cat and UCLA depended more on good offense without turning the ball over.

Besides UCLA, the rest of the conference falls in line with the dunking narrative and led by Arizona who finished with a Nation high 208 dunks. Comparing to the year before, Arizona only had 72 dunks under Sean Miller that saw them miss the NCAA Tournament. Great example of a new system and utilizing their size/athleticism to get high % baskets.

Conversely, Oregon had a down season last year tying for 5th place in the conference. They have had some recent success but their most successful team in the last decade was the 2017 team that made the Final 4. That team had a conference high of 133 dunks and was led by Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher. Again, not the only reason they made the Final 4 but another interesting coincidence.

As you can see, it’s not a perfect system to determine the standings but you can see a trend of teams that performed better than teams with less dunks. UCLA is the biggest outlier, but Stanford is also a team that did not perform as well but was higher on the dunk list. Stanford did have the 3rd tallest team in the Nation, but they also lost 6 of their last 7 games and were very close to being a top 4 or 5 team last season. Also considered a trendy pick to make the tourney this year with essentially the same team back (8 returning rotation players).

Magic Number: 90 Dunks and over

So what does this all mean?

Looking at all this data has been a fun exercise for myself and something I’ve been looking at for the past 3 seasons. It has helped me devise a theory that a magic number of over 90 dunks in a season would increase the chances of success for the Huskies.

Even if UW does blast off this year and finish with over 90 dunks this season, it does not guarantee UW will be making the tourney. It will come down to other important factors such as Points Allowed per game, 3 point shooting, turnovers and other factors of course. The teams that made the post season not only had a high # of dunks but were strong at layups and shooting above 34% from 3 as a team. So it’s not so simple but I do think there is a correlation between size, length, and athleticism that make defense and dunking the ball go hand in hand.

The teams that did not make the post-season had a low # of dunks and shot below 34.5% from 3, besides the 2016-2017 Fultz team (35% from 3) but also allowed close to 80 ppg on defense.

It will be critical for this year’s team to shoot well enough and get back to being a top 4 or 5 defense in the Pac 12. If that happens, the ceiling for this team could project to be pretty high.

The thought is, if you are getting a high # of dunks and layups, that means you are getting high % shots. There are many ways to win and other teams may have a low # of dunks but they have a high % of 3 point shooting and most likely play great defense. For UW, the most likely roadmap will be taking it hard to the hoop, playing high level-defense and scoring in transition.

Get ready for liftoff this season!