clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Season Report Card: Cole Bajema & P.J Fuller

New, comments

An in-depth look at the 2 primary options off the bench for UW this past season

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

With the 2021-22 Men’s Basketball season over we can look back at each of the players to see how different things ended up from what we thought might happen in the preseason. We’ll be going through the roster 2 at a time to review how each player performed and what to expect moving forward for those sticking around. The letter grades given out to each player are a combination of how they fared compared to expectations and how they played overall. If someone was much better than I expected but still not great then they cap out at a B+. If someone was really good but worse than I expected then their floor is a B-.

Previous Additions:

Terrell Brown Jr. and Daejon Davis

Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Jamal Bey

Nate Roberts and Riley Sorn

Cole Bajema- Junior, 6’7, 190 lbs

Max’s Per Game Predictions: 5.3 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 41.5% FG, 37.5% 3pt, 85.0% FT

Actual Per Game Averages: 5.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 33.5% FG, 33.7% 3pt, 73.9 FT

Preseason Prediction Quote: “The Dawgs absolutely have a need for [shooting] 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.”

Prior Seasons

Despite going to high school near the Washington/Canada border, Bajema grew up a Michigan fan from his family’s time there earlier in his life and headed to play for John Beilein in college. Unfortunately there was a coaching change before he started his freshman year and Bajema didn’t fit into Juwan Howard’s vision for the team leading to his transfer to UW. Last year Bajema came on strong near the end of the year after starting out on the fringes of the rotation. He came in with the reputation of being a lanky knockdown shooter and mostly lived up to it shooting 39% from 3 and 80% from the FT line in 2020-21.

Season Summary

Hopes were high that Bajema would be the knockdown shooter Washington badly needed especially after rumors he hit 8 3’s in UW’s secret scrimmage. Instead things got off to a rough start as he shot just 3/17 (17.6%) from deep through the first 11 games. Then Bajema had the hot streak of all hot streaks going 11/15 (73.3%) on 3-point attempts during the mountain road trip setting a career high during consecutive games. That turned into another cold streak as Bajema shot 12/51 (23.5%) over the next 16 games before finishing with a final heater in a 6/8 close to the season in the last 3 games.

Phew. Suffice to say that Bajema was the definition of streaky this year. When you put it all together Bajema shot a career low on 2’s, 3’s, and free throws albeit in the biggest sample size of his career. Once again Bajema showed the ability to pump fake and then drive to the rim. His preferred move continues to be a finger roll avoiding contact and it just doesn’t go in as often as it looks like it should based on his length. He shot a team low 46.7% in the paint and just 21.2% on midrange shots.

The defense also failed to take a leap forward. Bajema’s blocks and steals per game both saw slight decreases despite an increase in total minutes. The rebounds went up but were still a little less than expected given the minutes boost. On the bright side Bajema’s turnovers stayed steady despite an increased role on offense and more playing time.

Advanced Stats Breakdown

It’s not a surprise that by far the most common play type for Bajema was his spot up shooting which made up 42.4% of his possessions per Synergy Sports. Somewhat bizarrely Bajema shot much worse in catch and shoot situations when he was wide open. Bajema 42.9% when guarded (91st percentile) and 27.3% when left open (21st percentile). That probably isn’t a surprise for those who noted that very rarely did Bajema get that wide open corner 3 on a kickout and have it actually go down. It was still better though for him to get it on catch and shot as Bajema was just 3 of 16 on jump shots off the dribble so that’s not a plus for him. On top of that Bajema was just 2 of 18 on runners driving to the hoop.

From a points per possession perspective on defense Bajema finished in the 48th percentile nationally. It’s tough to distinguish with Washington’s zone sometimes who to assign a basket to but Bajema graded out almost identically between man and zone so I think it’s fair to characterize him as pretty close to average on that end of the floor. It would be nice though to see his steal and block rates come up closer to what they were last year in the future.

On the season it’s clear that the team fared better on the offensive end due to Bajema’s contributions. Washington scored 104.1 points per 100 possessions with Bajema on the court compared to 97.3 without him. That was about 2.5 points better than any other Husky over the entire season (Terrell Brown Jr. was 2nd). Even though Cole may not have made shots at the rate I expected, his presence required defenses to pay attention to him on the perimeter which opened up space elsewhere on the floor.

Unfortunately, Washington’s defense got worse to an even greater degree when Bajema played which resulted in the team getting 1.4 points per 100 possessions worse when he was on the court. A large part of that though was because of his slump in the non-conference. Against Q1 and Q2 opponents Washington was about 3 points per 100 possessions better when Bajema played versus when he didn’t.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see how Bajema could take the leap to becoming a really significant contributor. The shooting talent is obvious and if in a game situation Bajema could hit wide open corner 3’s as readily as he does in practice he would easily be a 10 points per game scorer. If he made an extra 5% of his shots in the paint when he does drive to the basket and got fouled on an additional 5% you’re talking about another couple points per game. Those are realistic leaps for him to make in his development going into his 4th season in college.

If we don’t see any improvement however then Bajema is a replacement level player at the Pac-12 level. The theoretical tools are there but a shooter who makes 33-35% of his 3-point attempts, struggles from inside the arc, and doesn’t add much on defense isn’t a must play guy. Hopefully this offseason we’re able to see some improvement especially if Bajema ends up thrust into a starting role on next year’s team. Then again, expecting development has, to put it kindly, not exactly been a given during Hop’s tenure. If we get it though then Bajema has a chance to be a really underrated part of next year’s potential success.

Final Season Grade: C+

************************************************

P.J Fuller- Junior, 6’4, 175 lbs

Max’s Per Game Predictions: 4.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 38.5% FG, 30.8% 3pt, 74.4 % FT

Actual Per Game Averages: 7.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 35.0% FG, 29.9% 3pt, 69.6 FT

Preseason Prediction Quote: “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.”

Prior Seasons

Fuller was a star in the Seattle area in high school but moved out of state for his senior year and ended up choosing TCU for his college ball. He saw plenty of the court right away starting 8 games for the Frogs and averaging almost 20 minutes per game. Unfortunately Fuller struggled on offense with 37/25/81% shooting splits with more turnovers than assists. The breakout didn’t come as a sophomore either as Fuller’s stats only marginally increased despite a 4 minute per game bump in playing time and a more regular starting role. Coming off of that season Fuller entered the transfer portal and wound up back home at UW.

Season Summary

Once Daejon Davis got hurt we saw a little bit more of PJ Fuller but there was plenty of him in the picture all season long. Washington really only had 3 true ball handling guards on the roster and especially when Davis was absent it meant that Washington had to play Fuller quite a bit. He ended up with at least 13 minutes in all but 2 games all season although one of those included a 6 minute stint in UW’s win over Utah in the Pac-12 tournament when Hop went with a 6-man rotation the entire second half.

There was plenty of room for growth based on his performance at TCU but it’s fair to say that Fuller was better this year at Washington even if only marginally so. Both Fuller’s 2-pt% and 3-pt% were career highs while his 24.7% turnover rate, while high for a guard, was also a career low. Fuller’s assist rate actually dropped to a career low but that shouldn’t be too surprising since he played only 15 minutes all season without Brown or Davis also on the court so he was essentially never the true point guard.

As an offensive player there were plenty of moments when Fuller made a nice move in transition to get to the basket or was able to cut through the defense in the half court. More often than you would like Fuller pulled up early in the possession from a few feet behind the 3-point line or settled for a midrange jumper. He made just enough of those shots to avoid them being a complete disaster but they weren’t quite an asset either.

Fuller also made strides on the defensive end of the court using his 6’4 length at the top of the Husky zone. Fuller’s steal rate increased by more than 50% over his totals with TCU and you could see the energy and effort were there along with the stats.

Advanced Stats Breakdown

It shouldn’t be a shock that the advanced stats still didn’t love Fuller’s season despite his improvements. His offensive rating in 3 seasons has improved from 83.5 to 85.0 to 89.9. That’s progress but 100 is considered average so there’s still a long ways to go. Per Synergy Sports Fuller finished in the 31st percentile nationally averaging 0.798 points per possession. That was certainly not helped by finishing no better than average in any of his 5 most common play types (Spot Up, Transition, P&R Ball Handler, Handoff, and Cut). As a shooter Fuller shot almost exactly the same percentages whether he was guarded or not and was an above average shooter off the dribble so it’s not all a matter of shot selection, he’s just streaky.

The defensive numbers were better as PJ ranked in the 61st percentile giving up 0.811 points per possession on that end. That was hurt by opponents shooting 80% on a limited sample size when he got switched onto a big who then posted him up.

The plus/minus numbers aren’t very flattering for Fuller either. Overall on the season the Huskies were 5.4 points per 100 possessions better when Fuller wasn’t on the court. You could argue that part of that is because most of the time you were taking one of Brown or Davis off the court to put Fuller in and they were almost certainly our 2 best all-around players. Any way you slice it though the team on average struggled with Fuller on the court. Against opponents from the top 2 quadrants Washington was outscored by a little over 7 points per 100 possessions more with Fuller playing.

Conclusion

Overall, I would argue that Fuller was better than I thought he would be but at the same time is still the same player I thought he would be. For a 3rd guard coming off the bench he was a serviceable option. There weren’t many games that you can point to and say Washington lost because Fuller played poorly. The Huskies were 2-1 when he went scoreless and won the game when he had a season high 5 turnovers. Washington also lost the game when he put up a career high 23 points at Washington State.

There hasn’t been much of an indication through 3 seasons that Fuller is a reasonable option as a point guard or that he’s capable of also being a highly efficient scoring guard. He’s not going to lead a team in assists and he can’t reliably knock down an open 3-pointer. What he can do though is run the offense just well enough to not completely sink an offense while also showing potential as an above average defender. As a 6th man that’s perfectly acceptable but if next year he is starting and playing 30 minutes per game it will require a big leap to see Washington not lose ground.

Final Season Grade: B-