With starting backcourt mates Daejon Davis and Terrell Brown Jr. running out of eligibility it was clear that the Huskies were going to be looking for a guard in the transfer portal. The one they found is a very familiar face as Washington State transfer Noah Williams today committed to switch sides in the Apple Cup rivalry and play for the Huskies. Last season the 6’5 Williams averaged 9.5 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. With the COVID mulligan he’ll still have 2 years of eligibility remaining and is currently rated as the #94 transfer in the portal this cycle per the up-to-date analytics at evanmiya.com.
It has been a rollercoaster of a college experience for Williams. As a true freshman he showed major defensive potential but also carried over what appeared to be a bit of a broken jump shot making just 4/27 3-pointers (14.8%). Last season Williams looked like perhaps the most improved player in the conference averaging 14.1 points per game on 37.9% 3-piont shooting. That included a Bay Area trip where Noah scored 32 and 40 points in consecutive games on the road. The Cougars brought in a pair of transfer guards but it was still expected Williams would be an integral if not the integral piece. Instead his numbers dropped across the board with career lows in 2-pt and free throw shooting and a dip of more than 10% in his 3-pt percentage.
Part of the struggles likely had to do with being unable to fit in properly alongside transfers Michael Flowers and Tyrell Roberts after enjoying great chemistry alongside Isaac Bonton. There’s also the unfortunate incident in September in which Williams was stopped for having a fake ID at a Pullman bar and grill. The Pullman PD recommended assault charges but video evidence later showed that Williams did not do what he was accused of and the prosecutors declined to pursue the charges. He ultimately ended up doing 8 hours of community service with a $500 fine. Williams had the incident hanging over him all season as well as caused him to miss some time in the preseason due to team discipline stemming from the initial charges.
Coming out of high school Williams split combo guard duties on the Seattle Rotary AAU team with Marcus Tsohonis. The Huskies ultimately accepted a commitment from Portland native Tsohonis while they never found a spot for O’Dea grad Williams. Noah, as a low 3-star recruit, ended up committing to head cross country to Buffalo but was let out of that pledge when head coach Nate Oats took the Alabama job. Instead, a spot had opened up at Washington State where his dad played in college and he headed to Pullman.
There are 2 big questions for Husky fans with this move: 1. Can Williams recapture the form of his sophomore year and 2. Is Williams capable of playing point guard? Those questions are somewhat inter-related. When Williams had his best season in 2021 the Cougars only had 2 real guards on their roster: Williams and Bonton. There were also 6 games that Bonton missed and Williams was essentially the sole ball handler on the team. How did Noah do in those 6 games? Per game averages of 22.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.8 steals on 44/41/82% 2-pt/3-pt/FT shooting. Those numbers are almost identical to what Terrell Brown Jr. did this year except double the 3-point percentage.
Obviously we can’t expect Williams to magically replicate what Terrell Brown Jr. did last year but it’s nice to know the potential is in there somewhere even for limited stretches. Williams played more off the ball this year then ever with both Roberts and Flowers on the team and consequently he had both a career low assist rate and turnover rate. Those few games from when Bonton was out in 2021 show Williams can certainly pass the ball but I still don’t know if having him as the full-time point guard is a plan that’s going to pan out.
Entering college the stats from high school and AAU suggested Williams was a below average shooter. If you take his career as a whole he’s a 30.7% shooter on over 250 attempts. It’s probably reasonable to expect that as the baseline rather than either the highs or lows. Inexplicably Williams went from shooting 50% on open catch and shoot 3’s as a sophomore to 20.7% as a junior. That’s a Jamal Bey-like swing in the wrong direction and similarly it’s hard to think that’s not somewhat mental and might be helped by a change of scenery.
One area where I don’t think there’s any question is how Williams impacts things on the defensive end. With Williams’ lanky frame while standing 6’5 he has the potential to be an absolute monster jumping passing lanes in the Mike Hopkins zone. Already Williams has ranked in the top-15 in the Pac-12 in steal rate each of the past 3 seasons and I fully expect him to be in the top-3 in this defense which fits his strengths well. Hopefully that leads to more easy transition opportunities for Williams which help his 2-pt% and can get him going in games.
Washington will continue to look to add an impact player or 2 at the center position through the transfer portal this cycle. They have shown interest in players like Utah Valley’s Fardaws Aimaq, Oregon’s Franck Kepnang, and West Virginia’s Isaiah Cottrell. Aimaq and Cottrell were both on campus this weekend on visits. It’s almost a certainty that the Dawgs will add at least one of them but as it currently stands here is how I see some options for the starting lineup:
6’5 Williams, 6’4 Fuller, 6’6 Bey, 6’7 Matthews, 6’9 Wilson
6’5 Williams, 6’6 Bey, 6’7 Bajema, 6’7 Matthews, 6’9 Wilson
If an additional true center (Aimaq or Kepnang) gets added into the mix then Wilson likely shifts to playing some minutes at the 4. I would also expect there to be minutes where Fuller is the lone primary ball handler. Although even when Daejon Davis got injured, Mike Hopkins tried to avoid that this past season. There’s also the possibility that Koren Johnson or Keyon Menifield come in as true freshmen and carve out a bigger role immediately although predicting that to happen isn’t the most likely scenario.
There are unknowns bringing Williams into the fold. At the very worst though he gives you a plus defender who won’t be afraid to take the reins on offense if no one else is capable of doing so. In the best case scenario he looks more like the player he was in those 6 games without Isaac Bonton and rises to an all-conference level two-way player. Given my general conservatism I think the former is more likely than the latter but the roster is definitely in a better spot today than it was yesterday. Welcome home, Noah.