The Washington Huskies completed filling out the roster today as Kentucky transfer Keion Brooks Jr. announced his commitment to UW. The 6’7 SF recently withdrew his name from the NBA Draft. Brooks starred in high school at La Lumiere in Indiana alongside former Washington star and 1st round draft pick Isaiah Stewart. He will have 2 years of eligibility remaining but given how close he was to leaving for the NBA this year it seems likely that he will be a one and done in Seattle.
There weren’t many options available in the transfer portal to try to replace Emmitt Matthews Jr. as a combo forward but Brooks is about as well as the Huskies could have possibly done. Last year Brooks averaged a career high 10.8 points per game to go along with 4.4 rebounds in 24.5 minutes for the #2 seed Wildcats.
In a victory over eventual national champion Kansas he scored 27 points on 9/15 shooting while securing 8 rebounds. As a junior he averaged 10.3 points and 6.8 rebounds when not playing alongside national player of the year and national leading rebounder Oscar Tshiebwe. Brooks becomes the 2nd transfer from Kentucky to Washington in the Mike Hopkins era following PG Quade Green a few years ago.
There’s no question that this is a big-time pickup for the Huskies. The analytics-based rankings at Evanmiya.com has Brooks as the #14 player available in the transfer portal this cycle and a clear 5* addition. Brooks joins fellow incoming UW transfers Franck Kepnang from Oregon (126th, 4*), Noah Williams from Washington State (145th, 4*), and Braxton Meah (339th, 3*).
For a Husky team that is perpetually short on long distance shooting this pick-up unfortunately isn’t going to help in that regard. Brooks is a career 23% percent shooter on 3’s. The good news is that he doesn’t hold much of an illusion that he is a marksman. He has attempted just under one long range shot per game over the course of his career so his efficiency isn’t hurt too much by the lack of shooting.
So if Brooks isn’t a 3-point shooting wing then where does he get most of his points? Despite not doing much damage from outside he still does like taking midrange jumpers. Brooks attempted 52 long 2’s last year (17+ feet up until the 3-pt arc) and made 40.4% of them. That’s above average for that range but in modern basketball still qualifies as a bad shot unless you can get up over at least 45%. Still, Brooks is extremely comfortable if left alone on the baseline immediately getting the ball up with a high release point and knocking it down. And there’s always the hope that he finally is able to stretch his range an extra 4-5 feet to turn those into made 3’s.
Brooks scored the plurality of his points though on transition possessions. When Brooks has space to maneuver and can get going to the basket downhill he has good body control and enough of a handle to get all the way to the rim. In transition last year Brooks shot 58% from the floor while turning it over less than one of every 12 possessions. He also excelled on the offensive glass finishing in the 90th percentile on put backs nationally. Brooks’ 30 of 30 mark on dunks last year would’ve led the Huskies in both percentage and overall makes.
In all other situations though Brooks struggled. He finished in the 33rd percentile or worse when posting up or cutting/rolling to the basket. If Brooks is forced to catch the ball and adjust while already moving towards the rim without a clear path then he generally isn’t able to finish. He also isn’t often able to capitalize when trying to back his man down on a post-up. It’s usually midrange jumpers, put backs, transition layups, or lob dunk finishes. An added bonus despite the poor 3-pt shooting though is that Brooks is also a very good free throw shooter making 78%+ of his foul shots each of the past 2 seasons.
On the defensive end Kentucky almost never plays zone so it will definitely be a new defense for Brooks and there’s not a lot of tape on him playing it. Still, it would be a big shock to see Brooks anywhere but in the corner of the Hopkins zone next year. Depending on the situation I could see Brooks being used as either the 3 or the 4 but those roles are essentially interchangeable in this defense.
Based on what we did see from Brooks defensively it’s tough to say that he’ll be a complete difference maker on that end but he also shouldn’t be a liability. Synergy Sports had him ranked in the 42nd percentile on a defensive points per possession basis so he graded out as slightly below average.
In terms of individual defensive numbers Brooks was solid but not spectacular. His 2.8% block rate (a career low) still would’ve been #2 among any Husky playing at least a quarter of the team’s minutes and only slightly behind Nate Roberts. There’s a chance that Brooks could have great success as a weakside shot blocker in UW’s system. His steal rates were very average which isn’t a shock for someone generally guarding power forwards rather than primary ball handlers.
Where Brooks is likely to have the biggest impact is as a rebounder. Unsurprisingly he saw career lows in both his offensive and defensive rebounding rates while starting alongside the best rebounder in college basketball. If he is able to get anywhere close to his sophomore year numbers though it represents a huge boost from the power forward spot. New Husky starting center Franck Kepnang is a phenomenal shot blocker but rebounding is a major weakness for him. Having a plus rebounder at the 4 spot like Brooks should help alleviate some of those concerns.
Washington next year should have one of either Kepnang or Meah at center at just about all times who had 9.0% and 6.7% block rates last year. Now with Brooks you can expect one of Brooks, Langston Wilson, and Jackson Grant to be playing power forward at just about all times (block rates of 2.8%, 4.2%, and 4.4% respectively). Of the 7 Huskies who played more than Wilson’s 21% of total minutes Nate Roberts led the team at 3.1% and Bey was second at 2.3%. It would not be a surprise to see the Huskies return to the production of the 2019 and 2020 defenses that finished top-5 in the country in block rate.
Now that Washington’s roster is complete we can reasonably make predictions about a depth chart. I’ve broken down the roster based on my expected minutes per game numbers: Starter (32+ mins), Heavy Rotation Player (18-31 mins), Light Rotation player (8-17 mins), Bench Player (Fewer than 8 minutes).
Guard: 6’5 Noah Williams (Starter), 6’4 PJ Fuller (Heavy Rotation), 6’2 Koren Johnson (Light Rotation), 6’2 Keyon Menifeld (Bench)
Wing: Jamal Bey (Starter), Keion Brooks Jr. (Starter), Cole Bajema (Heavy Rotation), Samuel Ariyibi (Bench), Tyler Linhardt (Bench)
Big: Franck Kepnang (Heavy Rotation), Braxton Meah (Light Rotation), Langston Wilson (Light Rotation), Jackson Grant (Bench)
Washington lost 4 starters and 1 limited rotation player from last year’s team. It seems likely that they replaced those players with 4 transfers and 1 true freshman. The closest like to like comparison for each is Terrell Brown Jr. to Noah Williams, Daejon Davis to Koren Johnson/Keyon Menifeld, Emmitt Matthews Jr. to Keion Brooks Jr., Nate Roberts to Franck Kepnang, and Riley Sorn to Braxton Meah. It’s reasonable to call the switch from Sorn to Meah as an upgrade and to call the Matthews to Brooks and Roberts to Kepnang changes relatively even. The guard spots though look to be a pretty clear downgrade unless Williams reverts to his sophomore year form and Johnson (or Menifeld) greatly exceeds expectations as freshmen.
In a make and break year for Coach Hopkins it’s difficult to say definitively that the team got better unless returners such as Fuller, Bey, Bajema, Wilson, or Grant take significant leaps with an extra year of experience. However the addition of Brooks at least gives this Washington roster a shot to be competitive next season and that’s better than things have looked at times this offseason.
Welcome to Seattle, Keion!