Let’s be real for a moment. This hasn’t been the greatest season of Husky men’s basketball ever. I wrote last week that the only question that matters down the stretch is whether a move will be made in the head coaching spot.
Even if that’s the case, there are still moments of joy to be found in any season (except for maybe Louisville or Georgetown this year). One of those happened last night when Keyon Menifield went off for a career high 27 points on 11/15 shooting plus 7 assists to carry Washington to an OT win over rival Oregon. The consistency isn’t there yet for the true freshman which isn’t necessarily a surprise. Here’s his scoring over the past 5 games: 21 points, 0 points, 21 points, 4 points, 27 points. There have been 6 games this season where he has scored 18+ points and 8 games scoring 6 or fewer.
Put it all together though and Menifield is having the best freshman season for a Husky guard since Jaylen Nowell. Put together the ups and downs and in 27 minutes per game Menifield is averaging: 9.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.4 turnovers, and 1.1 steals on 42.2/36.9/71.7% shooting.
Perhaps the most important of those stats is the turnover number. Washington has been plagued by giveaways but Menifield’s turnover rate is almost the same as Cole Bajema who is primarily a spot-up shooter. Yes, there are times when Menifield takes a likely unwarranted shot but when he’s in control of the offense the Huskies tend to actually get up a shot which always preferred to not doing so.
In the transfer portal era there’s always a fear that a player is one Twitter post away from walking out the door. Especially when they don’t have any ties to the area and there’s potential turmoil on the coaching staff. But if Menifield sticks around in Seattle he seems destined to be one of the key pieces to eventually elevate Washington past what they’ve been the last several years.
The question becomes, how bright is Menifield’s future?
Kenpom.com (highly recommend a subscription if you care enough about college hoops to have read this far) has a feature looking at the most similar seasons in his database for each player and season. For freshman years he compares to other freshman seasons which makes it a fair comparison. It takes into account the totality of the player’s size, their shooting, their usage, and their rate stats on things like rebounds, assists, and turnovers.
In order to get a glimpse at who Menifield might become let’s take a look at the 10 names that earn the highest similarity score and see what happened to them in subsequent seasons. First I’ll break them down into a few categories.
Myles Tate (Butler) and Rob Phinisee (Indiana, Cincinnati)
—Phinisee started the majority of the games over his first 3 years with Indiana but he was never able to put the ball in the basket at a consistent level and for his career now shoots below 40% on 2’s and below 30% on 3’s. He shot worse from all 3 areas as a freshman than Menifield has so far so he’s probably not the best comparison on the list. Phinisee is currently a 5th year senior at Cincinnati having transferred and his playing time and effectiveness have fallen through the floor.
—Tate also came in as a freshman and started most of the games for Butler but was a much worse shooter than Menifield from the jump (23.1%). He unfortunately though suffered a knee injury in between his freshman and sophomore season and played fewer than 50 total minutes as a sophomore. He’s currently a junior and is barely in the rotation with 21 games either as a DNP or with single digit minutes. It’s hard to know how things might’ve gone if he’d stayed healthy though.
Small School Standouts (2)
Alex Young (UC Irvine) and Jordan Burns (Colgate)
—Young was more of a true point guard than Menifield from the jump as he didn’t take as many shots and averaged more assists. He started out as a poor 3-point shooter but improved from 26.1% as a freshman to 40.4% as a senior. The Anteaters made both an NIT and an NCAA tournament with Young as the starting point guard and finished in the KenPom top-100 each of his 3 final seasons.
—Burns had the lowest similarity score on the list but if Menifield had the same stat lines in future years (albeit against different levels of competition) then I’m sure he’d be happy. All 4 seasons in college Burns shot at least 36% from deep and was a premium scorere even if he was more turnover prone than Menifield. As a senior Burns averaged 17/4/5 and the Big Red made the NCAA tournament twice in his tenure.
College Stars (4)
Ryan Boatright (Connecticut), Remy Martin (Arizona State, Kansas), RJ Davis (North Carolina), Isaiah Stevens (Colorado State)
—Boatright is the oldest player on this list but as a freshman started at shooting guard for a Connecticut team featuring 3 future NBA players. His numbers took a big leap as a sophomore including his minutes played and averaged 15 points per game but the team took a step back. As a junior his role diminished a bit but it worked for the team as UConn won a national title with a backcourt of Boatright and Shabazz Napier. After Napier graduated Boatright moved to point guard and put up a 17/4/4 season on 41% 3-pt shooting.
—Husky fans are familiar with Remy Martin who came off the bench as a freshman but put up eerily similar per game numbers to Menifield. His sophomore year saw a move to the starting lineup and a 13 points, 5 assists season albeit with poor efficiency. As a junior though Martin took off and averaged 19 points per game each of the next 2 seasons. He opted to transfer to Kansas before last season in his final year of eligibility and struggled for much of the season before turning it on in the NCAA tournament as a key piece of their NCAA title team.
—Playing against Martin in that NCAA title game last April was RJ Davis of North Carolina. As a true freshman Davis struggled both with turnovers and shooting more so than Menifield has so far. Still though his freshman season was the closest comp to Keyon. Last year as a sophomore Davis improved every facet of his game putting up 13/4/4 for the runners-up. So far this year UNC has fallen way short of expectations as the preseason #1 team but Davis has done his part averaging 16/5/3 on 43/34/87% shooting. We’ll see what he chooses to do with another year of eligibility but Davis isn’t expected to be an NBA draft pick.
—The last name in this category is Isaiah Stevens who was the best as a freshman among this group averaging 13 points and 4.5 assists per game. His numbers bumped up to about 15 points per game as a sophomore and as a junior Stevens was a key piece guiding the Rams to a #6 seed in the NCAA tourney. CSU has struggled this year after Stevens missed the first several games due to injury. Stevens though has been dynamite ranking 5th in the country in assist rate averaging 18.7 points and 6.9 assists per game.
3 and Done NBA Talents (2)
Aaron Holiday (UCLA), Scotty Pippen Jr. (Vanderbilt)
—The youngest of the 3 Holiday brothers (including UW star Justin), Aaron came up on the short end by well...being the shortest. He measured in 5+ inches shorter than his brothers but still came into UCLA as a day one starter thanks to 42% 3-point shooting. Turnovers were a constant issue but it didn’t matter much thanks to his lights out shooting from deep. As a sophomore Holiday helped earn a #3 seed on the Lonzo Ball UCLA team and then took over the keys as a senior. He averaged 20.3 points and 5.8 assists per game which propelled him to be the 23rd pick in the NBA draft.
—Scotty Pippen Jr. also has some pretty good bloodlines (you may have heard of his dad) and also is substantially shorter than his basketball playing relative. Pippen showed off that he could be a good shooter as a freshman averaging 12 points per game on 36% 3-pt marks but his game was much more about getting to the rim. As a junior Pippen led the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes while finishing 7th in usage rate. That combo led to an eye-popping 20.4 points per game which Pippen thought would be good enough to get him drafted. Unfortunately he was wrong and his early entry decision didn’t work out but is currently playing for the Lakers’ G-league affiliate on a 2-way deal.
If you take all of those statistics together, here’s the curve for stat lines as those players aged. Note that there are only 6 rather than 10 examples for the senior line since a few players turned pro and a few are currently juniors.
Freshman- 27.9 min, 9.9 pts, 2.9 reb, 3.3 ast, 2.0 to, 1.0 stl, 39.8% FG, 34.0% 3pt, 74.5% FT
Sophomore- 28.5 min, 12.4 pts, 3.0 reb, 4.2 ast, 2.4 to, 1.1 stl, 40.6% FG, 34.6% 3pt, 79.2% FT
Junior- 30.2 min, 13.7 pts, 3.2 reb, 3.8 ast, 2.2 to, 1.3 stl, 40.5% FG, 33.9% 3pt, 78.3% FT
Senior- 30.8 min, 14.5 pts, 3.5 reb, 4.5 ast, 2.1 to, 1.2 stl, 41.4% FG, 37.5% 3pt, 75.3% FT
In general there was a noticeable bump up from the freshman to sophomore seasons of about 2.5 points and an extra assist per game. Free throw shooting improved by 5 percentage points but otherwise on average the players were almost identical from the floor both overall and the 3-point line.
Playing time went up a little bit from the sophomore to junior year group and there was a corresponding improvement in points of about 1.3 per game. The shooting percentages if anything got a little worse while the assist totals also went down. That’s likely because as a junior several of the players became relied upon to increase their scoring punch at the expense of distribution.
Finally, even when taking out Holiday and Pippen the points and assists per game increased from junior to senior year again. The 3-point shooting in that sample got quite a bit better and closer to where Menifield is as a true freshman right now.
Obviously there’s no guarantee that Menifield is going to exactly follow the path of any of these players and certainly he isn’t guaranteed to follow the average. But there are definitely a few key takeaways based on the data.
The first is that we shouldn’t expect Menifield to bolt for the NBA any time soon. Every guard in the sample was either 6’1 or 6’0 tall and Menifield is the skinniest of the bunch. He just doesn’t have the frame that the NBA covets and it’s not as if he has absolutely jaw dropping leaping ability to compensate (he’s still a good athlete just not 99th percentile). Aaron Holiday is the only one to get drafted and it’s after he put up nearly 20 and 6 for a blue blood with 2 older brothers having succeeded in the NBA. Maybe Menifield ends up leaving early at some point but it would be after his junior year at the earliest.
The second is that players who put up numbers like Menifield has so far almost always turned into at least very good college players. 8 of the 10 comparisons were players that were key starters on teams that either went to the NIT or NCAA tournament. 2 of them won NCAA titles. The only 2 in the Pac-12 both put up 19+ points per game at some point and were at least under serious consideration for Pac-12 Player of the Year.
The only 2 players that haven’t really panned out both shot at least 5 percentage points worse from the field than Menifield has as true freshmen. It’s reasonable to include them in the sample because other parts of their game were similar but there’s no question that the floor on Menifield’s scoring and playmaking is way above what Phinisee or Tate demonstrated at any point in college.
All of this means that there is a clear priority for Washington’s head coach next season whether it’s Mike Hopkins or someone else. Keep Keyon Menifield out of the portal at all costs. And Montlake Futures, if you’re reading, feel free to make that last sentence literal.