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Revisiting Preseason Player Projections: Part 2

Finishing up a look at how well my projections for the Huskies ended up faring

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I posted part one of my piece looking back at how my player projections fared from the Preseason, primarily focused on the guards. It included significant praise for freshman Keyon Menifield. Then it came out within a few hours that Menifield was entering the portal (and he committed to Arkansas yesterday). Let's not jinx it again, shall we?

PF 6’7 Keion Brooks Jr. (4th year), Transfer from Kentucky

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 17.7 pts, 6.7 reb, 1.4 ast, 0.7 stl, 43.3% FG, 28.6% 3pt, 79.4% FT

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): 14.5 pts, 6.1 reb, 1.3 ast, 1.0 stl, 50.0% FG, 30.0% 3pt, 70.8% FT

Preseason Quote: “There was speculation about Brooks heading to the NBA rather than returning to college and so expectations are clearly high. If Brooks lives up to his potential and plays within himself then he has the chance to be a potential all-conference performer. If he views this as an extended NBA audition and tries to force an outside game that isn’t developed then he could struggle.

If Noah Williams had never gotten hurt I think I would’ve come pretty close to nailing Brooks’ stats. As it was I still came fairly close except for Brooks was both less efficient and took more shots than I was expecting. Those two facts are very related. Way too often Washington’s offense came down to asking Brooks to make a play in isolation. While he’s not the worst player in the world to try to drive one-on-one or shoot a contested 3, that’s also not his strength. Brooks shot 37.5% on uncontested catch and shoot opportunities. That number went way down when asked to shoot off the dribble or with a hand in his face.

I was correct that Brooks’ upside was as an all-conference performer despite never getting there with Kentucky. At the same time, I don’t think Brooks could’ve gotten to that level without playing on a team that had an overall below average offense because of a lack of other weapons. It's still up in the air whether Brooks returns or decides to move on either to a 3rd school or to turn pro but it’s not out of the question he comes back and hopefully puts up similar numbers on fewer shots because he’s put in better spots (and turning it over less).

C 6’11 Franck Kepnang (3rd year)- Transfer from Oregon

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 9.0 pts, 6.3 reb, 1.9 blk, 52.8% FG, 72.7% FT

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): 7.0 pts, 5.2 reb, 2.1 blk, 58.7% FG, 57.1% FT

Preseason Quote: “I’m projecting improvement in a number of areas for Franck the Tank and think he will be a net upgrade over the Nate Roberts that UW got for most of his time. I’m going to stop short of saying though that Kepnang vaults into being one of the top couple centers in the conference although it’s possible. He still has a very realistic shot to make the all-defensive team with his rim protection skills.

I made Kepnang my projected defensive player of the year in the conference and while I don’t think he was on that path regardless of the injury, he was clearly still a force on that end of the floor. Kepnang ended up coming off the bench which I wasn’t anticipating but played more than Braxton Meah when both were healthy and was still exceeding my projections for him based on a fairly large usage rate. The timeline may be tight given that his ACL tear happened in early December but hopefully at least by conference season next year Franck will be healthy enough to be something close to the player he showed in his limited 8 game sample with the Dawgs this season.

C 7’1 Braxton Meah (3rd year)- Transfer from Fresno State

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 8.8 pts, 7.2 reb, 1.6 blk, 70.6% FG, 69.0% FT

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): 2.4 pts, 2.4 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.7 blk, 60.4% FG, 51.5% FT

Preseason Quote: “I expect Meah to be the backup center and only see the court when the starter leaves the game. However as much as Kepnang has substantial upside I don’t think he’s going to come close to being what Orlando Robinson was at Fresno. That means playing time should be a little easier to find depending on how much Mike Hopkins wants to use the next two players in this breakdown at the center spot. When Meah isn’t turning the ball over he’s going to be a fan favorite dunking the ball and is a perfectly adequate backup center but lacking the skill to be much more than that.

Very clearly I underestimated what Meah was capable of doing but at the same time there wasn’t really any evidence available to the public that this kind of season was coming. Meah’s true shooting percentage actually went up while transitioning from a few minutes per game in the MWC to clear Pac-12 starter. He finished 4th in the country in TS% by dunking on everyone’s head at every opportunity. The fact that he essentially did nothing else on offense plays into my last sentence. You can only go so far as an offensive weapon when 82% of your baskets are dunks and I think this season we found the ceiling. Some games he had 15+ points because the opponent couldn’t defend the lob and others he had 0 because Meah was incapable of posting up a similarly sized defender.

The on/off statistics though showed that no player was more important to Washington’s success this season than Meah. When he wasn’t on the court the team’s performance cratered. Having him back is a massive step in the right direction for next year’s roster and hopefully with Kepnang healthy he can play a few less minutes but put up similar numbers by being fresher while he’s out there rather than having to conserve energy at times.

PF/C 6’9 Langston Wilson (3rd year)

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 1.7 pts, 1.9 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.3 blk, 51.7% FG, 20.0% 3pt

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): 3.2 pts, 2.6 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.5 blk, 43.8% FG, 36.0% 3pt, 66.7% FT

Preseason Quote: “The addition of Keion Brooks though likely took a big chunk of those minutes and so Wilson and Grant are likely fighting for about 5 minutes at center and 20 minutes at power forward unless Meah doesn’t live up to expectations as the backup center. Because of that I’m projecting Wilson’s efficiency to increase but the combination of depth at the 4/5 spots and foul trouble will limit his minutes and his counting stats.

If the coaching staff had decided not to take the redshirt off of Jackson Grant then it’s possible that Wilson would’ve finished with numbers fairly close to what I projected. Instead though Wilson and Grant essentially split time as the backup center by alternating every few games. There was every chance for Wilson to seize playing time after Kepnang’s injury. Had the coaches felt Wilson was helping the team by playing ~12 minutes per game then we would’ve seen that happen. Instead though he (and Grant) were mostly a “break glass in case of emergency” option. And now both are leaving the program. Hopefully Wilson is able to reach his potential at his next stop but UW was never able to get the best out of him.

PF/C 6’10 Jackson Grant (2nd Year)

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 0.5 pts, 1.5 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.3 blk, 13.3% FG, 0.0% 3pt, 37.5% FT

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): 1.2 pts, 1.5 reb, 0.1 ast, 0.3 blk, 44.4% FG, 28.6% 3pt, 68.8% FT

Preseason Quote: “There’s still the potential that Grant has a breakout season this year. This team is badly in need of shooting and if Grant could actually demonstrate that skill during games then there is room for some playing time at the 4/5 spot. I just have a hard time believing after what we saw from each last year that Grant is going to overtake Langston Wilson and they appear to have very similar potential skillsets as stretch bigs. In the end I think only one sees substantial time by the time we get to conference play and my money is on Wilson right now.”

It was a weird year for Grant as alluded to above. He initially was going to redshirt this season but once Kepnang tore his ACL the staff decided he should be given a shot given Wilson’s poor results to that point. It turned out that Grant was even worse as the backup center and looked completely broken on offense. That’s how you shoot 13% from the field and 38% from the free throw line. His block and rebounding numbers were solid and about what I expected but you can’t have a center who is that deficient on the offensive end. It came as no surprise to anyone that Grant chose to enter the portal and is looking for a fresh start.