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Woof: Washington Adds High Scoring Transfer

Lamar transfer Nate Calmese was 2nd among true freshmen in points per game last season

Syndication: Arizona Republic Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Washington added some much needed depth to the roster today with the addition of Lamar transfer Nate Calmese from Gilbert, Arizona. Calmese is a rising sophomore and will have 3 years of eligibility remaining.

You’ll be forgiven for not knowing Calmese’s name but you could find it on some impressive lists from last season. The 6’2 Calmese was 2nd among all freshmen in the country in points per game at 17.6 trailing only likely top-3 NBA draft pick Brandon Miller from Alabama. Overall, Calmese averaged 17.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 48.1% from the field, 36.7% from 3, and 75.5% on free throws.

Those are incredibly impressive numbers especially for a true freshman. So why wasn’t Calmese viewed as one of the elite players available in the portal? That’s due to the quality of his team and their competition. Lamar went 9-22 while finishing last in the Southland Conference. But 3 of those wins came over non-D1 competition and the Cardinals were 358th out of 363 teams at KenPom. They were one of the worst teams in the country and had one of the lowest strength of schedule in the country. Not great.

There are a few ways to look at that. It’s not hard (relatively speaking because obviously I couldn’t do it) to put up a ton of points on a terrible team as long as you get the green light. Calmese finished 43rd nationally taking 31% of his team’s shots while he was on the court. That certainly makes it easier to score a ton of points. But it’s not like Calmese was the one shooting his team out of games. In conference play he made 58% of his 2’s and 40% of his 3’s. He was pretty definitively the best scoring option on the team and kept up a great efficiency level while taking a ton of shots. The aforementioned Brandon Miller at Alabama shot 62% on 2’s and 38% on 3’s in SEC play.

Of course, there’s a big difference between the Southeastern Conference and the Southland Conference. Unlike some small schools, Lamar didn’t run out a non-conference schedule with 8+ games receiving a pay check to get flattened by a major program. There were only a few opportunities for Calmese to play against premium competition. The results were not great. Here’s what Calmese’s numbers look like if you break it up by KenPom rank:

Teams ranked 1-100 (3 games): 10.7 ppg, 37% 2pt, 23% 3pt, 43% FG

Teams ranked 101-200 (5 games): 16.0 ppg, 50% 2pt, 39% 3pt, 77% FG

Teams ranked 201-300 (8 games): 17.6 ppg, 59% 2pt, 31% 3pt, 81% FG

Teams ranked 301+ (12 games): 20.1 ppg, 59% 2pt, 40% 3pt, 76% FG

Obviously those percentages against top-100 teams wouldn’t be good enough to see the court if kept up over an entire season. But we’re also talking about a sample size of 3 games that came in the first 5 weeks of a true freshman’s college career. His worst game of the season came against the best team: TCU (who ended up as a #6 seed in the NCAA Tournament). In that game he scored just 2 points on 1/10 shooting. But even though his shot wasn’t falling he had a season high 5 assists with 0 turnovers so found other ways to try to help his team win.

It’s unlikely that Calmese seamlessly steps into the starting lineup and once again averages 17+ points per game like he did last year. That shouldn’t be the expectation. He’ll compete with Koren Johnson, Wesley Yates, and Anthony Holland for a starting gig next to Sahvir Wheeler in the backcourt. You can never count on a player to stay more than one year in this day and age regardless of eligibility remaining but with Wheeler and Holland graduating, the trio of Johnson/Yates/Calmese has a chance to take over in 2024-25.

We went into the general scoring numbers above but we should probably touch on what Calmese does well on the court with a little more depth. The competition was certainly part of it but overall Calmese was efficient from every spot on the floor. Like many players his biggest weakness was on contested jumpers as he shot 28% on those catch and shoot opportunities. When taking an open 3-pointer in rhythm though he canned 40% of them so he provides another floor spacing option alongside Sahvir Wheeler’s passing.

Calmese was also very good when driving the ball. He has the ability to pull up and hit a runner/floater if there’s a shot blocker around the rim. That translated to shooting 52% on those shots which ranked in the 89th percentile nationally per Synergy Sports. He also shot 61% on layup attempts which ranked in the 77th percentile overall and surely ranked even higher if you just looked at players of his similar height.

Despite being able to handle the ball, Calmese is definitely more of a shooting guard and plays off the ball frequently. About half of his possessions last year came as a spot-up shooter or in transition. He struggled to run the pick and roll effectively, shooting only 38% in those possessions and turning it over 23% of the time. Washington is unlikely to put Calmese out there without one of Wheeler or Koren Johnson on the floor who are more capable as a primary ball handler.

It’s also fair to say that at this point Calmese doesn’t offer much else other than scoring punch. His overall defensive numbers per Synergy were solid, giving up 0.831 points per possession as the primary defender which ranks in the 59th percentile nationally. Lamar actually ran zone about 1/3rd of the time so that defensive style won’t be totally foreign to Calmese.

The specific defensive stats though are lacking. His 1.1% block rate is slightly high for a 6’2 shooting guard but his 1.5% steal rate is definitely below average especially factoring in the strength of schedule. His 5.8% defensive rebounding rate is bad but not totally out of sync for a smaller guard.

That’s about identical to Koren Johnson from last year who is a similar size but Koren’s steal rate was almost double Calmese’s totals. It’s also probably not a coincidence that Calmese almost never fouled (70th lowest foul committed rate nationally) whereas Koren fouled out of multiple games. There’s a balance in between where never fouling or getting steals probably shows a lack of effort whereas too much might be a symptom of freelancing or just poor body control. It’s also possible that Calmese was asked to do so much on offense that he needed to rest more often on defense and so not having to be “the guy” all the time will help his defensive performance.

Regardless, Washington is definitely not in a position to turn down players who are capable of putting the ball in the basket on a regular basis. There’s certainly still a bit of uncertainty about whether Calmese can regularly do that against Pac-12 competition given his one year in college so far but there are certainly encouraging signs. Fortunately, Washington is in a position where there are other options available if it takes time for Calmese to acclimate to the jump. For this season he is a high upside flyer that at the very least should be a quality scoring option off the bench.

Welcome to Seattle, Nate!