I believe that the Huskies would be a significantly less effective basketball team without Aziz N’Diaye. Do I think he is a good basketball player? Well, that depends on how loaded your version of that question is. If you mean “basketball player” as in a smooth, naturally gifted athlete that seems to succeed effortlessly, of course not. But if you mean basketball player as in someone who goes out, works hard, and puts up quality stats, N’Diaye is by all accounts a good player.
First, lets look at N’Diaye’s offensive capabilities. Through four games, he is averaging 11.5 points on an outrageous and probably unsustainable 64% from the field. 64%! I understand that those 11.5 points aren’t always pretty. Sometimes it’s point blank should-be-dunks that go awry, or a jump hook that looks to be thrown, rather than shot, at the basket. Those sloppy images stick in our minds and make us forget that even with all those mistakes, N’Diaye is converting a much, much higher percentage of his shots than anyone else on the team. Even players like Wilcox and Suggs, who score with such effortless grace, miss a higher percentage of shots from inside the arc. So, in my eyes, it’s worth the mistakes and the unsightly efforts to get those 11.5 points in such a statistically efficient manner.
There is still the matter of free throw shooting, however. He’s currently shooting 46%, after having made 39.7% last year and 41.7% the year before that. The improvement may be a bit of an early season fluke. We won’t know until later in the year. So yes, I cannot defend the free throws. It is always frustrating to see players wail on N’Diaye in the paint to force him to shoot free throws that he will often brick. It is also tempting to imagine the force that he would be if he hit even 60% from the line, as team’s would either have to give him all those shots at the line at a more efficient rate, or stop fouling him as much, allowing him to simply hit more shots in the paint. But it isn’t going to happen. And you know what? That’s fine. He isn’t exactly the first seven footer to be a liability from the line, and even with this cringe-inducing flaw, N’Diaye is still an above average offensive player for the following reason…
Offensive rebounds! He averages 4.5 offensive boards a game so far this year. While it’s possible that this figure won’t hold up over an entire season, nothing has seemed flukish about it so far. I believe that the new high-post offense simply puts N’Diaye in terrific position, and he is taking advantage of his size and strength to hit the restart button on several possessions a game. With as ugly as the offense has been at times, several games would have been much worse without these extra chances, many of which Aziz has simply finished with a put back right away.
On defense, the argument against N’Diaye has a little bit more merit. He has often been too slow on his rotations, especially after coming up to hedge on a pick. That has led to far, far too many wide open layups for guards driving into the lane. Sometimes it has also been as simple as players driving in on him while he is sitting in the paint, with their layup somehow escaping his hand. This “I block it or you make it” defensive approach has been one of the biggest issues with the defense this year. It would be great if Washington could somehow trade him out for a 7’0″ 260 pound center who played more reliable defense. Unfortunately, they cannot, and despite his shortcomings, N’Diaye is still an intimidating force in the paint whose presence often discourages guards from driving, while his size often renders opposing post players pretty much useless with their backs to the basket.
So while he is not always an ideal defender, I think you have to look at the alternatives. I believe if you put in, say Shawn Kemp and Desmond Simmons in at the four and the five, I think the defense would be much worse than Simmons and N’Diaye. The same goes for an even smaller combo of Jarreau and Simmons, or, god forbid, Simmons and Breunig. I’d rather have N’Diaye on defense, warts and all, than the alternative of having basically no center on the floor. Considering how soft our perimeter players have player on defense this year, if you take away the presence of N’Diaye and play small ball, I think we would be absolutely manhandled by physical teams.
I believe that Aziz N’Diaye and his double double average are a huge asset to this team, and that without him, this year’s squad would not be playing at the same level. If you disagree, feel free to comment below, just please be civil.