Today I got to thinking about how much Washington’s basketball season will depend on returning players stepping into much larger roles, especially as far as scoring the ball goes. So here is a wishlist featuring each returning player and what element of their game that, ideally, they’ve spent the off season improving.
Andrew Andrews – Control
Andrews flashed his potential as a game-changing play-maker, but his biggest flaws were his shooting and his ability to play under control. The shooting improved mildly over the course of the year, and Washington would benefit hugely from Andrews shooting his jumpshot with more efficiency. But given that Andrews is as much an inside scorer and a facilitator as a jump shooter, I settled on control as the biggest factor. Andrews averaged 2.3 assists per game to 1.8 turnovers. That isn’t nearly as ugly as Wroten’s A/T ratio, but for a guy that will likely be handling the ball much more in 12-13, it’s not ideal. Based on my observations throughout the year, I would say that a majority of those turnovers resulted not from ill-advised passes but more from out of control dribbling. Andrews often ran the break without a controlled pace or an even dribble, and it led to him coughing up the ball, throwing last second errant passes that never would have happened without the poor control, or perhaps most often of all, throwing up ugly layups that had little chance of going in. Andrews missed his fair share of jumpers, but the 36% field goal shooting was definitely influenced by these thrown-up heaves. Even in those ugly situations, Andrews was showcasing his speed and his aggressiveness as a scorer, something Washington will need from him with Abdul Gaddy and Scott Suggs graduated. They just need it to be a more refined, more controlled aggressiveness.
Jernard Jarreau – Strength
This one is obvious. Jarreau showed flashes as a finesse forward. He has a solid mid-range jumpshot and consistently got to the foul line, where he converted 75% of his opportunities. His 6’10” frame is also intriguing, especially with Jarreau’s surprisingly solid ball-handling. But he isn’t big enough or strong enough to play in the post. And please, please don’t bring up Kevin Durant or any other tall, skinny player who has found success. Others may find ways to succeed inside without a ton of size, but Jarreau hasn’t. He was shoved around under the basket to the point that he could no longer be trusted to defend larger posts, and offensively his only post move was to go up and draw enough contact to get to the stripe. He added at least 20 pounds during his redshirt year, and it’s not as if he needs to get Aziz N’Diaye ripped. He just needs to add on enough functional strength that he can take advantage of his unique frame without his weaknesses rendering him a liability under the basket.
Desmond Simmons – Converting Layups Under the Basket
Seem oddly specific? Probably not if you watched Simmons play last year. The classic undersized effort guy, Simmons is the type of player that has kept the “he leaves it all on the court” cliche alive. Only 6’7″ and without tremendous athleticism or offensive skill, Simmons came off the bench last year to rebound and to work hard, and he did that well. But for a post to shoot 38% from the field is unacceptable. Simmons is actually a half-decent jump shooter, shooting 35% from three-point land on a small number of attempts. But when he would get the ball under the basket via an offensive board or an inside pass, he was a disaster. He often took a dribble and collected himself for an odd amount of time, usually allowing several taller defenders the time to surround and overwhelm him when he finally did go up. If he were 7′, I doubt we’d be having this discussion, but not every 6’7″ struggles to finish through contact. I don’t really know how Simmons would go about improving here, as it’s a problem that has remained an issue over the past two years without much change, but for Simmons to keep his spot as a sixth-man scrapper, he will need to convert an acceptable percentage of his shots.
Shawn Kemp Jr. – Defensive Rotations
I was tempted to go with refinement of his offensive game because of the gap in scoring that will need to be filled, but Kemp was a pretty solid offensive player last year, scoring just over 6 points in just over 18 minutes. Up his minutes to full starter level (25-30 minutes) and he would have scored in double digits while shooting over 50% from the floor. He needs to add a more refined post game and his free-throw shooting was shaky, but even modest growth will have him set up as an average offensive player. But last season he was a ways off from average defensively. Against big bruisers in the post, Kemp did a solid job defending with his back to the basket. His issue was team defense, specifically defensive rotations. Against penetrating guards, posts like Kemp are supposed to be ready to rotate over as a last line of defense, but I can’t tell you how many easy baskets were handed to opposing guards last season. If they beat their man even a little off the dribble, Kemp would often be too late on the rotation to influence the shot attempt at all. N’Diaye was also pretty unreliable about rotating, and it’s one of the biggest reasons our defense was so porous, and why so many of the baskets left players looking confused or frustrated at one another. For Kemp to earn the starting minutes he’ll need to move forward his offensive stats, he’ll need to improve as a protector of the paint.
C.J. Wilcox – Three-point Shooting
No, I’m not joking. And yes, I realize that Wilcox is the most talented shooter on the team. But last season, forced into a role as the team’s go-to scorer, he jacked up a lot of contested shots, from inside and outside of the arc, resulting in a career-low 41.9% field goal percentage and a career-low 36.6% from deep. His offensive game was more well-rounded by season’s end, but as a primary scorer, especially off the dribble, Wilcox struggled in comparison to the success of his sophomore year, when he served as a designated shooter and took advantage of the attention paid to Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten. Now, there is no Ross or Wroten on this team next year, but with the growth of Andrews and Kemp and the addition of Nigel Williams-Goss, Darin Johnson, and Mike Anderson, who I expect to contribute from day one, Wilcox should have less of a go-to scorer role weighing him down, even if he is likely to lead the team in scoring overall. If Wilcox shoots more like 45% from deep, it will likely mean that the team has diversified offensively, and that would be a very good thing for the Huskies.