In college basketball’s growing transfer culture, a lot of fans cling to the idea that picking up a new player will turn their entire program around, as if they’re signing a star quarterback in NFL free agency. I’ve seen it with the potential transfer of former-UNLV forward Mike Moser, who is deciding between Washington, Oregon, and Gonzaga in the next few days. Lots of people jumping to “oh man, add Moser to this team and they can win the Pac-12!” Thing is, players aren’t some sort of concrete asset. They aren’t real estate. They are college athletes, always evolving and always changing, and nothing is guaranteed for a player that was successful in one program when he is changing his school, his coach, his teammates, and perhaps even his position. Any projections are simply educated guesses, and an estimation of how much a single transfer can impact the success of a team is even more of a difficult, inexact undertaking.
March 21, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; UNLV Rebels forward Mike Moser (43) dunks against the California Golden Bears during the second half of the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at HP Pavilion. California defeated UNLV 64-61. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Of course, it’s also what we do in the middle of the off season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to be logical and pragmatic in those projections. So let’s try to dig into the numbers a bit to see just how valuable Mike Moser would be for Coach Romar and his program.
Much of the hype surrounding Moser as a senior, post-grad transfer is tied to his 2011-2012 season, his first on the court for UNLV after sitting out 2010-2011 following a transfer from UCLA. The 6’8″ 210-pound Moser played power forward, and averaged 14.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 blocks, and 1.9 steals in 31.4 minutes per game. Not only are those raw numbers, especially the double-digit rebounds and abnormally high (for a big man) steal totals, impressive, but the percentages were also reasonably efficient. 45% even from the field on just under 12 field goal attempts per game, 33% from three-point land on 3.8 attempts, and 78% from the free-throw line.
Moser largely found this success as an athletic stretch-four in UNLV’s fast-pace system. He is a high-flier who can finish at the rim, but he also popped out for jumpers, very successfully from mid-range, and fairly efficiently from three-point range, especially for a power forward. On defense, I really can’t say too much about his overall quality of play, as I haven’t watched him play nearly enough, but even an uneven defensive player when it comes to rotations and help is just fine when contributing a block and just under two steals per contest.
If Moser waltzed onto campus next season and gave Romar 14 and 10 with a block and two steals at the four, with that same level of efficiency, it really would be no exaggeration to say that the Huskies would legitimately compete for the conference title. Unfortunately, there is one looming issue that prevents that assumption from being safe: last season.
UNLV was joined by super-recruit Anthony Bennett, a bruising power forward that has already declared for the draft after one year and will likely go in the top-5 in June. Moser was moved to the small forward spot, which probably seemed like the logical choice given his 6’8″ 210-pound frame, high-level athleticism, and uncommon (for a four) ball-handling and shooting skills.
In the first six contests, he averaged 12 points and 9 boards per contest, but never shot greater than 50% from the floor in any of those games. Then he was bogged down by a fairly gruesome dislocated elbow suffered against Cal on the 9th of December. He missed six of the next seven games and never really recaptured the success of the previous season, often logging right around 20 minutes per game, sometimes less, while struggling with his shooting. He finished with season averages of 7.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, .7 blocks, and .8 steals. His efficiency also took a steep dive, with 36% shooting from the field, 26% from three, and a solid 76% from the line.
Suddenly when trying to project Moser’s potential impact for either UW, Oregon, or Gonzaga, things are more complicated. Do you chalk up the sharp decline as a lost season, blame it on position change and injury issues, and assume that Moser would put up stats more similar to his first season on the floor for UNLV? Do you take the more cautious approach, guessing that his stats would fall somewhere in the middle? It’s a tough call, especially when you take into account the fact, previously mentioned, that Moser will be living in a new city, attending a new school, dealing with a new coach, and playing within a new system. Until he takes the floor next fall, it will be impossible to know for sure whether that will help him or hurt him.
Feb 23, 2013; Laramie, WY, USA; UNLV Runnin
So, after waffling around and covering all possible bases, what’s my take? I fall into the “lost season” camp. Moser is very, very talented, and his skill-set is uncommonly well-rounded. After such a successful year in 2011-2012, it makes just about zero sense that he would cut his stats by roughly 40% and take a 10% hit to his shooting percentages just because. He was yanked out of his preferred position, and had his role as the team’s go-to guy taken by Bennett, the same guy that took his position. That alone probably meant at least a bit of a decline to his raw stats. 14/10 down to 11/8, let’s say, given that he would naturally attempt fewer shots, and have a very talented rebounder, who wasn’t on the roster the year before, to compete with for boards.
That’s right around where Moser was in those first six games before the injury. 12/9, and it’s reasonable to guess that his poor shooting over that small sample size would have rebounded, if not all the way to 45% and 33%. Then he suffered a rough, painful injury, and when he returned, his role on the team was not the same. Whether this was due to his poor health, due to his relationship with the coach, or simply due to the makeup of the team with Bennett playing the four and Moser perhaps a poor fit as a small forward, I do not know, but the guy went from 30 minutes a game to 20 minutes a game, and that will smack a player’s confidence and stop them from finding any sort of game to game rhythm, especially when that player was previously locked in as a key contributor. Also worth thinking about: Moser is transferring. To me, that clearly indicates that he wasn’t happy with his role, and it probably indicates some tension with coach Dave Rice, at least as far as Moser’s minutes and position go.
If he picks Washington, he has a fresh start with Romar, and a clear role as a starter at the four. With C.J. Wilcox operating best when he isn’t the focal point of the offense, which allows him to run around screens to get open without being double-teamed, Moser would be the number-one guy. He could run the pick and roll with a guard, popping out for mid-range jumpers. He would certainly be a fine facilitator for Washington’s high-post offense. Likely starting alongside Shawn Kemp Jr, Moser’s presence on the floor would also improve spacing, given that Kemp’s developing mid-range jumper is still limited, while his low-post game is more of an asset.
It just fits, and with Andrew Andrews and the highly-touted freshman Nigel Williams-Goss possibly starting at the first two guard positions, his athleticism would allow for a likely return to Washington’s former fast-break glory. I’m not sure if it’s reasonable to expect the 2011-2012 stat line. Averaging double-digit rebounds is tough in college basketball, and the 1.9 steals may have been a bit of a single season outlier. But I’m confident that at Washington, and probably also at Oregon and Gonzage, Moser would average at least 12-14 points, 7-8 rebounds, a couple assists, a block, and a steal, and I think his shooting percentages will also likely recover to right around 45% from the field and 30% from three-point range.
How much this would impact Oregon and Gonzaga really depends on the role he would have there, and the talent they are developing. I simply don’t know enough at this moment about those two programs and their outlook heading into next year to confidently project that. But at Washington, with Wilcox returning for a final year and guys like Williams-Goss, Perris Blackwell, and JUCO-transfer Mike Anderson added into the rotation, the Huskies really do have an opportunity to compete for the Pac-12 title, and should probably be projected to be 3rd at worst.
Of course, for this to happen Moser has to commit to the Huskies, and you can check in here at Husky Haul for the news as soon as any new information is available.