Revisiting Preseason Player Projections: Part 1

Mar 27, 2023 - 6:17 PM
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 04 <a href=Washington at USC" src="" />
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Every year in the preseason I put out my stat projections for every player on the Husky roster. It’s a good way to both set expectations for that season as well as provide some content for after the season is over by revisiting those projections. That’s what we’re doing now as we look back at both what I projected and one quote I gave in each player’s write-up. My biggest misses are always with the true freshmen where we don’t have an existing set of baseline data. And boy is that the case again this year.

SG 6’4 PJ Fuller (4th year)

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 6.2 pts, 2.0 reb, 2.5 ast, 1.1 stl, 38.5% FG, 28.4% 3pt, 80.0% FT

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): 8.6 pts, 2.1 reb, 1.7 ast, 1.3 stl, 39.9% FG, 33.3% 3pt, 74.3% FT

Preseason Quote: “The big next step though is can he create more assists while simultaneously cutting down on turnovers? It’s a big ask but without it then Fuller is likely destined for something like 25-28 minutes per game and will finish some games on the bench.”

I thought/hoped that Fuller would be able to take another step forward with his shooting and ball protection but instead he dipped a bit in each regard. In my write-up I noted that the Huskies would be in trouble if Fuller had to play as the lead point guard much this year . That ended up being the case for much of the non-conference season given the injury to Noah Williams. Because of that his assists per game were well above what I projected but he also turned the ball over a lot. I mean a lot, a lot.

Given that I wasn’t expecting either freshman guard to take on such a big role (more on that in a bit) I thought Fuller’s floor was something like 25 minutes per game. Instead, Fuller averaged 17 minutes per game after Noah returned from injury in the ones he appeared in but sat for 5 games in that stretch for undisclosed reasons.

There have been reports this offseason that Fuller plans to enter the transfer portal. He has not officially entered but it seems likely he goes through with those reports. We’re now through 4 years of Fuller’s career and it seems clear that ideally he’s your 4th guard and will be at his best focusing on playing all out on defense while shooting off the ball and finishing in transition rather than initiating an offense. Hopefully he finds a place he can accept doing that on a winning team or drop down a level.

PG 6’5 Noah Williams (4th year), Transfer from Washington State

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 8.7 pts, 3.1 reb, 1.9 ast, 0.9 stl, 37.5% FG, 31.0% 3pt, 61.3% FT

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): 14.3 pts, 4.3 reb, 3.1 ast, 2.0 stl, 35.0% FG, 30.8% 3pt, 75.3% FT

Preseason Quote: “On the offensive end I don’t think Williams is going to suddenly become Terrell Brown Jr. But he will be the guy with the ball in his hands more than anyone else and will be the wildcard for the Husky offense.”

Coming into the season it seemed the most likely outcome was that Williams would be the primary option on offense all season in much the way that Jaylen Nowell and Terrell Brown Jr. were on past Husky teams under Hopkins. I expected the efficiency to clearly be worse than what those two put up and in terms of percentages I got pretty close minus the free throw shooting.

Of course, we never got to see what Hopkins had planned for Noah after he hurt his knee on the final play of the 1st half in the season opener and was never fully healthy even after he returned. I still think that the top of the zone was a great fit for Noah’s defensive playing style but it’s tough to know how much the knee might’ve contributed to him missing some of the same burst and ability to jump passing lanes. Hopefully Noah comes back and does so healthy so he can be more like the player I expected to see particularly on defense. But as of now it’s still up in the air if he plans to return or go elsewhere for his final year.

CG 6’1 Keyon Menifield Jr.- Phoenix Prep, Phoenix, AZ

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 10.0 pts, 2.9 reb, 3.1ast, 1.1 stl, 41.0% FG, 33.0% 3pt, 69.8% FT

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): Not in the Rotation

Preseason Quote: “My conservatism usually means I don’t expect much from a true freshman unless they’re a truly premium recruit...The raw skills are there so if Keyon bursts out and wins a spot in the rotation from day one I wouldn’t be completely stunned. At the same time though it’s tough to picture him carving out more than 10 minutes per game this year in the best case scenario.

There was certainly buzz around the time that I wrote this that Menifield had a chance to get serious minutes right away. However, I chose to trust in my numbers. There are on average across the P6 a little fewer than 7 sub-200 recruit guards that play at least 20 minutes per game as freshmen. The only Husky since 2012 to meet that criteria is Andrew Andrews and he did it as a redshirt freshman. There’s just not a lot of precedent for a player rated like Menifield breaking out as a true freshman and so I trusted in both the recruiting rankings and Menifield’s lack of offers rather than the internal buzz.

It turns out I chose...poorly. Menifield finished the year with 185 net points which is a figure I use based on Synergy Sports data that takes into account total possessions used as well as offensive and defensive efficiency. There’s on average fewer than 1 freshman sub-200 guard in the P6 per year who finishes above 175 and sure enough Menifield is the only one this season. Some other names on that list over the last 5 years include McKinley Wright, Mac McClung, and Jarrett Culver. I hope Menifield finishes his career at Washington and we get to see what it looks like when he is put in a more competent offensive system at UW hopefully sooner than later.

CG 6’2 Koren Johnson- Garfield HS, Seattle, WA

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 6.8 pts, 1.2 reb, 1.8 ast, 1.2 stl, 39.9% FG, 32.1% 3pt, 70.5% FT

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): 1.0 pts, 0.5 reb, 0.6 ast, 0.2 stl, 37.0% FG, 33.3% 3pt, 62.5% FT

Preseason Quote: “If (knocks on wood) Noah Williams or PJ Fuller were to miss a large chunk of time this year then probably both of the freshmen end up playing...Koren looks to have a more well-developed body for the college game so far and was the higher rated player by the scouting services. That means I give him the edge in the early battle for the 3rd guard spot.

That wood knocking apparently was not loud enough. I also noted in my write-up that Koren had offseason shoulder surgery which might further contribute to him not being ready to step in right away. That contributed to Johnson initially planning to redshirt this season before plans changed with Noah’s injury. My efficiency numbers for Koren were pretty close overall but obviously he ended up playing way more than I or the coaching staff initially envisioned.

Under Menifield’s section I mentioned the net points stat. Koren finished at 77 this season. If we broaden the search a little bit to include any freshman guards ranked 125th or worse to finish with 75+ net points then we find about 1.2 per season in the Pac-12. Koren and Keyon were 2 of 3 this year in the Pac-12 (plus Oregon State’s Jordan Pope). The list is a mix of players on bad teams forced into action too early that didn’t develop much as well as future college and NBA standouts. Let’s hope Koren and Keyon are remembered as more of the latter than the former. I look forward to seeing if Koren can reign in his controlled chaos aesthetic just a little bit to make it slightly more on the controlled side than the chaos side.

G 6’6 Jamal Bey (5th year)

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 6.9 pts, 3.5 reb, 1.4 ast, 1.1 stl, 37.2% FG, 29.4% 3pt, 78.7% FT

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): 9.3 pts, 4.1 reb, 1.1 ast, 1.3 stl, 36.9% FG, 35.4% 3pt, 71.4% FT

Preseason Quote: “It’s again difficult to say that Bey could be completely phased out of the rotation if he continues to struggle. Hopkins will certainly give Jamal every chance to show he can finally be that 13-15 point scorer that Husky fans have envisioned. I’m skeptical that player is in there at this point although some positive regression should make his numbers look a little better at least in his shooting percentages.

It looked for a while like Hopkins had finally reached his limit of Jamal Bey this season and decided to start preparing for the future. Bey played a combined 6 minutes over 3 games in the middle of the Pac-12 slate which brought down his per game averages by quite a bit. He re-entered and played some of his best overall basketball in the final 10 games averaging 9.8 points per game during that stretch on 32% 3-pt shooting. That version of Bey is the one I projected over the entire season. Unfortunately he only emerged after finally getting benched and his poor start to the year sunk his chances of living up to my (very modest) expectations as a 5th year senior.

I’m sure that most fans will look upon Jamal Bey’s career as a disappointment given how his career ultimately unfolded. He finishes as a career 33.7% shooter despite having a season where he finished 6th in the country at 50.7% that in hindsight looks like the ultimate hot streak. If you took Bey’s best 2pt/3pt/FT shooting years and combined them into the same season he would’ve been one of the better players in the conference but his lack of both consistency and intensity meant Bey just never got to a high enough level to be an impact player.

G 6’7 Cole Bajema (4th year)

Actual 2022-23 Stats (per game): 8.8 pts, 4.2 reb, 0.5 ast, 0.9 stl, 39.0% FG, 36.0% 3pt, 85.1% FT

Projected 2022-23 Stats (per game): 6.5 pts, 1.9 reb, 0.6 ast, 0.6 stl, 37.1% FG, 36.4% 3pt, 74.0% FT

Preseason Quote: “This is a somewhat make or break year for Bajema similar to last year for Bey. He’s now in his 4th season of college and if he’s going to show above average shooting for an extended period of time on high volume then it has to be this year. It wouldn’t end up surprising me if Bajema shot anywhere between 32% and 42% this season.

Bajema and Bey were on reverse trajectories this season. It looked like Bajema finally took a leap and was averaging 10 points per game up until he was suspended by the conference against USC. Upon his return he nosedived scoring just 10 points total in the next 5 games combined before finally snapping out of it with 16 points in the Pac-12 tournament loss.

I almost exactly nailed Bajema’s shooting percentages but he both took more shots than I was expecting and made big strides as a rebounder this season and at the free throw line. He finished the year with a career high in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate while also playing more minutes than I anticipated having started every game but the opener when he was available.

Unfortunately, Bajema chose to enter the transfer portal last week which means UW is losing their best outside shooter on what was already one of the worst 3-pt shooting teams in the country. It would’ve been great to see Bajema reliably be able to create his own shot off the dribble but every team needs several players capable of knocking down a wide open 3-pointer at an above average rate and now the only one the Huskies had is leaving.

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