You couldn’t help but take a Wait & See approach to this Husky basketball season, with all the turnover compared to recent years. With Andrew Andrews being The Guy, and everyone else being complete unknowns, I don’t know if I’d blame you for feeling like, “Oh, here we go again!” I mean, there we were, coming off of arguably Lorenzo Romar’s worst season as the head coach of this team, which itself came off of three other seasons where we failed to make the NCAA Tournament, and now our only experienced player is a guard who arguably shoots too much?
But, here we are, a little more than halfway through the season, and this team has a real shot at contending for an At Large bid, if not an outside shot at winning the Pac-12 Tourney. Andrew Andrews was and is the glue that holds this whole thing together, and without him, I don’t think this team has a shot, but if this team is going to make the leap and BE a Tournament team, it’s going to need the kids to mature in a hurry.
If you watch enough Husky basketball, you’ll notice a few things. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far.
Dejounte Murray is probably the biggest star, and most NBA-ready player, in his class. Without really knowing the college basketball landscape, I have no idea about what this year’s draft is going to look like. I think, if the season ended today, Murray could probably find himself selected somewhere in there (I would argue more likely in the second round). He’s flashing brilliance, and what he’s got going for him are the next 11 regular season games, along with the Pac-12 Tourney and whatever other post-season tournament we land ourselves in. These are Murray’s showcase games, for all intents and purposes. These games will go a long way towards showing NBA scouts whether Murray is a first round talent, or a guy who could use another year of seasoning.
I’m of the opinion that college guys could ALWAYS use another year of seasoning, but I can certainly see the risk involved. Tony Wroten, for example, probably maximized his value in his 1 & Done season. Unless he was going to remarkably improve as an outside shooter in his second year in college, I don’t think he could have done much better than where he was selected (with all the risk in the world of him stagnating and falling in the draft as a result of him staying a second season). Isaiah Thomas left with a year of eligibility at his disposal, but again, I think he had proven everything he needed to, especially in his final year here. He risked seeing himself overshadowed by Tony Wroten of all people. So, one might argue that Murray could see himself overshadowed by an incoming Freshman next season, but don’t forget this: Andrew Andrews won’t be here. So, if Murray decides to come back, this will be HIS team in 2016/2017. If he lights the stat sheets on fire the rest of this season, he’ll certainly feel the pull to be a 1 & Done player. But, if his game log up to this point is any indication, he still tends to have his good days and his bad days, and all those bad days aren’t doing him any favors.
What’s working for Murray is that he’s got an outside shot. It’s not great, he’s hovering around 31% from beyond the arc, but he’s not a total liability. His height is NBA-calibre (6’5), so no issues there. He’s leading the team in rebounds, assists, and steals (6.4, 4.7, 1.7 respectively) but he’s also leading the team in turnovers (3.4), and that’s where, I think, he can make the most progress in his game. If he stays one more year, cleans up his ball-handling and decision-making, he’ll see those turnover numbers go down and those assist numbers skyrocket.
The other guard in our 3-guard rotation is a guy I like A LOT. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve got a huge man-crush on Andrew Andrews, but David Crisp reminds me a lot of Andrews. His quicks, his fearlessness in taking the big shot, his ability to make shots from anywhere on the court. Crisp nailed a dagger from the corner to force that Utah game into overtime, and I don’t think that’s the last we’ve seen of his clutchness. My favorite thing about Crisp: I don’t think he’ll be leaving us anytime soon. Not to say he isn’t good, but he’s not the prototypical NBA guard the way Murray is. That doesn’t mean he can’t take his game to the next level, but it likely means he’s going to need to stay for 3-4 years, watch his game flourish, and continue to shine when the lights are on him.
I don’t think I’ve seen a Freshman this ballsy since IT. He absolutely wants the basketball in his hands in crunch time, and isn’t afraid to take the last shot, even knowing it’s more likely to be missed than made. He’s hitting a decent 34% of his outside shots, but for now, that’s pretty much all he’s shooting. Of his 175 attempts taken, 111 are behind the arc. So, you know, he’s going to have to develop a dribble drive, and an ability to finish at the rim. But, let’s not forget that he’s probably this team’s third or fourth option (behind Andrews, Murray, and whatever big man gets position in the post). As Crisp develops, and as this roster changes in the coming years, look for him to take on an increased role, and I would wager he’ll be up to the task.
Of the Freshman forwards we have on the roster, Marquese Chriss might be the most dynamic. He’s also, unfortunately, the most prone to get into foul trouble. It’s the main reason why he’s only averaging 23 minutes per game. The Huskies have played 19 games this season, and Chriss has fouled out in TEN of those games (Good God, Lemon!), with five more games where he finished with 4 fouls. He’s fouled out in all but one of our seven Pac-12 games to date, so obviously that’s something that needs to change.
When he’s on the court, though, he might be the most naturally talented basketball player we have. He’s hitting 53% of his shots, grabbing 5 boards, and hits a decent (for a big man) 70% of his free throws. Mostly due to the foul trouble, he’s had an up & down season kinda like Murray, and at 6’9, 225 lbs, he’s not the ideal size for an NBA power forward. So, in that sense, I think he’s more of a lock to be back next year. Likewise, he has no outside shot whatsoever, so he’s not going to be your typical small forward in the NBA. He probably needs to bulk up a little more (in muscle, obviously), develop a mid-range jumper, and cool it on the bone-headed fouls. Once he takes care of that, his natural abilities around the rim will ensure he’s got a future in the NBA, probably as a bench player, good for defense and those tough points in the paint. I can’t wait to see what he can do in a Husky uniform in the next year or two; I think he could be really special for us.
Noah Dickerson is the other Freshman big man who’s making an impact. He also tends to get into foul trouble – not quite as much as Chriss – but he’s taken great steps to improve his game since conference play started. Dickerson has scored in double digits in four of the last five games, with a lot of hard-fought buckets in the paint. He’s not quite the natural scorer that Chriss has proven to be so far, but he’s a better rebounder, and he doesn’t even try to have an outside game. His mid-range jumper is coming along nicely, as he tends to be the guy standing at the free throw line when other teams put their 2-3 zone on us. He can hit that jumper from the stripe, which is odd because he still needs work on his actual free throw attempts. At 6’8, he too is undersized for a power forward at the NBA level, so I wouldn’t expect him to go anywhere anytime soon. But, if he’s already this good now, as a Freshman, how awesome is he going to be three years from now?
In keeping with the Freshman theme, Matisse Thybulle is absolutely going to be a fan favorite. He’s a 6’5 small forward with rock solid defense, and he fills up the stat sheet. 5.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.0 blocks, and only 1.6 turnovers over 24 minutes per game. He’s somewhat of an anomaly, as he has a better 3-point percentage than his overall field goal percentage (39.6% vs. 37.4%), but it’s not like he’s out there just jacking threes. He spots up, and teams are going to leave him open because they’ve got so many other players to worry about. But, to his credit, Thybulle is knocking down an impressive number of those attempts. He’s a role player, and he’s likely always going to be a role player for this team, but as the years go by, he’ll find himself playing starter’s minutes and making a huge impact for the Huskies, much like Justin Holliday and Bobby Jones before him.
Finally, if you watch Husky games, you’ll note that there’s a 7-man base rotation, of players all averaging over 20 minutes per game. Anyone below that threshold (Donaven Dorsey, Dominic Green) tends to play on a situational basis (depending on foul issues, and the like). The big man I’ve been most impressed with so far has been Malik Dime. He’s a Junior College transfer, coming to Washington with two years of eligibility remaining. He’s 6’9, and listed as a forward, but he’s essentially what passes for this team’s center. His wingspan is out of control, which is a big part of why he leads this team in blocks (at nearly 3 per game). He’s shown a knack for avoiding foul trouble (for the most part), so even though he’s technically this team’s 6th man, he tends to be in the game early, and playing a good chunk of minutes (while also finding himself usually on the floor at the end of games). From Senegal, like former Husky Aziz N’Diaye, Dime doesn’t quite have the stone hands of his countryman ex-Dawg. He’s also got the athleticism to run up and down the court with these guards, who frequently reward him with alley-oop jams. I don’t know what Dime’s future holds, as far as his NBA prospects are concerned. He’s a little under-sized, and a little under-weight to bang around with the big boys in the pros. And, he could probably develop more of a post game, if he wants to be a role player at the next level. But, his defense, rebounding, leaping ability, and overall athleticism make him an interesting prospect. Maybe someone who could benefit from some further development at the D-League level, if he doesn’t feel the need to seek out professional employment overseas right away. My only quibble with his game so far, if you can even call it that, is he tends to have a heavy hand with his blocks, with the balls flying out of bounds rather than into the waiting hands of a teammate ready to push the ball the other way. That’s where someone like Robert Upshaw really had a knack. Of course, I highly doubt we’ll ever face the type of off-court troubles with Dime that followed Upshaw around, so in that sense I guess you take the good, you take the bad, and so on and so forth.
The overall consensus with this Husky team is that right now, it’s good, it’s exciting, and we all can’t wait to see what’s to come next in the remainder of this season. But, even more thrilling is the possibility of what this team might look like NEXT year. I know, as fans, we tend to over-value the future at the expense of the present, but think about this for a second. The Huskies are off to a 5-2 start, and have as good a chance as anyone to win the Pac-12 regular season title. Going into the 2016/2017 season, the only person we’re guaranteed to lose is Andrew Andrews. If Murray and the rest of our Freshmen stay on board, even with whoever is slated to join us, we’re DEFINITELY going to be one of the top teams in the entire conference, with a high likelihood of going into the season ranked nationally.
I honestly don’t think we’ve seen a Husky basketball team this talented since the heyday of Nate Rob, Brandon Roy, Tre Simmons, Bobby Jones, Will Conroy and the like. We all wondered if we’d ever get back to that level, and if we did, would Lorenzo Romar still be the guy calling the shots? For the last few years, I’ve been on a one-man crusade calling for the Huskies to keep Romar and let him turn this thing around. Well, I believe he’s done just that. AND, if he can keep it all together, we could be looking at some real Tournament darlings for years to come.
Get excited, Dawg fans. We’ve put up with a lot of crappiness in recent seasons. THIS is the payoff. Husky basketball is back, in a big way.