RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Northwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 4th, 2010

Welcome to our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Northwest Region (UT, WY, MT, ID, AK, WA, OR, NorCal)

  • Isaiah Thomas – Jr, G – Washington. For the Pac-10 favorite Huskies, it is the smallest guy on the floor who will have the biggest impact. In each of Isaiah Thomas’ two previous collegiate seasons in Seattle, he has been at best a secondary option. Two years ago it was Jon Brockman and Justin Dentmon who were the senior leaders (even though Thomas still led the team in scoring) and last year it was Quincy Pondexter. Nowadays, the 5’8 junior point guard is clearly the face of the program, a lightning-quick, high-flying, pint-sized lefty with a penchant for scoring, even over larger defenders. Thomas is a versatile offensive player, at his best with the ball in his hands and going to his left, but capable of being a scoring threat in all manner of situations.  He is not yet a great three-point shooter, but upped his average to a solid 33% as a sophomore and seems poised to push that number up a couple points again this season, a tool which could be deadly given his explosive first step and ability to finish with any number of acrobatic shots in and around the lane. Thomas also excels at drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he also upped his efficiency as a sophomore to 73%, a number upon which he should improve yet again. One offensive area where Thomas is still finding himself is in terms of getting the rest of his team involved. For instance, there was a stretch of three games at the start of the Pac-10 season last year where he handed out just one total assist. He picked things up in this area down the stretch and averaged two more assists per game in the last 14 games of the season than he did in the first 22, and not coincidentally, the Huskies were a better team over that span, posting an 11-3 record. With senior Venoy Overton and sophomore Abdul Gaddy also capable of running the point for the Huskies, Thomas does have the ability to play off the ball for head coach Lorenzo Romar, but Washington is just more dangerous when Thomas has the ball in his hands, and if he can continue to improve his playmaking skills while still maintaining his explosive scoring ability, everybody on the team will be better for it. Defensively, Thomas is excellent in the open court and away from the basket with his quick hands and feet, but, as is the case with anyone his size, he has been a defensive liability at times in the halfcourt game, a weakness somewhat mitigated by the Huskies’ use of aggressive pressure from Thomas and Overton to keep opponents from getting comfortable in a half-court set. And really, wherever Thomas is on the floor, his talent and ability make it difficult for any opponent to get too comfortable.

Thomas May be Small in Stature, But Not Talent

  • Jeremy Green – Jr, G – Stanford. Last season the Stanford Cardinal were, by and large, a two-man gang. Green and Landry Fields were the only two players to score in double figures and between the two they accounted for almost 39 of Stanford’s average of 69 points per night. With Fields now plying his trade at the next level, the onus for the Stanford offense falls squarely on Green. Green came into last season with the reputation as a designated shooter, after knocking down over 45% of his threes as a freshman on his way to 6.4 points per game, and although he showed an increased proficiency off the bounce as a sophomore, it is still his shooting that opponents need to fear. With his minutes doubled last season, his production more than doubled as his scoring average jumped to 16.6 PPG nightly. In the process, he set a new school record for threes in a season with his 93 makes, and more than half of all his attempts, and makes, were from behind the arc. Green will be called on again to be a big scorer for Johnny Dawkins’ club, and he’ll need to show that he is capable of wearing a target on his back on a nightly basis and still succeeding. Despite Green’s increase in scoring as a sophomore, he did see his three-point percentage dip seven points to 38% last season, and minus Fields’ ability to create opportunities for teammates, Green could find matching last season’s efficiency more difficult. However, expect the Cardinal to run plenty of plays for him, running him off screens both with the ball and away from the ball, allowing him to find shots in both catch-and-shoot situations or even off the dribble. While Green is not an explosive athlete and isn’t often a threat to take the ball all the way to the rim, he is effective at using his dribble to find a spot from which to hit his jumper, although it would be nice to see him attack defenders more with an eye towards getting to the line; he only attempted 92 free throws last season, a shame for an 80-plus-percent shooter. Also, with the ball in his hands, Green doesn’t present much of the threat to the rest of the defenders on the court, as Green is ineffective at finding his teammates for open looks, notching just 25 assists all of last season. Green is a pretty good rebounder for a guard, grabbing 3.8 rebounds per game last season, while defensively, he is merely competent. With his running mate from last season now departed, Green is clearly the go-to guy on the Stanford offense, and he’ll need to show that he is capable of handling those duties, but the next step for the proven shooter is to find ways to get his teammates involved more often, and find ways to get himself to the charity stripe on a more regular basis.

  • Jimmer Fredette – Sr, G – BYU. Had the 6’2, 195-lb senior guard from Glens Falls, New York, ended up at a school like Syracuse or Duke or Purdue, he would receive exponentially more chatter than he does as a member of the LDS school from Provo, Utah.  Instead of people hyping him up as a possible first-team all-american, he’d be in the discussion for NPOY.  His ability to score is well-known at this point after a 2009-10 campaign where he averaged 22.1 PPG and broke the twenty-point barrier an astonishing 21 times.  And when Fredette gets hot, batton down the hatches and call the Losties — the island is off its axis and his opponents are hoping to simply survive.  36 versus Utah and Colorado State; 37 against Florida; 45 against TCU; 49 (!!!) against Arizona.  There’s a tendency to believe that such a player who regularly puts up big numbers must be a chucker without regard for shot selection, but Fredette is no such player — rather, despite being the extreme focus of every defense that matches up with him, he’s still a career 46% shooter who hit a scorching 44% from deep and 89% from the line last season.  What you probably didn’t know about Fredette is that he’s also a great distributor of the basketball.  Even though he ranked in the top ten nationally in terms of possessions used at 32%, he also managed to find time to drop 4.7 assists per game and ranked in the top 100 in assist rate (30%).  You can pretty much ensure that every second Fredette is on the floor, he’s doing something positive to help the Cougars win.  And win BYU has done since Fredette arrived on campus, to the tune of an 82-22 overall and 39-9 MWC record in his three seasons.  Let’s not forget that coming into last season the big question mark was whether Fredette and his Cougars could break the long (since 1993) streak of BYU getting into the NCAA Tournament only to lose in the First Round.  Fredette’s 37 points in that double-overtime win against Florida removed a big monkey off the program’s back and it’s a reasonable expectation that BYU could be just as good or better this season.  It’ll require some of the younger players such as Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock to continue to develop, but given just how good Fredette is at getting them the ball in the right spots, it wouldn’t surprise us to see the Cougars playing into the second weekend next March.  If Fredette manages to get his team that far, maybe enough people around the country will start to realize that he’s more than just a shooter and should be mentioned along with Kyle Singler, Jacob Pullen and several others as a serious NPOY candidate.
  • Elias Harris – Soph, F – Gonzaga. After sharing the West Coast Conference spotlight with Omar Samhan last season, Harris appears ready to break out and make himself the face of one of the nation’s premier mid-major conferences. Last season as a freshman, Harris averaged 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and established himself as a likely first round pick when he declares. One of the increasingly common athletic hybrid forwards, Harris possesses a solid inside-outside game that was honed playing against NBA players and other talented professionals while he was a member of the German national team. Still anybody who watches Harris immediately can see that there is a significant amount of untapped potential. It is clear that he possesses the physical tools to do nearly anything he wants on the college level, but he still lacks some of the skills, specifically the ability to create for himself off-the-dribble and have a consistent jumper to dominate games in the WCC, that some scouts believe he needs. Despite those limitations his physical ability and outstanding energy level make him a dangerous threat as Syracuse found in the second round of the NCAA Tournament when Harris scorched an excellent frontline for 24 points and 8 rebounds in a losing effort. On the defensive end, Harris is a serviceable defender, but similar to the offensive end his athletic gifts make him a potential star as he could defend three positions and become a lockdown defender given his aggressiveness. If Mark Few is able to draw out a bit more of that potential from Harris, the Bulldogs could have their first legitimate star since Adam Morrison left campus. If he can do that, the Bulldogs could separate themselves from Saint Mary’s and the rest of the WCC on their way to contending for that elusive Final Four, which could help them take back their title as the premier mid-major in America from Butler.

The Uber-Athletic Harris is Set to Explode This Year

  • Klay Thompson – Jr, F – Washington State. For Klay Thompson, the 2009-10 season was the tale of two different years. Literally. In the 2009 portion of the schedule, Thompson hit 43% of his shots and 42% of his threes on the way to an average of 25.6 points per game. After changing the calendar, he only notched 15.9 points per game and his percentages dropped to 40% overall and 33% behind the arc. Of course, those types of things are bound to happen when you go from beating up on teams like IPFW, Alaska-Anchorage and San Diego to playing night-in and night-out against conference rivals who know your every move. Regardless, Thompson remains one of the Pac-10’s best players and most-feared shooters. He is a high-volume shooter (he attempted 33% of his teams shots when on the floor), in part because of a dearth of other consistent offensive threats on the Cougar team, but as the numbers above indicate, he can be extremely streaky with his jumper, able to back up a night where he hits seven of 11 attempts (and four of his six from beyond the arc) with a 7-22 and 4-14 from three performance as he did in consecutive games against the Oregon schools last March. At 6’6, Thompson is capable of getting off his shot with ease against smaller defenders, and has shown an increased ability to put the ball on the floor in spurts and work his way into a pull-up jumper, but Thompson is at his best moving without the ball, running off of screens and set plays, and finding catch-and-shoot opportunities. Of average athleticism, he is not much of a threat taking the ball hard off the dribble, and is not a great defender, so for Thompson to make a positive contribution for his team, he needs to be knocking down shots. It will help his chances if head coach Ken Bone can find at least one other player to step up as an offensive threat and take some of the attention away from Thompson, but in order for Thompson to live up to his reputation, he’ll need to tighten up his shooting stroke, consistently knock down his open looks, and avoid the type of prolonged shooting slumps he had as a sophomore.
  • Adrian Oliver (6th) – Sr, G – San Jose State. If you happen to be standing next to Adrian Oiver right now, do us a favor and point in the direction of any basketball goal, no matter how far away from one you are. Adrian Oliver is in range. As in green-light shooting range. Of that goal. He’s the second leading scorer (22.5 PPG) returning to college this season (Lipscomb’s Adnan Hodzic got him by 0.2 PPG) and fourth overall from last year. And here’s what impresses us more than that: even with such long-range accuracy (40.8% from three point range in 2009-10), the guy still shot a pretty darn admirable 43.7% from the field last year. Pair that with lights-out accuracy from the free throw line (88.7% last year, ranking him 32nd nationally), and you can see why opponents have trouble defending him. You can’t leave him open from deep, and you can’t get physical with him and send him to the line. To say that the Spartans rely on Oliver is an understatement; his usage rate (the number of possessions a player utilizes while on the floor — that’s right, we’re going tempo-free on you!) registered at a whopping 59.8%, landing him 10th nationally. Even when shooting a standstill jumper, Oliver has a natural backwards drift and a big leg kick on his shot, which makes his fade-away even more deadly. That’s his favorite move, by far — whether it’s off a drive, a crossover, coming off a screen, or standing still with a man in front of him, Oliver loves to bait his defender with that one last forward jab step, and the next thing you know he’s falling away from you with all kinds of room to get that shot away. It’s gorgeous. You will not likely see a prettier fade-away in the game this season. And if you’re in the WAC, see it you shall, because not only can Oliver create his own shot just fine, but consider this: of the top six scorers from last season’s SJSU squad, only one besides Oliver is returning. That means more touches (and a climbing usage rate, of course). That means more chances to see that fade-away. That means that, barring something unfortunate and/or unforseen, the WAC Player of the Year race is over.

Near-Misses

  • Tai Wesley – Sr, F – Utah State. The first-team all-WAC forward is a beast down low, using his 245-pound frame to bull his way to 13.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG and a surprising 3.3 APG last year.  One of the better passing big men in the country, USU has high hopes for 2010-11 with Wesley and three other starters returning.
  • Mickey McConnell – Sr, G – St. Mary’s. McConnell is as good an outside shooter as you’ll find in America, having improved his three-point percentage by a ridiculous ten percent each year in Moraga.  Since he shot 50.7% from deep as a junior, should we expect 60%+ this season for the all-WCC guard?

Others Considered (* denotes injury or suspension)

  • Steven Gray – Sr, F – Gonzaga
  • Robert Sacre – Jr, C – Gonzaga
  • Calvin Haynes – Sr, G – Oregon State
  • Luke Sikma – Sr, F – Portland
  • Jared Stohl – Sr, G – Portland
  • Kevin Foster – Soph, G – Santa Clara
  • Marc Trasolini – Jr, F – Santa Clara
  • Matthew Dellavadova – Soph, G – St. Mary’s
  • Mark  Payne – Sr, G – UC Davis
  • Matthew Bryan-Amaning – Sr, F – Washington
  • Reggie Moore – Soph, G – Washington State
  • Bobby Howard – Jr, F – Montana State
  • Jackson Emery – Sr, G – BYU
  • Damian Lillard – Jr, G – Weber State
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