Nevada

Nevada Wolf Pack Basketball: Takeaways after opening home slate

We’re officially three games into the 2022-23 Nevada Wolf Pack Men’s Basketball Season. Small sample size, I know.

Nevada has won all three of its contests, starting with beating two WAC opponents. It beat Utah Tech 84-71 in the season opener while beating the Grand Canyon Antelopes, won 23 games 59-46 at home at the Lawlor Events Center last year! It finished its home stretch of three games with a 98-54 win over NAIA program William Jessup.

While they still have room for hiccups here and there over the next two weeks against UT Arlington, Tulane and Kansas State/Rhode Island, that three-game start felt more inspiring than the previous season, when it started 1-4 despite the Return of its top three players and the addition of a bevy of transfers from the portal. Why is that?

Let’s dive into a movie and find out!

1. Kenan Blackshear’s offensive improvement seems obvious.

There’s not much to take away from just three games, but one thing is that Kenan Blackshear has made a leap and is commanding the pack’s offense. We know how versatile and instinctive the 6-foot-6 winger is at attack point defensively, but his offensive growth since arriving in Reno has been evident.

Last season, Blackshear caused most of his scoring damage inside the suit and on 3s above the break, where he converted 49.5 and 38.0 percent of his shots, respectively. In three games so far – albeit a small selection – he’s made 10 of his 13 paint attempts and two of his five shots from middle range (he shot 21-22 in MRA 7 of 28), though he’s linked with two of his eight triples .

Kenan Blackshear’s batting chart 2021-22:

Blackshears 2021-22 shot cart
CBB Analytics

His 2022-23 batting chart through three games:

Blackshear’s 2022-23 shot chart… so far.
CBB Analytics

In his first three games, he averaged 13.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 2.3 steals (17.1 percent to 22.3 percent) with higher usage. His PER is up from 12.0 to 25.7 – which is unlikely to be sustained, but is encouraging nonetheless – while his win shares per 40 are up from 0.076 to 0.313.

His larger role on offense has allowed him to play more freely as the primary creator.

Another reason for Blackshear’s offensive outburst was exploitation when Nevada was in transition and semi-transition — particularly against William Jessup, when he recorded triple-digit assist counts for the first time in his collegiate career and surpassed his previous high of eight.

With Hunter McIntosh injured, Blackshear will continue to gain opportunities as a lead/secondary shot creator. If he’s able to maintain that level of production, Nevada will be in a much better position than it was last year when Grant Sherfield – who moved to Oklahoma this offseason – was inactive.

2. Darrion Williams doesn’t play like a freshman.

For all the veterans on the roster — Blackshear, KJ Hymes, Jarod Lucas, Hunter McIntosh (injured) — fourth-year head coach Steve Alford has a litany of youth — forming perhaps his youngest roster he’s had since joining Reno. Although youth was one of Alford’s main strongholds, particularly newcomer wing Darrion Williams.

He might have had a few hiccups – like most young players – but his overall performance suggests he doesn’t play like a rookie.

Williams recorded 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists and lost three triples in the season opener against Utah Tech. His statsheet hasn’t been as strong in the last two games, but the remaining impact is greater than what the box score suggested.

Williams was one of Nevada’s most active rebounders, both offensively and defensively. He’s rarely been out of position defensively — especially off the ball, which helps ease Nevada’s backline alongside his other wings/bigs.

Below is a perfect example of this:

In the clip above, guard Javon Blacksher and Yvan Ouedraogo initiate an empty corner 1-5 pick and roll, but Ouedraogo rolls toward the center. Williams is the primary tag defender with Kenan Blackshear as a secondary backup defender on the opposite wing – Williams and Blackshear are forced to split the difference between Ouedraogo’s Antelope triumvirate, Gabe McGlothlan (opposite short corner) and Ray Harrison (opposite corner).

Blacksher fails to turn the corner around protecting KJ Hymes, delaying any delivery towards Ouedraogo or McGlothlan. Williams, in perfect position, intercepts the pass for a pick six.

In this second clip, Williams is the tag defender in another pick and roll initiated ATB. He tags Ouedraogo well by preventing an accelerated roll with Hymes in the drop, but is forced into a long closeout where Chance McMillan blows past him. Still, Tre Coleman’s stunt from the corner plus Hymes thwarts the drive. Ouedraogo tries to position himself on the edge after receiving the pass, but Williams eagerly helps and blocks the shot.

These are next-level instincts—one you don’t typically see from a newbie anytime soon.

Here Williams is the backline of Nevada’s 1-3-1 zone. He has to split the difference between Trey Edmonds, who establishes position on Lucas, and Frank Staine, who is on the corner. Cameron Gooden shoots past Edmonds – Williams reads the pass instinctively, keeps the ball within bounds, goes coast to coast before dealing a no-look assist for the two-handed slam to the trailing Hymes.

He was just as impressive offensively.

He doesn’t possess the greatest source of athleticism, but has enough jiggles with just enough jiggles to open gaps. Although perhaps his greatest strength offensively has the potential to be his passing game and feeling offensive.

Just look at these three game sequences.

He’s in line to be arguably Nevada’s best freshman of the Steve Alford era.

3. Could KJ Hymes be Nevada’s most influential big?

Multiple injuries hampered Hymes’ performance and availability last year, limiting him to just 3.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in 11.7 minutes per game in 22 contests.

In Nevada’s opener against Utah Tech, Hymes added eight points with five boards and an assist, but declined a career-high five shots – putting his body in position on the rim as a weakside roamer combined with exceptional timing from opponents shot attempts.

In their first three games, Hymes gave the Wolf Pack an instant boost of energy, averaging 9.0 points and never rebounding on 64.3 percent shooting, 58.3 percent of them in the paint. In the absence of Will Baker (foot spatter) Monday, he had 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting and knocked down his two 3s with four rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in 22 minutes.

KJ Hymes’ batting chart 2022-23:

KJ Hymes 2022-23 Shooting Table
CBB Analytics

Hymes and Will Baker are Nevada’s only real bigs on the roster who regularly gain rotation minutes.

Should both be healthy, Baker will likely start ahead of Hymes, although I wouldn’t rule out Hymes having a bigger impact due to his blocking and rebounding ability. He has also ventured into shooting 3s from time to time. If he continues at that pace, he will mitigate the loss of Warren Washington, who moved to Arizona State this offseason.


Other headliners:

Jarod Lucas Shootout:

Lucas, a former Oregon State transfer, was one of the deadliest (outside) shooters in the Pac-12, shooting 39.1 percent from the field — 41.1 percent on 2s (2.9 attempts) and 38.0 percent on 3s (4.9 attempts). – in addition to 88.2 percent in 2.7 free-throw attempts. Overall, that’s a true-shooting percentage of 56.9 in 95 career games with the Beavers.

Against Utah Tech and Grand Canyon, Lucas was a combined 6-of-26 (23.1 percent), including 3-of-12 (25.0 percent) from the 3-point range – two very uncharacteristic numbers from the 6- foot 3 guard. Those numbers corrected themselves on Tuesday when he shot 5 of 10 from beyond the arc for a total of 6 of 12.

Expect those numbers to continue to correct as the season progresses – he’s too good a shot not to be. Sometimes it’s enough if one – or more – goes through.

Best freshman class since _____________??

While I’ve delved deeply into William’s game, it’s impossible to ignore the progress made by Alford’s other newcomer – Trey Pettigrew and Nick Davidson (redshirt) – as well. Davidson leads the trio with 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game on 61.5 percent shooting; Pettigrew, who has only played in the last two games, has averaged 8.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and an assist on 42.9 percent of long-range shots.

The last time Nevada had several freshmen averaging over seven points was 2000-01 with Andre Hazel (8.9 ppg) and Garry Hill-Thomas (7.2). While a point per game doesn’t indicate sheer impact, it is a production tool that matters at the college level. In terms of Player Efficiency Rating (PER) – a productivity metric – only Zane Meeks (15.6), Cameron Oliver (22.1) and Deonte Burton (19.5) had above 15.0 as a freshman (started 2009-10), what is considered average.

Williams, Davidson, and Pettigrew have PERs of 34.3, 27.3, and 22.3, respectively.

While a single statistic doesn’t define everything, and these brands above certainly won’t hold their own, it’s not crazy to think that the sum total of their on-court performance could hold their own against some of Nevada’s top ancestor classes: like Cameron Oliver and Lindsey Drew (2014-15), Deonte Burton or Jerry Evans (2010-11) or Luke Babbitt and Dario Hunt (2008-09).

Better defensive cohesion:

The Wolf Pack faced three top-50 defenses — Santa Clara, San Francisco and South Dakota State — in their first five games last year. But against Eastern Washington (outside the top-160) and San Diego (just inside the top-300), Nevada posted an adjusted defensive rating of 110.0, ranked 285th, according to Barttorvik.

Against two similarly ranked Division I offenses that year — Utah Tech (#238 Barttorvik, #257 KenPom) and Grand Canyon (#138 Barttorvik, #149 KenPom) — the pack summoned a sub – 100 defensive rating, ranked in the top 160 in both adjusted metric systems.

Additionally, the Wolf Pack ranks in the top-25 for opponents’ effective field goal percentage (.394, 23rd), opponents’ 2-point percentage (.368, 11th), and block percentage (20.7%). ; 7.). Those numbers probably won’t hold up either, as they rarely do over the course of a 30-plus-game regular season — but it’s an encouraging sign nonetheless.

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