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BASKETBALL: A look at the departures

With the addition of Andre Winston to Ken Bone's 2011 recruiting class, the Cougs now have three scholarship commitments to match their three offseason losses. Naturally, I decided to take a look at the statistics to find out exactly the void that Nikola, Thames, and Harthun left behind (Although I'm not really sure if Harthun leaves a "void").

The first thing that jumped out at me when looking at the numbers, and this is really more of an interesting tidbit rather than hard analysis, is that combined those three guys used 21.7% of the team's total possessions while scoring  21.7% of the team's total points. They were a perfect example of the offensive performance of the team as a whole, in terms of efficiency.

That 21.7% equated to 14.71 possessions every 40 minutes. That's 14-15 times a game that Nik, X, or Harthun ended the team's possession via turnover or shot.  In those 14.71 tries, the three were able to collectively generate 15.59 points/40 minutes. This was aided in large part by the ridiculousness of Nik Koprivica last year, who accounts for almost half of this group's impact offensively.

Of course, offensive efficiency will not be the only thing impacted by the departure of those three. In terms of defensive rebounding Nikola leaves some shoes to fill, as he was able to pull down a decent 17.5% of available defensive boards. The only two players on the team who were higher than that were DeAngelo Casto and Charlie Enquist. Thames and Harthun put up some pretty standard rebounding numbers from the guard position, so that aspect should be easily replaceable.

We also cannot ignore the impact these guys had on defensive sets. It's a widely held belief that Nikola was an excellent defender. He was able to play bigger and defend the four (as we saw against LSU) and he also was able to defend smaller players. He was sound fundamentally and was rarely burned or out of position. Just like with the offensive side, Nik will be a tough guy to replace on the defensive end. As for the other two, they often guarded similar positions, but were polar opposites in their effectiveness. Thames is well on his way to becoming a lock-down defender and is very comfortable operating in a zone. Harthun lacks the footspeed to keep up with Pac-10 guards and the size or strength to check the three. He often was out of position and a liability on the defensive side. Overall, we probably lose two "plus" defenders and one problem. We also lost three players who were recruited to play in the Pack and not for the trapping defense that Ken Bone really wants to employ. Maybe with some added quickness, this team can find that identity that they were missing in Bone's first season.

If the Cougs are going to improve on their 122nd kenpom efficiency ranking and their last place finish in the Pac-10, they at least have to maintain the effectiveness of those departures and see some improvement from the returners. You have to believe that Bone will be able to plug almost any remaining guard on the roster into Mike Harthun's minutes and at least get the same "effectiveness." One thing I'm sure of is that the Cougs will not have another role player like Nik was last year, so his departure does leave a need. Hopefully someone can step up and at least knock down open threes the way Koprivica did.

Xavier's departure leaves the backup point guard spot open. While X was capable in bringing the ball up last season, he really was not much of a facilitator. His 14.0 assist rate left him lower that Klay Thompson and far below the 26.4 that Reggie accomplished. If one of the new guys can step up and play a more classic point guard role for the Cougs, we may see an instant improvement offensively.

If WSU is going to contend for the postseason in 2010-2011, there will have to be improvement across the board. WSU fans are given hope in that even though the Cougs have lost two solid players, those were Tony's guys. Ken Bone is bringing in guys for his system and hopefully that translates to more efficient play and most importantly, more wins.