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WSU BASKETBALL: Are We Seeing Faisal Aden 2.0?

It's no secret that I've never been Faisal Aden's biggest fan. I'm obsessed with efficiency on the basketball floor, and ever since that ridiculous start in November and December 2010 -- built on unsustainably hot outside shooting -- Aden has been the picture of inefficiency.

I felt so strongly about it that I crafted a 3,000-word piece on exactly why the way Ken Bone was choosing to use Aden was actively hurting the Cougars' chances of winning ball games.

In light of the events of this past weekend, in which Aden's stunning effectiveness led WSU to a pair of wins over two first-place teams and earned him Pac-12 player of the week honors, it's been suggested it's time for me to eat a little crow.

I will not. And it's not because I'm just stubborn.

No, this is why: The Aden we saw this weekend is completely unlike the guy who played under that name for the previous 46 games, and thus we had no rational reason to expect this development.

Of course Aden has scored points before. That's not new; we've always known that he could make enough baskets on any given night to throw out positive-looking results. What my original piece was about -- what it's always been about with me -- was whether Aden, playing the way he had played in every single game he had played in his career, could make enough shots consistently enough to warrant the kind of latitude he was given by his coach. Every shred of evidence we had up until now suggested the answer was no, he couldn't.

That's not some kind of damning knock on Aden, by the way. About the only two guys in recent history I can recall consistently hitting the kinds of tough shots Aden had favored were Jimmer Fredette and Stephen Curry. It takes a special talent to succeed that way. Aden's just not that guy. Practically nobody is.

So, given A) Everything we'd seen for over a year, and B) Expecting a guy to change his style dramatically so late in his career is generally fools' gold, it seemed that C) The logical course of action was to suggest dramatically changing Aden's role within the rotation.

Then, of course, this weekend happened. However, if we were to be totally accurate, we'd note that this change actually started the week before against UW -- a game in which I remember turning to my friend and saying, "You know, he's playing OK!" Here's why it's different, and why I'm cautiously optimistic that things really might have changed for the better.

First 46 Games 532 207 39% 80 15%
Vs. UW, Stan, Cal 42
6 14% 26 62%

You'll notice I didn't put his shooting percentage in the table, or how many points he averaged. That, to me, is only marginally relevant. What's really relevant here is the manner in which Aden has earned his points in these three games. I've looked through his game logs from both years, and there is no two-game (let alone three-game) stretch in which Aden relied so little on threes and so much on free throws.

Even though some of the free throws came in the foul fest at the end of the Stanford contest, these free throws still don't lie: Aden was aggressively driving to the basket in a way he never has at WSU. And if he's really going to make this a central part of his game -- if this change is truly legit -- my opinion of him and what he can bring to the offense really is going to be transformed. And it would, in fact, change the entire dynamic of the Cougar attack.

Why? Because for the first time, Aden is playing in a way that can lead to sustainable production -- even on the mediocre shooting nights.

Perhaps you are saying I should be eating crow because Ken Bone knew better than I did that this would eventually come, that I was wrong to assume I knew more about the player than his own coach. Perhaps. But I'd simply ask this: Why in the world did it take 46 games to pull this out of Aden? Is Bone just an extraordinarily patient man who can wait out an individual player's development even as his team piles up losses? That seems a little far-fetched to me, but maybe that's the truth.

Whatever the case, this recent development bodes so well for the Cougars' future. It's obviously too much to expect Aden to do this every game -- he'll probably not shoot 13 free throws in a game again, nor will he likely shoot 75 percent on his way to a 20-plus-point game. But this is so much better than the alternative. This isn't just something we can live with -- this is something that can help the Cougar offense thrive.

If Aden is driving into the lane with regularity and converting half of those shots into baskets and a fair percentage of the misses into free throws, he'll be an undeniably positive contributor to the team's offensive success. If he's doing that, defenders will either start to sag off him, giving him room to shoot threes -- something we also know he can make -- or they'll commit extra defenders to stopping his penetration, opening up opportunities for his teammates. And if he's making a fair amount of layups and free throws, he can get away with shooting those little floaters occasionally. You can't make a living on shots like that, but when you get hot with them and add them to a solid approach in other facets, you can have weekends like the one Aden just had.

Are we seeing Faisal Aden 2.0? Gosh, I sure hope so. Because this version -- which truly came out of nowhere -- is immensely productive and worthy of the 30 minutes a game that he gets.


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