Like everyone else in Division I, the Washington State Cougars are scouring the transfer portal for players who could help them in the frontcourt. However, their situation is probably a little more complicated than most.
Efe Abogidi has entered his name into the NBA Draft, but he is maintaining his eligibility and he could return. If he does leave — and WSU would very much love for him to come back, but they’d also be thrilled to have a player drafted — the Cougs will need to try and not just replace his minutes with another big body, but also hopefully approach his contribution.
Currently, the roster has just two big men on it: Dishon Jackson and Mouhamed Gueye, who both will be sophomores thanks to Jackson’s bonus Covid year. WSU’s top priority is to keep both of them, and so far, neither has indicated that they are going anywhere. If Abogidi gets to realize his dream of playing in the NBA, those two could platoon to play the majority of center minutes.
But we know Kyle Smith likes to play big in the frontcourt, which means getting at least one more big into the program will be a priority.
The top option to replace Abogidi is not a transfer at all; that person would be 7-foot high schooler Adrame Diongue, whom WSU has been pursuing for quite a while and will be on his official visit to Pullman on Wednesday.
2022 4⭐️ Adrame Diongue told me he will visit UNLV on Sunday and Washington State on Wednesday.— 24/7 High School Hoops (@247HSHoops) April 13, 2022
Diongue is a mobile 7-footer that blocks shots, runs the floor and catches lobs. Improved more than any player in high school basketball this season.
He’s ranked #50 in the ESPN100. pic.twitter.com/X24ibbqmMj
For an in-depth breakdown on Diongue and his skillset, I wrote about him here. He’s a fringe top-100 prospect by 247sports’ composite metric who is in much the same mold as Abogidi and Gueye, and he’d absolutely play immediately.
If WSU is not able to land Diongue or they want to bring in some more proven players, there are options for them to explore. Some of these players have already been linked to WSU, while others are yet to be but would slide in seamlessly with the team.
Nic Lynch is a Seattle native who played at Seattle Prep in high school and has been at Lehigh for the past four seasons. It seems like the battle for Lynch’s services are going to come down to the two home-town schools: WSU and UW.
For Seattle 6-10 center Nic Lynch, looking like it might come down to WSU and UW #GoCougs #Wazzu (sub) https://t.co/44fyM5LjzX— COUGFANcom (@CougfanCOM) May 13, 2017
Lynch is a 6-foot-11, 250-pound big that WSU has been in contact with. Lynch does not have a stats page that pops, but he has one element of his game that does, and that’s the shooting. Few 6-11 players shoot with the consistency of Lynch, as he shot 48% from deep and 88% from the line. He was not empowered to shoot at a high clip with Lehigh — only attempting 59 3s — but he would likely fill in as a shooting specialist for WSU. He was not a high usage player and only an average rebounder, but that shooting would make him a valuable piece to a high-major bench as someone who can stretch out opposing bigs.
When Lynch gets some space and he is confident, his shot looks good, and it almost always falls. This is a simple pick-and-pop, but it’s an action he would be involved with should he come to Pullman to play. If he continues knocking it down, he could be a rotation player.
This play, where he hits it in semi-transition, is the type of thing that would be directly beneficial to a move up in competition level. Forcing a defense to find you and guard you in transition opens up so much for your teammates.
Lynch can do a little bit more than shoot. If the defense is going to switch to keep him from getting an open three, he can get in the post and punish that switch. He has good touch with his right hand, and he is strong enough to back opponents down.
On defense, Lynch is a bit of a lost cause. He has his moments where he looks solid, like this play where he stunts well at ball-handlers and boxes out well, but it is mostly about surviving when he is your big on defense.
Lynch is just a bit slow, and it makes his maneuverability around the paint poor. He can’t across the paint quick enough cut off drives and his contests are rarely effective — his 1.7% block rate in the Patriot League means you wouldn’t expect him to get many here.
Overall, Lynch is a good veteran to bring in as a potential 4th big in the rotation, the Matt DeWolf role. His shooting gives him a gimmick that could make him valuable in some matchups, but he is not someone that is going to step into a big role with WSU. However, having veteran leaders like Lynch around is always vital for programs, even if it isn’t obvious on the floor.
Hason Ward is a 6-9 big-man who played at VCU last season. Despite only averaging 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, Ward is getting interest from many high major schools thanks to his rim-running skillset. WSU is in the running.
VCU transfer Hason Ward (@HasonWard) has heard from West Virginia, Georgia, Washington State, Siena, Oklahoma, Buffalo, Illinois, Iowa State, Utah State, Pittsburgh, and Arizona State, i'm told.— jake lieberman (@jakelieberman2) April 9, 2022
Ward averaged 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Ward started 24 of 29 games for VCU this past season, but he was a part of a deep frontcourt and thus averaged only 20 minutes a game. His efficiency took a dip this past season (61.2% true shooting to 56.5%) but his other stats remained mostly constant over the increased load. He boasted an impressive 8.5% block rate and a 2.6% steal rate, providing plenty of evidence of defensive potency. He also had a solid 9.4% offensive rebound rate and an 18.5% usage, putting him solidly in the realm of other good roll-men in college basketball.
The sell with Ward at WSU would be him approximating Abogidi’s value as a rim protector. It is unlikely anyone can match what Abogidi did and does around the rim, but Ward does provide a lot of value as the help man down low.
Ward is a bit undersized for a center — 6-9, 210 pounds — but he uses his length and core strength to defend admirably in the post. He trusts in his length and is more than willing to just stick his arms up and dare defenders to finish over him. He avoids fouls well and makes it difficult for bigger players to score in the post.
His timing on blocks is what stands out the most. He is not the springy athlete Abogidi is, but his timing is similar. Here, he waits for the ball to leave the hand of the big before jumping and he gets the ball well before its apex. This play also gives us a look at how his frame can limit his rebounding.
VCU plays an aggressive style on the perimeter and Ward is not always built for it. He is stiff laterally and he changes directions poorly. However, he recovers well and it helps cover up for his deficiencies on the perimeter.
Though he does not change direction well, his movement in a straight line is impressive and few guards can truly beat him downhill on a rip drive. His ability to move and block this shot with ease hints at potential scheme versatility with him. He is also a high motor player and he runs the floor well here, rewarded with the pass and dunk.
Ward does have his warts on defense, specifically that he can fall asleep at times. Abogidi was one of the best defensive players in the conference not only because of his length and athleticism, but because he mixed that with great instincts and sound feel for executing a scheme. Ward is consistently a little bit out of place and it leads to easy shots like this for the defense.
Offensively, Ward fills the classic role of a rim runner. He can get up for some powerful dunks and his explosion is quick. He does not need a long load to throw this one down and that is huge, especially as he steps up competition levels.
I have some concerns about what he would be as a lob threat. The vertical pop is great and he can definitely get high enough to catch lobs or finish on the roll, but his hands are iffy. He struggles to catch consistently and smaller players strip him with regularity.
Semi-transition is a great vehicle for evaluating a players’ overall feel and Ward has some good moments there. Rather than running all the way to the rim, he recognizes the open floor and lack of help defender. He steps up to set a screen, St. Bonaventure hard hedges with no backside help, and Ward gets the easy dunk.
Finally, Ward is not without ball skills. He operates in chin a solid amount, something WSU likes to do often, and he has the occasional great pass. They are nothing complex, but they are the correct read that many bigs don’t make.
Overall, there is a lot to like with Ward and he would be a great addition to the big room under Smith. His defensive intensity and versatility could help cover for Jackson if he is being taken advantage of on that end and his similarities to Abogidi on offense make him a seamless fit.
The Cougs have not reached out to Mason Forbes, but he is an overlooked player in the transfer portal who would be a good fit at WSU as a backup five. WSU has had success bringing in former Ivy Leaguers, and Forbes is good at what WSU is looking for.
Forbes was an efficient offensive player this past season, averaging 8 points per game on 59.2% true shooting. He was a bit hampered by an injury that caused him to miss most of the beginning of the season, but he had proven in past years that he can ramp that efficiency up. His best skill is his offensive rebounding, as he had an 11.3% offensive rebound rate this past season. He also has a solid, but not eye-popping 4% block rate. Overall, Forbes projects as a solid, albeit undersized, rim-runner.
Forbes’ sell as a backup big is that he is long and strong. He takes a shot right to the chest on this play and is completely unfazed. He guards post players well despite being undersized.
This possession is an example of how solid Forbes is as a defender. He doesn’t standout, but he hustles down the floor, mirrors the ball, takes aways passes, and ultimately forces a travel. It is subtle, but overall impressive.
Help instincts are rarely on full display in the Ivy League as few guards can get all the way downhill, but when Forbes get the chance, he looks great in help. He contains the drive well here and shifts to help the defender who gets beat, ultimately getting the block.
Forbes is also a great hedge defender. WSU likes to mix in hedge defense occasionally and he is good at knowing when to leave the guard and recover to the big.
Forbes has great mobility for a player of his size and he could guard some wings for WSU if he needs to. He can change direction all right and he trusts in his length to bother shots around the rim.
On offense, Forbes is the classic big archetype. He is not an elite athlete and roll-man or an elite post-scorer, but he can do a little bit of both while also doing the dirty work of setting good screens and getting offensive boards.
He is mostly a strength based post-scorer, which means scoring on other Pac-12 bigs will be a challenge, but he should mash switches well.
Forbes has a solid sense for where he needs to be on the floor. Operating in the dunker spot is harder than it seems and he is good at making himself available for dump-offs or getting into position for an offensive rebound.
Finally, while Forbes can operate some chin action, there are not many handle or passing flashes from him. He will usually make the correct read, but he struggles when out of his comfort zone.
Overall, Forbes would be a solid target to fill in the third big role for WSU. He does a lot of the dirty work well and he is not going to hurt the team. There is even some upside that this season was unrepresentative of what he can be athletically due to the injury, as he was viewed as an athletic rim runner coming into college.