It’s their first big offseason addition with Sonoma State wing Jaylen Wells! This fills one of WSU’s two open roster spots, and it’s hopefully the start to a fruitful offseason for Kyle Smith and Staff.
Generally, the leap from DII to DI is tricky to understand. The scouting system with JUCO recruits could be compared to getting a top-60 recruit.
While that isn’t science, we know that JUCO players get less looks on average, but can excel in the right environemnt. The most obvious success cases are guys like Derrick White, who just needed to grow into their body or skillset and then excelled as they rose up levels. And, for an example closer to home, Tyrell Roberts was a DII recruit who had some success at WSU before transferring down to San Francisco.
On Wells’ recruitment, Kyle Smith had this to say:
Let’s take a closer look at the newest member to don crimson and gray:
The hand-in-glove fit with Wells comes from the jumper. At 6’8, he has an excellent combination of size and efficiency from beyond the arc.
Much like current Coug Andrej Jakimovski, he is always 1-2 stepping into his shot. He plants his left-leg as he catches and then he brings his right leg over as he steps into the shot. This is the way most wings are caught to catch and shoot and his high-release helps to compensate for the slow motion.
He is usually unbothered by contests, which is huge both because his release is slow enough that contests will usually get there, and because there is a solid chance that WSU does not have a guard who can create truly wide-open looks for Wells.
Perhaps the best part of Wells’ driving game is his use of angles. He has the strength to get downhill even if he only has a half-step on a defender, but he also has the bend to get around defenders when needed. Notice the split-step here as he nears the baseline. It helps shift his momentum quickly toward the rim without giving up an advantage and that type of bend becomes more important as he plays against more athletic defenders.
Wells also has it in him to finish some dunks emphatically. He has room to continue growing athletically with WSU’s training staff, but he already shows a lot of pop off two-feet and his in air body control is impressive.
Connective passing is a huge part of WSU’s offense, and he has already proven able to do that despite not playing with the caliber of shooters that he’ll have in the Pac-12. It’s simple stuff, but moving the ball quickly and making the right read is what made the Cougs a good offense last year.
The shot creation upside is going to come from self-created jumpers for Wells. If his defender gets clipped and the big is sitting in the paint, Wells can absolutely get a good shot off in the mid-range.
Wells can get hot, and his size makes him a matchup nightmare. He can punish smaller defenders by shooting over them and beat like-sized defenders with pull-ups in the mid-range, which is a deadly duo.
Wells was cost a lot of assists by his teammates, but he still made some great live dribble passes in his time at Sonoma State. This is the type of play WSU hopes Wells can make consistently; creating the initial advantage from a standstill, reading the help come over and the second, and then delivering the bullet for what should be an easy dunk.
The best part of playing at a lower-level is that it allows athletes to experiment. How many 6’8 wings have thrown off-hand corner skips when coming off drives like this?
However, he has a tendency to pick up the ball in weird moments. Here, it looks like he is attempting a veer finish but he hops as he picks the ball-up, so it ends up being a bit of an awkward move and Pac-12 rim-protectors are unlikely to let him get away with it.
He just struggles to dribble through traffic and that limits his upside as a creator. Luckily, he will be playing in a lot of space thanks to WSU’s shooters, and that should open him up for some easier drives.
Wells has some pretty strong positives on defense, but the most important thing is that he is a 6’8 wing with solid lateral athleticism, a great motor, and he is going to be coached by Kyle Smith. Smith and staff are great at teaching defense and they have made bad defenders into passable ones and mediocre defenders into great ones. They are particularly good at molding athletic wings into playmakers and stoppers on that end. Wells plays hard and has the physical talent to have a big impact on that end moving forward.
While he was not surrounded by the greatest defensive talent, Wells was consistently making good rotations no matter where he was on the floor. On this possession, he is playing as the center and he stops a drive without allowing for a dumpoff and then boxes out a bigger player for the board.
His greatest defensive role might be as a havoc wreaker in passing lanes and at the nail. WSU has not been a team that forces a lot of turnovers the past couple years, but the roster is potentially built to make that a more viable option.
His strength is a major positive. He can bang with bigger bodies down low and, when his footwork improves, he should be able to consistently absorb contact on the wing defensively. While he is unlikely to replace TJ Bamba as the team’s go-to wing-stopper, he does project well as a wing/forward who can guard some of the wing-scorers in the Pac-12.
Fit with WSU
Wells is a dream portal get in terms of realistic options for WSU. Wells has two more years of eligibility, he brings shooting and athleticism on the wing, and there is upside for him to be a shot-creator with the ball in his hands. This type of player is not something WSU could find in the portal without going down interesting pathways to get it, and DII looks like the right route.
It will be interesting to see how WSU’s roster evolves from here. It seems like the staff is going all in on wings that can shoot, with players like Wells, Jakimovski, DJ Rodman, Justin Powell, and Jabe Mullins all filling that role to a tee. Whether they plan on just starting 4 of those 5 around a big, and crowdsourcing creation, or a pick-and-roll point guard is yet to be determined, but Wells fits in either way. Expect Wells to either start or be the 6th-man for the Cougs next season, and there is a world where he ends up their leading scorer. The upside is legit with this Wells and the offseason is just getting started.