The Washington State Cougars made another big addition to their 2021-2022 men’s basketball roster when Kim Aiken Jr. announced he was transferring from Eastern Washington for his final two years of eligibility.
The Cougars had been pursuing two of Aiken’s former teammates, Big Sky player of the year Tanner Groves and his brother Jacob, but that ex-EWU duo picked Oklahoma earlier this week. That opened up a spot for Aiken, who himself had been committed to Arizona.
If you want to know just how big of a move adding Aiken is, consider this: His addition improved WSU’s 2022 projection from No. 61 to No. 42 at barttorvik.com, an analytics site with similar methodology to kenpom.com. While the NCAA tournament might not be the expectation in 2022, it’s certainly going to be well within the realm of reasonable hope.
While adding Groves would have helped the Cougars take a huge step forward offensively, Aiken will bolster what already is one of the best defenses in the country; the 6-foot-7/215-pound reigning Big Sky defensive player of the year joins a WSU squad that finished 24th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (via kenpom.com).
Aiken is a versatile defender and a superior rebounder who could play either the 3 or the 4 for WSU and who very likely projects to slide into the the starting lineup next to Dishon Jackson and Efe Abogidi, pushing Andrej Jakimovski and DJ Rodman into bench roles that will give the Cougs the kind of depth not seen in a long time. (And that’s before we know what Carlos Rosario is going to bring to the table in year two.)
Besides being a great on-ball defender, Aiken rebounded more than 23% of opponents’ misses last season, good for 99th nationally among qualifying players (per kenpom.com); for comparison, that’s just a shade more than Abogidi. With Aiken, an already great rebounding team that finished top 100 nationally on both ends of the floor could very well become one of the more elite units in the country. Aiken also blocks his share of shots.
“(Kyle Smith is) a big analytics guy and he’s talking about being in the top percentile on the defensive end,” Aiken told Theo Lawson of The Spokesman-Review. “That’s something I really thrive on doing, whether I’m shooting the ball or just out there defending, defense is always going to be there. ...
“I really think defensively we’re going to be pretty solid and I’m really hoping we are, because I’m trying to be defensive player of the year in the Pac-12.”
But to paint him as only a defensive specialist would be a mistake; Aiken also is an efficient and opportunistic scorer who posted an offensive rating of 112 in limited usage — that’s approximately 112 points produced per 100 offensive actions, a well above average mark. For comparison, Jackson and Abogidi both used about as many possessions as Aiken last season and produced offensive ratings of 100 and 106.
Aiken excels around the basket (70% on 2s at the rim, per hoop-math.com), filling a specific need for a WSU squad that was among the worst in the country last season in 2-point percentage (46%, 303rd). He also possesses a serviceable 3-point shot (he shot 33% from there in his first two seasons before dipping to 31% this past season), and if he can push that up to the high 30s, he’ll be a tremendous all-around weapon.
Aiken also will contribute mightily to WSU’s quest to dominate shot volume: He also rebounded more than 7% of his team’s own misses last season and rarely turned it over.
All that said, the most important thing Aiken is bringing to the team might just be the hardest to quantify. WSU’s youth was well documented last season — the Cougars were 326th in kenpom.com’s “experience” metric, which isn’t just a roster average, but actually weights for playing time — and Smith has clearly made it a priority to add veterans to the Cougars’ burgeoning talent: Aiken brings 81 games of Division I experience with him — including an NCAA appearance — which is in addition to the 106 games of Michael Flowers (who committed last week as a transfer from South Alabama) and the 74 games of Matt DeWolf (a walk-on transfer from Brown) and the 63 games of Tyrell Roberts (albeit at Division II).
These guys will be expected to show the way to the next step: The NCAA tournament.
Here’s how the scholarship situation looks at the moment. As we’ve said for a while, we believe Tony Miller is not returning, but there’s been no official word, so we’re leaving him on. We’re also seeking clarity as to whether Flowers’ scholarship gets “super senior” status after a transfer and thus doesn’t count against the Cougars’ limit of 13 — that seems unclear at the moment. If it doesn’t get the exception, that would mean someone has to go.
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