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PULLMAN, WA - DECEMBER 4: Washington State Men’s Basketball versus USC Trojans at Beasley Coliseum - Noah Williams (24)

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Noah Williams holds WSU’s NCAA Tournament fate in his hands

WSU has been nearly unbeatable when Noah Williams is at least near average on offense. When he struggles, the Cougs struggle.

Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Rewind 351 days to February 22, 2021 and you’ll find Noah Williams at the pinnacle of his Washington State basketball career. The then-sophomore had just been named National Player of the Week after a stunning 72-point outburst in two games against the Bay Area schools. Williams looked like a blossoming star and future alpha of the WSU program.

Now, nearly a full year later, Williams is coming off a weekend where he scored three total points against those same Bay Area schools and has only scored 69 points in his last nine games combined. A year ago there was no question Williams was going to be the undisputed No. 1 guy following the departure of Isaac Bonton. Now, you could debate whether he should hold onto his spot in the starting lineup.

Williams might not be that 72-point guy that flashed in 2021. He might not even be a future No. 1 option. But, if the Cougs are going to get where they want to go this season, they still need Williams to help power them there.

When Williams is good, the Cougs tend to be good. And when he is not, they sure don’t look like an NCAA Tournament team.

Let’s take defense, rebounding, energy and other parts of the equation out of the picture for a second. Williams is a key contributor to those areas of the game, but for right now let’s focus on his offense and specifically his offensive rating.

In simple terms, an offensive rating is points produced (factoring in points scored and assists) divided by possessions used. An average player is around 100. The top-end offensive players will be 130 and above. For the season, Williams has a 92.8 offensive rating according to KenPom.com Williams is one of two Cougars, along with Jefferson Koulibaly (81.8 ORtg), currently below 100. That isn’t to say that Williams has been slightly below average in every game. He’s had some good offensive nights. He’s also had some pitiful ones.

Williams has had an offensive rating above 100 eight times in the 19 games he’s played, including a 144 ORtg against Idaho. He’s also been below 80 six times, bottoming out at 15 ORtg against California. So why does any of this matter? As Williams goes offensively, so do the Cougs.

WSU Record By Noah Williams ORtg

Noah Williams Offensive Rating WSU's Record
Noah Williams Offensive Rating WSU's Record
100+ 8-0
90+ 10-0
85+ 12-1
Less than 85 including DNP 2-6
Data via KenPom.com

If Williams has just a slightly below-average offensive performance of 90 ORtg or better, the Cougs win every time. When he doesn’t have a good offensive night — or doesn’t play — the Cougs really struggle.

If we go one step further and look at how much of an offensive share Williams carries every night, it’s an even more telling story. Ken Pomeroy lists anyone who uses 24-28% of their team’s possessions—meaning they end those possessions with a field goal attempt, free throw attempt, or turnover—when they are on the floor as a Major Contributor. Williams leads WSU using 27.1% of possessions this season. Let’s look at the table above again, but this time factoring in how big of an offensive role Williams plays.

WSU Record By Noah Williams ORtg & Poss%

Noah Williams Offensive Rating WSU's Record With Williams 24%+ Possessions WSU's Record With Williams Less Than 24% Possessions
Noah Williams Offensive Rating WSU's Record With Williams 24%+ Possessions WSU's Record With Williams Less Than 24% Possessions
100+ 4-0 4-0
90+ 6-0 4-0
85+ 8-1 4-0
Less than 85 0-4 2-0
Data via KenPom

Again we see if Noah is good, the Cougs are good whether he is a driving force behind the offense or not. When Noah struggles and he is a driving force, the Cougs lose. When he struggles and takes a bit of a backseat offensively, like he did this past weekend, the Cougs can survive.

So now that it's clear how important Noah Williams’ offensive game is to the Cougs, how does he break out of the funk he’s in? Kyle Smith sure seems to think it’s possible.

“I don’t know what’s going on, really, but I think he’s got to break out of it somehow,” Smith said following the game against California. “And he will. He’s still competing hard, I think he’s let it affect him a little bit, but we believe in him.”

When we look at 2021 Noah, we see a player who made significant strides with his outside shot compared to his freshman season. Williams’ 3-point shot as a junior hasn’t maintained that efficiency.

Noah Williams FG% (Share of Shots)

Shot type Freshman Sophomore Junior
Shot type Freshman Sophomore Junior
Close 2 48.5% (41.0%) 48.4% (28.9%) 47.9% (37.2%)
Far 2 33.8% (42.2%) 37.0% (31.7%) 30.1% (37.2%)
3 Point 14.8% (16.8%) 37.9% (39.4%) 20.0% (25.5%)
Data via Barttorvik.com

Noah’s outside shooting has dipped significantly from a year ago, and while he’s shooting less from long-range, long 2s and 3s still account for 63% of his shots.

What has compounded the problem as of late is his inability to finish near the rim. He hasn’t scored more than 13 points in any of his last 11 games. His offensive rating has been less than 90 in eight of those 11 games. He’s only shot 5-for-31 (16.1%) from 3 during that stretch, but his offensive performance has collapsed near the rim.

In the first eight games of the season, Williams made 63% of his close 2s, according to BartTorvik.com. That dropped to just 37% in the last 11 games. He’s routinely made close to 50% of those shots and is now under 40%.

Going from shooting 20% to 40% from three might not happen this season, but if Noah can start finishing drives, making floaters and knocking down pull-ups again it will go a long way to making him the effective player WSU needs.

WSU doesn’t need Williams to average 35 points a game to win. He doesn’t even have to be the No. 1 option. But, the Cougs do need Williams. His ability to find his offensive game during the final stretch of the season might very well determine whether or not WSU keeps playing in March.

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