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NCAA Basketball: PAC-12 Conference Tournament - Washington State vs UCLA

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Andrej Jakimovski looks poised for a breakout in Year 3

The groundwork is all there for a major jump.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Andrej Jakimovski was my favorite addition from Washington State’s historic 2020 recruiting class that included Carlos Rosario, Dishon Jackson, TJ Bamba, and Efe Abogidi. Jakimovski was the highest rated of that class, and he was sold as a versatile point forward. Early returns have been solid from Jakimovski, but you’d be hard-pressed to say he has returned the most value from that class so far. However, I’m still a firm believer in Jakimovski as a potential All-Pac-12 caliber player and he could be in for a breakout this season.

The Sell

The main selling point with Jakimovski is his mix of size and shooting. Jakimovski shot 38.3% from deep throughout his sophomore campaign, but the reality is that his shot is even better than the numbers. If not for a cold stretch coming off an ankle injury towards the end of the season, that number could have been even higher.

Jakimovski ranked in the 66th percentile in spot-up offense and 95th percentile in transition (per Synergy). He shot 64.3% from deep in transition, and the shot being the weapon that it is made defenses scramble to find him. If he was left open because the defense was loaded to the paint, it was three points nearly two-thirds of the time. If WSU ups their tempo, Jakimovski could be in for a big season.

While the spot-up always looks great, increasing the versatility on the jumper is certainly possible. Jakimovski loves to catch with a wider base and then bring his right foot into the shot. There is nothing inherently wrong with his shot-prep — and he even does it on this play despite the added movement. Speeding up that motion and introducing some other footwork patterns could make Jaki a deadly threat off screens and movement.

I also think playing with improved passers will help Jakimovski all around. This ghost screen action is a great one for Jakimovski and a downhill guard to run, but he isn’t immediately rewarded here despite getting open. Justin Powell and Myles Rice should both be able to make this pass and it would open up more for the offense in general. Expect Jakimovski to be weaponized as the shooter he already is.

Despite how slow the shot sometimes seems, Jakimovski displayed an ability to speed it up consistently. The shot is impressively smooth and the motion is compact when it needs to be. It makes me think there is more upside here as a versatile shooter with elite size.

Another thing that is easy to expect from Jakimovski is just a solid connective skillset. He makes consistently sound reads, executes scheme, and his spacing allows for actions to take place without things being muddled. He could do with making some quicker reads and not overthinking so much, but in general, he does well to play within himself.

He also just has great general feel for where to be on the court. He is a consummate off-ball player with good understanding of spacing and where the defense is. His athleticism doesn’t pop in a way that makes cuts stand-out on tape, but he is a good cutter and relocator. He seems to understand how actions interact too, feeling the gravity of the pick-and-roll and the down-screen together here, sitting on the block, and receiving the nice dump-off.

He slowly got more comfortable adapting to different inputs throughout the season, too. In his freshman season and early in his sophomore campaign, he looked like he was lost whenever the scheme broke down and he was forced to make on-the-fly decisions, but he got much better at that in time. He still has overthinking issues, but when he lets things flow, it looks solid and he makes good decisions consistently.

Jakimovski’s biggest improvement from freshman to sophomore year was his offensive rebounding. He went from a 4.5% offensive rebound rate to 7.1% and his boards seemed to get timelier and more aggressive.

His aggressiveness attacking the boards was a joy to watch. He was empowered to chase boards hard and it led to a lot of advantaged rebounds. Getting a hand on this and directing it towards a teammate is incredibly impressive.

He got to be solid at understanding his gravity as a shooter and attacking from there. He was hurt by his lack of finishing ability and the touch on this pass is a little off, but this is a solid attack and a great read and him being able to get create and continue advantaged with his shooting is huge.

Defensively, the part of Jakimovski’s game that stands out most are the rotations. He sets up well off the ball, zoning up the weakside, tagging the roll, and sinking to the rim as needed. He executes scheme well on defense too, switching when put in the pick-and-roll and doubling in the post on time.

He is solid at seeing the play as it happens and making plays as needed. He struggled a bit to actually wreak havoc on defense, putting up only a 0.8 block percentage and a 1.5 steal percentage, but he makes up for that with solid rotations and understanding.

His defensive movement skills are solid at times and his hustle on that end is great. Despite his stiffness, he has a solid feel for his length and how quickly he can get out to shooters. Being able to single-handedly cover a weakside like this is impressive.

Jakimovski’s on-ball defense also looks solid when guarding forwards. Guards can take advantage of his stiffness and foot speed, but he uses his strength and length impeccably to keep wings and forwards from creating efficient shots.

Overall, it is easy to expect that Jakimovski will be an elite shooter with the size to play the 3 or the 4. He should be able to make some situational passes and be a beast on the boards offensively. Defensively, he should be a solid cog in the machine with his rotations, but don’t expect him to make plays or be a stopper on-ball. Even at this baseline, he projects as a solid wing starter or well above average 6th man.

Areas of Improvement

For Jakimovski to hit his ceiling and provide the most value to the team, he will have to improve in a few key areas — areas that are easy to identify because most of his weaknesses are low-hanging fruit that are fixable to certain degrees.

The most obvious area that Jakimovski needs to improve is his finishing around the rim. This has been a major problem since he arrived and it hurts him in more ways than just his efficiency numbers. It clearly affected his confidence attacking the rim, which let defenses guard him without an eye towards his drives.

Some of the finishing issues come from his lack of vertical explosion, but just as many come from him rushing himself around the rim. This is basically a wide-open layup, but he worries too much about the rotating big and he just throws up a shot rather than slowing down and setting himself up to finish strong.

I think the biggest issue with Jakimovski’s game is just his lack of aggressiveness. It often seems like he is afraid to make mistakes, but that fear and overthinking leads to mistakes. On a play like this, the correct pass is to the cutting Noah Williams, but he holds the ball and just goes for the safe handoff instead.

The lack of aggressiveness often manifests in shots not taken as well. Even if Tyrell Roberts didn’t clip the closeout defender, this needs to be a shot from someone as efficient as Jaki. Just forcing himself to take more shots and be willing to make mistakes if it means creating more advantages will go a long way towards making him a more valuable player for this team.

It also would be nice to see him get more confident when attacking in the pick-and-roll. This is a masterful screen by Dishon Jackson, but Jaki doesn’t take advantage by driving. It stems from his inability to finish, but forcing the defense to adjust is still vital if he is going to develop into a major contributor going forward.

The only other major area of improvement for Jakimovski is his overall flexibility. Improvement of flexibility can be a bit nebulous, but the common refrain of hot yoga and constant stretching could honestly go a long way. Jaki is so stiff that even marginal improvements to his movement skills would make an astronomical difference.

Jakimovski has a skill set that already makes him valuable. Versatility between the 3 and 4, solid passing instincts, and an elite jump shot is a pretty solid base to build on. However, improving his finishing, aggressiveness, and flexibility could make him a truly elite wing going forward.

The Upside

The main upside with Jakimovski has been present since he was a high schooler first getting recruited by Kyle Smith and staff. There was always some hope he could be a pick-and-roll ball-handler and a point forward. He has struggled in those situations thus far in his career, ranking in the 9th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (per Synergy). However, the flashes still pop and the skillset is still present. While he is unlikely to ever be the true point guard, he projects some upside as a second side ball-handler and playmaker.

When attacking decisively, Jakimovski can make some great plays. He is great at creating for others and his flashes of passing brilliance are what make him a potentially viable pick-and-roll player. This is an insane play for a 6’8, 40% shooter to make, but Jaki makes it look easy. The handle to turn the corner, the read of Rodman on the move, and the understanding to get it off ... it’s all great.

Jakimovski’s best skill as a handler is his pace. He sets up drives with hesitations and he puts himself in good positions to use his strength to maintain advantages. His ability to explode, slow down, and explode again helps keep defenders off him and allows him to generate some downhill drives despite his lack of elite athleticism.

His reads are so consistently good in pick-and-roll and he looked great playing in space. The passes themselves could use some work, but the reads are great and being able to operate pick-and-roll at his size is a major boost to his upside.

Thus, this is the real key to unlocking his upside: Getting some real scoring gravity in the pick-and-roll. The finishing will have to reach a baseline level, but it is unlikely to ever be elite. The other logical way for Jakimovski to score consistently is to become a solid pull-up shooter. This is a good shot for him and punishing defenders for going under will be a necessity for him going forward.

Jakimovski has already shown some major improvements over the summer. He looked great at Fiba this year, especially as a finisher and playmaker. He played specifically well against Ukraine, where he put up an efficient 17 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Playing with pros can always boost the confidence of a developing young player and he should take that confidence into the season.

His overall stat profile was great and put him in some nice company among other rising European stars.

What’s His Role?

Jakimovski is the projected starter with perhaps the most tenuous grasp on starterdom. Justin Powell, TJ Bamba, and Mouhamed Gueye have starting spots seemingly locked up, with Dishon Jackson as the presumed 4th guy. Jakimovski is likely in competition with Myles Rice and Jabe Mullins for the 5th starting spot. Depending on how lineups shake out, Jakimovski’s role could look different.

If he is in a starting lineup with Powell and Bamba at the 1 and 2, Jakimovski could be tasked with a solid creation burden as a pick-and-roll operator. That lineup lacks any true high-volume point guard, and thus the creation reps will likely be spread between the three of them. There is potential for Jakimovski to be the primary decision-maker in that group, depending on how things shake out.

If Jakimovski comes off the bench, his role could look more like it did this last season, where Jaki fills a mostly off-ball role with the occasional opportunistic attack. Jakimovski would likely be the top option off the bench and he could finish many games depending on what the team needs for a particular matchup.

I think it is fair to project a big jump for Jakimovski entering year 3. He quietly improved a lot last season despite playing less minutes. His defense was drastically better, he was more efficient, and he just contributed to winning basketball more consistently. The playmaking upside is yet to be tapped into, but the roster might require him to take on a heavier offensive load and his skillset is the most fit to fill that role.

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