The seemingly never-ending wait for Allonzo Trier’s return to the court finally came to end Friday, as it was reported (and later confirmed by the UA) that the sophomore guard will make his season debut Saturday against the No. 3 UCLA Bruins.
Trier missed the Arizona Wildcats’ first 19 games due to a suspension for failing a performance-enhancing drug test, but now that he is back, it is time to look at what to expect from the Seattle native.
A potent scorer
This is the obvious thing, as Trier is Arizona’s leading returning scorer from a year ago. The former five-star recruit averaged 14.8 points per game, while shooting 47 percent from the field, 36 percent from 3, and 79 percent from the free throw line as a freshman.
Trier also shot 68 percent at the rim, according to ShotAnalytics.com, showing a penchant for finishing through traffic.
Put that all together and it makes Trier an extremely efficient scorer. As a freshman, he had a true-shooting percentage — a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 3-pointers, 2-pointers, and free throws — of 60.2. For reference, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins are at 53.7 and 52.9 percent in that metric respectively this season.
Of course, this does not take into account the leap players usually make between their freshman and sophomore seasons, so it is possible (maybe even likely) that Trier will have better numbers this season.
All in all, Trier could instantly become Arizona’s best or second-best scorer, combining with Lauri Markkanen to create a lethal one-two punch. Statistically, Arizona’s offense is its weakness (at least compared to its defense) but that may no longer be the case with Trier back.
Arizona has notoriously had depth issues all season. First, Kadeem Allen had a minor injury forcing the Wildcats to play with seven players for a game, then they had to play with seven players for six more games after Parker Jackson-Cartwright suffered a high ankle sprain.
As we know, Jackson-Cartwright returned early and the Wildcats have had eight scholarship players ever since, but now they will have a ninth player to the mix, which, earlier in the season, would have seemed like a miracle.
With the added depth, the Wildcats can turn up the pace they play at if they so choose (Sean Miller said earlier in the season that their lack of depth was preventing them from doing that) plus it obviously makes foul trouble and fatigue less of obstacles.
Not to mention that more players provides an ability to go with a wider variety of lineups.
Equally important, having a ninth player increases accountability for Arizona’s players. Now, Miller can bench a player or two if they don’t exert the effort that Miller deems necessary to win. Miller said Thursday after the win over USC that an inconsistent effort level has become a “pattern” for the Wildcats, but that would not be the case if there was another player in the mix.
“If we had one more player, I don’t think you’d see that out of us because some of these guys would never play because they’re not playing hard enough,” Miller said.
He can put his theory to the test now that Trier is back in the fold.
With all this being said, it would be unfair to expect Trier to light it up from the moment he steps on the floor. The sophomore has practiced with the Wildcats all season, but even still, that does not properly simulate a real-game environment.
Therefore, it could take Trier a game or two to find a groove on the court, and it seems doubtful that Trier will start from game one.
I’m sure Arizona fans can live with that, though, given how tenuous this situation has been.
The two weaknesses of Trier’s game a season ago were his abilities — or lack there of — as a passer and a defender.
However, as a defender, he progressed substantially from the beginning of the season till the end, which is common with freshmen.
For that reason, it will be interesting to see what type of defender he is upon his return. Arizona’s defense ranks well statistically — 14th in the country in efficiency, per KenPom — and it could suffer a drop off depending where Trier is as a defender.
As a passer, Trier didn’t make much of an impact last season — he had just 31 assists to 52 turnovers. However, Miller did say before the season started that he believes Trier will experience an uptick in his assist rate as a sophomore.
“He's going to add to what he did very well as a freshman, and I think the one stat we always talk to him about is he had 31 assists as a freshman,” Miller said at Pac-12 media day before the season. “And he's a much better passer. He knows how to play the game with his teammates better now than ever before. We've seen that in practice. But I think he's poised to have an excellent season.”
Miller said Trier had a “tremendous offseason” and wore out graduate assistants with the amount of time he was in the gym.
Before Trier’s suspension became known, Miller said he thought Trier would have a “big, big year” and be one of the best guards in both the Pac-12 and college basketball as a whole.
It’s why, now that Trier is back, Arizona’s season outlook has changed significantly. The Wildcats currently sit at 17-2 overall, 6-0 in the Pac-12, and as the 14th-ranked team in college basketball.
Adding a player of Trier’s caliber should only make them better and the goal of reaching a Final Four suddenly becomes much more realizable.
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