The Arizona Wildcats made a long-term investment Tuesday when they landed Kentucky transfer Jemarl Baker Jr.
The 6-foot-4 sophomore will have to sit out the 2019-20 season before having two years of eligibility at the UA. (Baker already burned his redshirt year in 2017-18 when he was recovering from knee surgery.)
Baker averaged 2.3 points per game this past season in a limited role. What can we expect him to add to Arizona? Let’s take a look.
While Baker’s shooting percentages at Kentucky were nothing special—33 percent from the field, 31 percent from 3—he was regarded as one of the top marksmen in the country when he was the No. 37 recruit in the 2017 class.
Baker hit 94 3s in his senior season at Roosevelt High School in Southern California.
It’s too early to know what Arizona’s roster will look like when Baker is eligible to play, but every team needs quality shooters and Baker can be that—and then some.
Aside from Allonzo Trier, the Wildcats have not had great shooters on the wings in recent seasons. And 2017-18 just so happened to be Arizona’s worst 3-point shooting season ever under Sean Miller (33.6%).
Perimeter defense. Maybe.
While Baker is most known for his jumper, it isn’t the only thing he is capable of.
“He can handle the ball,” Kentucky forward Nick Richards told the Courier Journal. “He uses his IQ better, he takes pride on defense, he doesn’t really let anybody go by him.”
“That’s one that surprised me,” added forward EJ Montgomery. “He’s very fast and he locks up on defense.”
Baker had one of Kentucky’s top lane agility and 3/4-court sprint times when he took part in the team’s pro day last October.
That kind of athleticism was on display in the NCAA Tournament when he helped hold Wofford leading scorer Fletcher Magee to eight points on 17 shots, 12 points below his season average. (Baker had eight points in that game, by the way.)
Baker also has some length, checking in with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, good enough to play the 1, 2, and 3.
Other metrics aren’t so kind. Baker was last on Kentucky in defensive box plus/minus (0.6) and defensive rating (103.5) this past season.
In other words, he has intriguing qualities on that end of the floor but also a lot to prove. Getting a year to marinate in Arizona’s system could be a big benefit.
As for Baker’s distributing ability, his turnover rate (16.4) was double his assist rate (8.2), so it’s suffice to say that is not his strength.
Insurance in case the 2020 class is a dud
Arizona’s 2019 recruiting class is stellar, but the 2020 class is awaiting its first commitment.
There is plenty of time for that class to mold into something special, but it would not be surprising if all the speculation that has surrounded Miller lately impedes his ability to piece together another elite class.
Then again, adding Baker goes against that notion since he is evidently comfortable with making what is basically a two-year commitment to Arizona.
Either way, Baker serves a buffer in case the Wildcats cannot add the kind of high-school talent to which they are accustomed.
Assuming Nico Mannion and Josh Green are one-and-dones, Arizona will need to revamp its backcourt in 2020-21, and Baker, already having a year in the system by then, should be in good shape to take on a big role.
A roster crunch
Adding Baker puts Arizona at 15 scholarship players for the 2019-20 season, two above the 13-limit, assuming Jake DesJardins will revert to being a walk-on.
That means at least a couple players will be leaving the program (i.e. Dylan Smith) or not arriving as originally planned (i.e. Terry Armstrong Jr.).
Our Brian Pedersen had a good breakdown of the situation here.