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What losing Brandon Williams means for Arizona

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Arizona v Arizona State Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats announced Wednesday that sophomore guard Brandon Williams is out for the 2019-20 season after undergoing knee surgery.

Averaging 11.4 points and 3.4 assists last season, Williams was one of Arizona’s top players and would have been a key piece for a revamped squad that has high expectations.

But now that he is no longer in the picture, here is what Williams’ absence means for the Wildcats this season:

Nico Mannion is the only lead guard on the roster

Williams would have started at the 2 alongside Nico Mannion and serve as Mannion’s backup when fatigue or foul trouble set in, the same way Williams did last year when Justin Coleman was at the point. Both averaged north of three assists per game, giving the Wildcats a capable ball-handler on the court at all times.

Now? Williams’ role probably belongs to UC Irvine transfer Max Hazzard. The redshirt senior has not shown the kind of playmaking chops Williams has, logging 188 assists to 137 turnovers in his career—an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.3.

Hazzard has mostly played off the ball, per KenPom, and has never averaged more than 2.1 assists per game. Last season, Hazzard posted an assist percentage of 15.4, a sharp downtick from the 24.2 rate Williams logged. Not to mention Williams had an assist to turnover ratio of almost 2 to 1.

Another option at point guard is Dylan Smith, who has tallied more turnovers than assists in his UA career. Devonaire Doutrive did make some nice passes as a freshman, but he also had just as many turnovers as assists, and has no experience running an offense at the DI level.

Which brings me to my next point...

Josh Green and Stone Gettings will have to step up

So Arizona is short on lead guards, but maybe some of its wings and forwards can pick up the slack.

6-foot-6 Josh Green, a McDonald’s All-American and Mannion’s former AAU teammate, is said to have a good feel for the game, and when you combine that with his slashing ability, it is easy to see how he could wind up being Arizona’s second-leading assister.

That said, there is a big difference between being a lead guard and a secondary creator. When Mannion is off the court, will Green be comfortable running sets and organizing the offense? Can he handle ball pressure? Those things can be tricky for freshmen to master.

There is also Cornell transfer Stone Gettings, a 6-foot-9 senior who averaged nearly three assists per game in his last season with the Big Red, showing a penchant from operating out of the high post. That could come in handy when Arizona faces those pesky zone defenses.

“Stone is a versatile four, five with a high skill level,” an Ivy League assistant coach told Evan Daniels of 247Sports. “Cornell ran their entire offense through him from the high post and top of the key with his ability to pass and shoot. He was a matchup nightmare because of his perimeter skill at 6-9 in the Ivy League.”

Arizona is down to 10 scholarship players

With Williams sidelined, Arizona is already down to 10 scholarship players since Jordan Brown and Jemarl Baker Jr. have to sit out due to NCAA transfer rules. That means it will be more imperative than usual for the Wildcats to avoid foul trouble and/or injuries.

Needless to say the Wildcats cannot afford to lose Mannion, even if it is only a few games. How Arizona manages his minutes knowing it is lacking other options at point guard will be fascinating to watch.

The Wildcats lost one of their best 3-point shooters

Arizona shot 33.6 percent from 3 last season, its worst percentage in the Sean Miller era, so it has to be a lot better from distance this season to say the least.

Losing Williams hurts. While he only made 33 percent of his 3s last season, he got better and better as the season wore on, sinking 38 percent of his triples in Pac-12 play.

Playing next to guys like Green and Mannion would have given Williams plenty of open looks, and it would not have been surprising to see him shoot 38 percent (or somewhere in that realm) for a whole season.

Luckily, Hazzard is an exceptional 3-point shooter (38.8 percent last year) and should fit nicely with the rest of the starters. But the other guys who could take Williams’ minutes, like Smith and Doutrive, have a lot to prove. Smith has only shot 34 percent from 3 at Arizona. Doutrive shot 45 percent as a freshman, but the sample size was tiny, as he only hoisted 20 3s.

Green is not known for his range either, as Miller said last November that his jumper is still a work in progress.

Mannion can shoot, but having so much responsibility as a distributor could limit how many good looks he gets. Plus his legs could get heavy from playing so many minutes.

This is another spot where Gettings, or even Zeke Nnaji, could be needed to step in, make some perimeter shots, and provide some space for Green, Mannion and Chase Jeter to operate.

Maybe Arizona can get more from Brandon Williams down the road

There is no way around it—losing Williams for the 2019-20 season is a big blow, but it could benefit him, and Arizona, in the long run if it means he can finally put his knee issues behind him.

As a freshman, Williams missed several games, and was limited in many others, because of his troublesome knee, the same one that caused him to miss his entire junior season of high school after he had it surgically repaired to correct a congenital condition.

Williams is a dynamic player when healthy, and if missing one season means he can play up to his potential in three others, maybe it’s for the best.