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Assessing the state of Arizona basketball’s 2020-21 roster

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Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

With the sports world on hold for a while, now is a good time to assess the future of Arizona Wildcats basketball.

Assuming Zeke Nnaji, Nico Mannion and Josh Green declare for the NBA Draft, the UA has eight players set to be under scholarship next season, and here is a look at the depth chart (my version of it, anyway) and the team’s strengths and weaknesses/biggest areas of needed heading into the offseason.

Depth chart

PG: James Akinjo

SG: Brandon Williams/Jemarl Baker Jr.

SF: Dalen Terry/Ben Mathurin

PF: Jordan Brown

C: Christian Koloko/Ira Lee

Strengths

Interior presence

Koloko, Brown and Lee all figure to be above average rebounders and rim-protectors, with a chance to be elite given their length and athleticism. However, neither Koloko nor Lee are huge scoring threats, so Brown (or a newcomer) will have to be the go-to option on the block.

Is that a good thing? We’ll see. The sophomore hardly played at Nevada but was a McDonald’s All-American, and his 247Sports scouting report said he’s “a very good post scorer that has good hands, impressive and terrific footwork on the block. He can score with hooks or even use counters, and he’s able to step away from the rim and make mid-range jump shots.”

Ball handling

One of the weaknesses of the 2019-20 team is that Williams missing the season meant it only had one lead guard in Mannion, a reason the offense was marred by long scoring droughts.

Next year’s team will have at least two in Akinjo and Williams, assuming Akinjo receives a waiver to play immediately (or at the semester break) and Williams avoids any more knee issues. Those are two big unknowns, which is unsettling.

Baker should continue to be an option as well—though he is best off the ball—and Terry is a wild card. While he has the size of a wing, Sean Miller has referred to him as a guard.

“He’s so unique because he’s so tall and yet he’s a guard,” Miller said. “He’s 6-6, 6-7, so I really don’t have a comparison of a guy. But I think his versatility is a lot like the guys we’ve had. It’s not like he does one thing. He can do a lot of things. He can impact the game and not really score a lot of points.”

A chance to build

There is not one player on the roster that figures to be a one-and-done, and only Lee is a senior (for now). That means Arizona finally has a chance to build something that lasts as opposed to another makeshift group of freshmen and graduate transfers that have one foot out the door.

That alone should be a refreshing change for Arizona fans, who can embrace these players, knowing they should have more than a year to appreciate what they bring to the program.

Weaknesses/biggest needs

3-point shooting

Here are the career 3-point percentages of Arizona’s returning wings and guards (the bigs aren’t shooters, hence why they are not included here):

  • Baker: 33.3%
  • Williams: 31.6%
  • Akinjo: 36.1%

Akinjo’s mark is solid, but he shot 39 percent in 33 games as a freshman at Georgetown and 24 percent in seven games as a sophomore, so who knows which version the Wildcats will get.

Baker and Williams’ percentages need work, but both have had stretches where they have shown they can be well above average in that department. Baker was shooting in the high 30s from 3 this past season before a late-season swoon dropped him to 34 percent. Williams shot 39 percent from 3 in conference play in 2018-19.

Still, adding a marksman or two should be at the top of Arizona’s priority list this offseason.

Continuity

While I just mentioned how Arizona has a chance to build something that lasts for more than a year, that doesn’t change the fact that 2020-21 itself will be a rebuilding year.

The Wildcats likely have to replace their entire starting lineup, and we have seen the issues that can arise when trying to integrate a bunch of players who have never played together at the collegiate level before.

The difference this time is Brown, Williams, and Koloko have been in the program for (at least) a year, while Akinjo will already have a semester and a summer under his belt by the time the fall rolls around, so perhaps the growing pains will not be so pronounced.

Star power

Unlike most Arizona squads in recent years, this team (so far) does not have any proven stars and/or players who are expected to be stars. And if you subscribe to the theory that a team can only be as good as its best player, then Arizona’s upside is limited.

This is why adding a five-star prospect like Ziaire Williams and/or some high-level graduate transfers would be a coup. Add them to what should be a solid supporting cast, and suddenly this team could be as good as any.