The Arizona Wildcats will be able to return to campus and begin voluntary workouts on June 1. Here is one skill each returning player should be setting out to improve this offseason.
Jemarl Baker Jr. — 3-point shooting
This might seem like an odd choice since 3-point shooting is supposed to be Baker’s bread and butter, but his career numbers don’t really bear that out. He shot 31 percent from 3 as a redshirt freshman at Kentucky, then 34 percent in his first season at Arizona.
Even that number is a little deceiving. Baker shot 56 percent from 3 in November, but 28 percent from 3 the rest of the season, including 26 percent in Pac-12 play. Part of that can probably be attributed to him playing through a knee injury, but in order to be a quality starter in the Pac-12, he is going to have to improve on his career marks.
The good news is Arizona will have more ball-handlers this season, so Baker should have more spot-up opportunities instead of having to serve as the backup point guard.
Ira Lee — Rebounding
Arizona lost four of its top six rebounders from last season, the two returners being Lee and Christian Koloko. Lee hasn’t been much of an offensive force in his first three seasons and it’s unlikely that part of his game will emerge as a senior. That’s just not who he is. But he can still be valuable by doing the dirty work, namely as a rebounder. His total rebounding percentage has hovered around 14 percent his entire career but it dropped to 9.1 percent in conference play last season, easily the worst of his career.
Koloko and Jordan Brown are top-notch rebounders, so if Lee excels in that area, the Wildcats should be able to correct what was one of their biggest deficiencies in 2019-20.
Christian Koloko — Free throw shooting
Koloko’s offensive game needs a lot of work in general. His hands are iffy, his touch isn’t the softest, and his mind tends to speed up when he catches the ball around the basket, causing him to throw up some wild shots. These are all things he will improve on as he develops and gets more experience. But he can also make a pretty big leap offensively simply by making his free throws.
Koloko went 7 for 20 from the stripe as a freshman, a meager 35 percent clip. That is a huge problem because even if Koloko does vastly improve in the other areas I mentioned, teams will be more than happy to foul him if he catches the ball in prime scoring position. Perhaps he knows that, hence some of those rushed shots he took last season.
Given his shot-blocking and rebounding skills, Koloko would be one of the best big men in the conference if he can be even just an average offensive player.
Brandon Williams — Staying healthy
Who knows if Williams will even play for the Wildcats this season, as it sounds like he is considering transferring or going pro. But if he does, the only thing he needs to do to be a good player is stay healthy. Anything else would be a bonus.
Remember, this is the guy who averaged 11.7 points and 3.0 assists per game in Pac-12 play as a freshman, while posting a very solid shooting line of .418/.395/.837.
Jordan Brown — Interior scoring
The Wildcats will need to replace Zeke Nnaji’s 16.1 PPG somehow. Brown, a former McDonald’s All-American, is the obvious candidate, with Sean Miller projecting he will be a double-figure scorer.
While that’s a much different role than Brown had at Nevada, where he averaged just 3 points game on 51 percent shooting off the bench, he should be able to handle it.
As a junior at Woodcreek High School in Roseville, California, Brown averaged 26.3 points and 15.8 rebounds per game as he led his team to the state championship game, where he dropped 35 points and 17 rebounds in a losing effort.
In his senior season at Prolific Prep, he averaged 23.5 points and 13.1 rebounds per game.