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Analyzing Arizona basketball’s roster after adding Kim Aiken Jr.

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Arizona v Arizona State
Azuolas Tubelis and Benn Mathurin
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats added their 12th, and what could be final, scholarship player to their 2021-22 roster on Monday with a commitment from Eastern Washington transfer Kim Aiken Jr.

UA technically still has one more scholarship at its disposal, but head coach Tommy Lloyd admitted in July that it’s unlikely Arizona will reach the 13-player maximum.

With that in mind, here’s a depth chart projection and some roster analysis.

  • PG: Kerr Kriisa/Justin Kier
  • SG: Pelle Larsson/Shane Nowell/Adama Bal
  • SF: Bennedict Mathurin/Dalen Terry/Tautvilas Tubelis
  • PF: Azuolas Tubelis/Kim Aiken Jr.
  • C: Christian Koloko/Oumar Ballo

Some thoughts...

  • Shooting should be a strength. Mathurin and Larsson shot over 40 percent from 3 last season. Kier and Kriisa hovered around 36 percent. Tubelis, Terry, Aiken shot in the lows 30s—respectable—and could improve.
  • Small-ball seems like Arizona’s best option, especially offensively. Koloko and Ballo are still raw, whereas Tubelis can be dangerous at the 5 with his ability to stretch the floor, roll to the rim, and handle the ball in transition. It’s easy to see him thriving in Lloyd’s free-flowing, uptempo offense. The addition of Aiken gives Arizona needed depth and another versatile stretch big to play alongside him. Terry and Mathurin could have played that role too, but they would have been undersized. Aiken averaged 8.4 rebounds per game last season, more than those two combined.
  • Arizona’s biggest question mark is at point guard. Not because of a lack of options, but because Kriisa has only played eight collegiate games while Kier, Larsson, Terry have mostly played off the ball. One, or multiple, of them will have to step up as a lead guard. Kier said part of the reason he transferred to Arizona was to handle the ball more, so expect him to be one of them, even though he had more turnovers (61) than assists (60) at Georgia last season.
  • It will be interesting to see what kind of roles Ballo, Nowell, Bal and Tautvilas Tubelis have. Ballo and Tubelis barely played last season for developmental reasons. Bal is coming in as a recruit who was ranked outside the top 120 and will be one of the youngest players in college basketball, as he doesn’t turn 18 until December. Nowell, a top-80 recruit, stood out in summer workouts and seems likely to be a day-one contributor. “He’s gifted on the court and he’s been a quick learner,” Lloyd said. “I don’t know what that means for minutes immediately for next year but it looks great going forward for his Arizona career.”
  • Arizona struggled to get stops last season but adding Aiken, the reigning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, will give them more versatility against small lineups. We know Koloko will bring elite rim protection but staying out of foul trouble will be key. It’s hard to know what to make of UA’s perimeter defense. A lack of experience led to too many mental mistakes last season. Moving away from the intricate packline defense could give Arizona’s athletes more freedom to pressure the ball and cause havoc.
  • The Wildcats have a lot of question marks as you can see, but the sophomore trio of Mathurin, Larsson, and Azuolas Tubelis alone should keep them competitive. Mathurin (10.8 PPG) and Larsson (8.2 PPG) were two of the most efficient shooters/scorers in the conference last season and Azuolas was a double-double machine by the end of the year. If you believe in the idea that players improve the most between their freshman and sophomore seasons, then Arizona just might have what it takes to finish in the top third of the Pac-12 and be a dangerous team come NCAA Tournament time.