UConn gained a major asset to its bench on Tuesday night against UMass Lowell as the previously-suspended Sidney Wilson returned to the Huskies. Wilson, a consensus top 100 recruit in the class of 2017, only played five minutes and didn’t record many stats in his debut college appearance.
However, basketball is a sport where basic stats can’t tell you everything. I watched all of Wilson’s minutes, focusing on him only, to figure out where he stands with the team right now, and where he might be for the rest of the season. Here’s a selection of a few possessions that I think illustrate something about Wilson—either current ability or potential—and his fit with this iteration of the Huskies.
(all gifs are courtesy of the great tcf_15)
This was one of Wilson’s first real defensive possessions—at least, the first one where he had something to do. He starts down low, marking Christian Lutete, a size mismatch in the three-inch-taller Wilson’s favor. Backup point guard Bryce Daley moves in his direction, trying to draw a three-on-three with Lutete and Josh Gantz (the forward at the free throw line). Tyler Polley and Jalen Adams snuff it out, and he’s forced to pass back out to Alex Rivera at the top of the key. Wilson also does his job on this part, keeping the shorter Lutete behind him to cut off the passing lane. The play dies here because of good defense, and Rivera puts up a contested shot, but the possession isn’t over yet.
As the ball is in the air, the only River Hawks player in the lane is Gantz, who’s being boxed out by Christian Vital. Vital’s on the other side of the basket, and Lutete isn’t crashing the offensive glass, so this would be an easy rebound for Wilson, but he decides to make sure he’s boxing out Lutete, leaving Vital to grab the board instead.
This play is both the correct one to make, and also a good example of why total rebounds aren’t a good indication of a player’s impact on his team’s rebounding. Lutete didn’t go for the ball, but Wilson’s instincts—to make sure his man doesn’t make an unexpected play on the boards—are correct. He grabbed three rebounds in his five minutes, so his team play was at least reflected in this box score, but you can expect him to not be a stat-padder around the boards.
Wilson starts this possession popping out to the perimeter, indicating that he might be used in similar fashion to Polley this season—of course, that could change, but it’s more likely than not that Dan Hurley sees them playing similar roles. After he passes the ball to Polley in the corner, he attempts to put an off-ball pick on Alex Rivera, guarding Vital.
This is where he shows a little rust, which is expected from a player who hasn’t seen game action in almost two years. The pick doesn’t connect, and Wilson goes back outside to set another screen, though Vital has the ball this time.
The second pick works, and Vital has the matchup he wants. His floater doesn’t connect, but Wilson, showing good awareness, starts crashing the offensive glass as soon as the shot goes up (remember the last play, where we talked about how it was important to box out even from the perimeter? Wilson remembers). He’s in good position, and luck rewards his heads-up play with a rebound that bounces directly to him.
He does miss the dunk, but...we don’t have to talk about that. Missed dunks are rare, and it’s unlikely the unforced error at the end of the play says anything about his future performance.
There’s some good and some bad on this play. To start, Alterique Gilbert rushes across the baseline to switch sides, and runs past Wilson to get some separation. Wilson’s screen is adequate, though not good, and it does result in him slowing down the defender. It doesn’t give Gilbert enough time to get off a shot, but it does give him some space.
When Wilson attempts to set another high screen, and Wilson’s defender thinks he reads the play, Gilbert makes a heady decision to go the opposite direction. This screen did its job; even though it didn’t work as designed, Gilbert was able to dribble into a advantageous situation as a result of Wilson’s movement. It looked like a busted play, but it wasn’t—the screen drew both defenders (as screens are meant to do), and Gilbert found the right lane to dribble into.
Here’s where the play starts breaking down, though. The defender makes a nice play to cut off Gilbert’s drive, and he’s forced to make a couple double-moves to attack the basket.
Furthermore, look at how Wilson follows Gilbert’s drive. At first his instincts are to fill in the corner spot Gilbert just left, which isn’t a bad choice, but then he follows him to the basket, bringing another defender into an already-crowded paint. Not only is Wilson in a spot where he can’t do anything—he’s in the same line as his teammates, along the baseline, and out of rebounding position—but against a fast-paced team, this collapse leaves UConn vulnerable to a fast break.
The play worked in UConn’s favor, so it didn’t matter, and this is not a major mistake by Wilson, but it is something to keep an eye out for, and for Hurley to correct.
This is a quick play that had little effect, but does show where Wilson has room to grow. The UMass Lowell point guard, Ryan Jones, is trying to shake his defender, Brendan Adams, to get into an open lane while his teammates spread the court. After a slip screen (or a pick and pop minus the pick), where the roll man, Gantz, hovers back to the top of the key, Kwintin Williams helps to cut off the lane—this is a bit of a mistake on Williams’ part, as Adams stayed with Jones, and Gantz is a good outside shooter—but Jones keeps his head toward the basket.
All at the same time, River Hawks forward Allin Blunt, on the other wing, moves into the lane for offensive help while tracked by Isaiah Whaley, Williams returns to cover Gantz, and Wilson leaves his man (UMass Lowell top scorer Obadiah Noel) to cut off the lane too. That’s a problem.
There are two possible scenarios here by the time Wilson breaks toward the lane. One is that Adams, who was already unaffected by the screen, stays with the ballhandler Jones. In that case, very little movement needs to happen.
The other possibility is that Jones gets by Adams and into the lane. In that case, Jones is Whaley’s responsibility, and Wilson picks up the forward Whaley leaves. Whaley, perhaps UConn’s best help defender, was getting in position for this second possibility, which Wilson should have recognized. Instead, Wilson double-covered an area that wasn’t yet vulnerable, leaving his responsibility in both scenarios.
Adams stayed with Jones, and he passed back out, which meant Wilson’s hasty departure left Noel open from the wing. Wilson’s recovery to Noel was fine, given the ground he had already ceded, but had Noel been thinking shot, he could have gotten one off. An off-ball foul was called underneath, ending the possession, but Wilson’s decision could have gotten the Huskies into trouble.
This play is a bit out of sync, as the lineup features a player making his debut, one who rarely plays, a walk-on, a freshman, and a player recovering from injury, so take that into account.
Whaley has the ball on the elbow, Temi Aiyegbusi tries to establish an open passing lane through the baseline, Williams sets a screen for a man that doesn’t follow, Wilson, tracking Whaley’s movements, tries to shadow him down the lane, and that’s how you end up with a logjam of three players without the ball in the same line. This is not a unit used to playing together, and it shows.
Wilson recognizes the issue, though, and curls around a similarly confused River Hawks defense, and works his way to the basket. Wilson is in the perfect spot to get the rebound, and he makes a good jump to reach the ball.
Again, he misses the putback attempt, but since he was going for the spectacular play in a game that was well out of reach, I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt for the miss. The space he created gives Whaley the opportunity for another offensive rebound, and he slams it home—so UConn got two points no matter what.
Overall, Wilson had a solid start to his UConn playing career. He demonstrated he understands the concepts of Hurley’s strategies, he showed good instincts (especially around the glass), and he looks like he belongs on the court. I’d like to see what his jump shot looks like—and, of course, get more playing time—before making any big judgment on his game, but Wilson is definitely a player who will benefit UConn down the road.
The biggest issue, as you might expect, is polish. Wilson has been out of game action for a long time, and he hasn’t quite gotten into the flow of things just yet. This might keep him out of Sunday’s huge game against Arizona, but given game experience and the time to improve, he could be an asset for the Huskies by the end of the season.