In its exhibition game victory over Division II Western Washington University, the Washington Huskies finished with four players in double figures, including Isaiah Stewart’s double-double outing (get used to it) of 14 points and 11 rebounds.
However, sophomore guard Jamal Bey had the most impressive individual performance tallying 20 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and (most importantly) 5 steals in 30 minutes off the bench.
Bey may not have been the sole catalyst for every one of his five steals against Western, but Bey was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the turnover opportunities.
“Right place at the right time” is an important defensive skill that is as much gift, as it is effort — Matisse Thybulle had this gift in spades.
As we examined previously, the Huskies will miss Matisse Thybulle’s disruptive methods at the top of their 2-3 zone– specifically the deflections, steals and blocks that helped limit opponents’ 3-point shots to a stingy 19.1 attempts per game.
Although Washington held Western to 30% shooting overall and forced 22 turnovers, arguably there is cause for alarm as Western shot 50% from the 3-point line (8 of 16) in the second half and attempted 32 threes throughout the game.
Against Western, Naz Carter began the game in Matisse Thybulle’s old position, (the X1 for purposes of this discussion) at the top of the zone.
It was an understandable choice, due to Carter’s athleticism and active feet, as well as Carter being a fundamentally solid defender overall.
Carter, however, finished with only 1 steal and zero blocks in 27 minutes.
Is it really the best use of Naz Carter’s talent to make him the leader of the defense, as well as expect him to elevate his game on offense?
Naz is already a team leader, based on his competitive nature, his impressive all-round skills and prodigious talent, none of which will change based on his position in Washington’s 2-3 zone.
Meanwhile, even as a freshman, Jamal Bey demonstrated a high basketball IQ and competitive nature last season that suggests he can shoulder some of the defensive leadership and accountability to assist Carter.
The top of the zone requires a dynamic defender that can lead with his defensive instincts and (hyper)activity, like Matisse Thybulle.
Matisse trusted his instincts and played without fear of getting beat.
Although both Naz Carter and Jamal Bey are 6’6″, it is Bey that looks most similar to Thybulle’s (6’5 200) physical build.
And last season, despite limited minutes, Bey finished second on the team in Steal Percentage (steals per defensive possessions) at 2.6% — behind only Thybulle’s 6.7%.*
By comparison, Naz Carter finished 9th in Steal Percentage last season at 1.3%.*
These numbers don’t insinuate that Carter is a bad defender, it just accentuates that he is a different type of defender than Thybulle and Bey.
It also should be noted that in 2019-20 Bey was the second highest rated Huskies guard in Block Percentage at 1.8% — behind only Thybulle’s team leading 8.4%.*
(* per KenPom.com)
In the absence of Thybulle, it is clear from Jamal Bey’s defensive performance that the Huskies need Bey on the court, as much as possible.
Coach Hopkins and his staff clearly recognized this in playing Bey for 30 minutes against Western.
Last season, when Thybulle’s defensive performance for the ages resulted in 83 blocks and 126 steals(!), the Husky defender paired with Thybulle at the top of the zone (usually Crisp, sometimes Carter) was active but did not gamble like Thybulle.
It is imperative that at least one of the top defenders in the 2-3 zone remains disciplined, particularly if the other top defender is to play the role of disruptor.
Carter already proved that he can effectively play the X2, X3, and X4 positions in UW’s 2-3 zone, as he did last season.
One of last season’s most versatile defensive lineups featured 6’5″ Thybulle, 6’4″ Jaylen Nowell, ‘6″6 Carter and 6’6″Jamal Bey – an interchangeable lineup that could rotate, help and recover almost seamlessly due to their similar size and mobility. Thus, moving Bey to Thybulle’s disruptor (X1) position will not necessarily limit Carter’s defensive playmaking (from the X2, X3 or X4 positions).
Much like Thybulle’s defensive activity took pressure off under-sized guard David Crisp, Green will need a more dynamic defender with length to take the pressure off him.
A coach’s job is to put his players in the best position to be successful. Asking a player to change what they do best, or stop altogether, is usually not a recipe for success.
Putting Bey at the top of Washington’s 2-3 zone is a natural fit and the Huskies should introduce Jamal “The Disruptor” Bey into the starting lineup now to reach their full potential defensively as a team.