Dez Wells, The Unlikely Leader And Consummate Teammate
(Discuss on the forums here)
While we as analysts often focus in on the future of teams and the contributions they can potentially make, we tend to pay less attention to the fact that there are current players on the roster doing their own transformations. Guys like rising junior Dez Wells.
Wells was perhaps the least likely character to return on the cast of “Maryland Basketball,” with clear aspirations of playing in the NBA on his mind, but here he is. The senior leader Maryland always wanted, Wells displayed an incredible deal of maturity in bringing his team together following the slew of transfers from the program. And through it all, some still doubted whether or not Wells would remain on the team (wrongly so).
It feels like Wells has always just been misunderstood as a player from start to finish. We want to pigeonhole him into one category, and we’ve tried to since he came to College Park. In year one everyone expected him to take over and become the star of the school alongside Len. When it was revealed that, occasionally, Wells wasn’t as aggressive as many assumed he could be, the talk was that he didn’t have “it” and wouldn’t be an NBA prospect. His junior year, there was talk about him not being a leader on the court and getting supplanted by Seth Allen as “the best player on the team.”
It seems as though, no matter what, fan expectations and Wells’ actual performance never match up. But some folks can’t see the forest for the trees, because Wells is proving again and again that he hasn’t tapped into his full potential.
These are just a few base stats, but they highlight the one important factor you can see in Wells game: he keeps getting better. During his freshman to sophomore season, we saw a slight regression statistically that I think we can now attribute to unfamiliarity with the system. At Xavier, Wells role was one he was somewhat familiar with; that is to say, not being the #1 option and playing as a contributor. He was also not asked to play point guard, shooting guard, hit shots from deep, takeover games late. At Maryland, he was asked to do all that with new teammates on short notice.
In retrospect, those were awfully ambitious and lofty goals for a player most hadn’t seen. His sophomore to junior season, most people expected Wells to take that leap and completely capitalize on the potential they saw his first two seasons in college. To an extent, he did, but his failure to lead Maryland to the promised land (the NCAAT) was held over his head big time, and justifiably so.
But Wells really made some monumental leaps. If you look at the list of guys who had an true shooting percentage better than Dez Wells, eight of the next eleven are big men or low volume guards. Wells was a rare mix of medium volume and very high efficiency, especially for a backcourt player. Even though he had the ball in his hands quite often, Wells was only one of three players to be featured in the top 12 in both usage rate and true shooting percentage. And again, one of only three guards on that list.
In that, we may finally have an idea of the type of player Wells is. As explosive as Wells is, he’s also a very steady presence on the court who, through his ability to stay engaged on the court without requiring oodles of touches, lets others flourish. The art of balance in basketball is lost on so many players. Playing within the flow of the offense while also being the number one option is a difficult dance. A little too aggressive and other players will ball watch. Not aggressive enough and the game gets out of hand quickly.
There’s only one issue with Wells game (outside of that long range jimmy), and that’s that it’s predicated on needing quality teammates around him. Wells isn’t going to be like Olivier Hanlan and put up absurd numbers on a terrible team, because that doesn’t help the team. It helps one player, sure, but in the long run that won’t win your team games. Ask Erick Green over at Virginia Tech.
The problem last year with Wells and the Terps? Even though everyone was getting their shots, no one was hitting them. They attempted the third-most field goals in the ACC, but were 11th in field goal percentage. When you look at a team like Michigan, their seventh best PER was on par with Maryland’s second best. That was on Allen, Layman, Smotrycz, Faust, and Mitchell there.
Well Maryland trimmed away some of that excess inefficiency, and they’re hoping the guys on roster can really start to grow within the offense. Layman and Wells theoretically go hand-in-hand (he’s a decent scorer despite being very, very low usage), while Smotrycz should improve a lot as he gets more familiar with the Terps.
And if Melo Trimble is that team-first point guard everyone wants him to be, then Dez Wells is going to be a shining example of how to put the team before your own needs. That’s not to say some of the departed players detracted from the “one team, one goal” message, but the cast of characters on the roster now are incredibly team oriented.
So here we are with Wells. The unlikely leader, the elder statesman of the Terrapins. He hasn’t plateaued as a player yet, and he’s tasked with guiding a young team to success very early on. The expectations are going to be horribly high for the Terps, but Wells is so used to adversity, you get the feeling he’ll take it in stride. Expectations for Wells have almost always been off so far, anyway.
If there were ever a guy you’d want to be the ambassador of what Terrapins basketball really means in a tough, potentially rebuilding year, could you think of anyone other than Wells more qualified to do it?