Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018 | 2 a.m.
To compete with the best teams in the Mountain West, UNLV needs to add talented wing players. Head coach Marvin Menzies has acknowledged that reality on several occasions, and the incoming class he recruited for 2018 is proof that he’s taking the problem seriously.
Sharp-shooting guard Bryce Hamilton is the headliner of the Rebels’ freshman class, and swingman Joel Ntambwe brings versatility as a perimeter ball-handler and defender. Now the question is, what can UNLV expect from Trey Woodbury?
For a high-profile local prospect, Woodbury isn’t entering college surrounded by the kind of hype you’d expect. That’s mostly due to his lost senior season, as a disagreement with his coach at Clark led to Woodbury being dismissed from the team after playing just a handful of games in 2017-18. As far as the recruiting sites were concerned, it was out of sight, out of mind. When Woodbury committed to UNLV in July of 2017, Rivals rated him as 4-star prospect and the No. 101 player in the class; almost exactly a year later, he is now an unranked 3-star recruit.
That shouldn’t diminish UNLV fans’ excitement. Despite the rankings, Woodbury appears to be a unique offensive player who should be able to make an impact as a Rebel.
Woodbury’s biggest strength is his shooting touch. After watching five of his high school games (some from early in the 2017-18 season, some from late 2016-17), it’s clear that he has the potential to be an elite outside shooter at the college level.
In the five-game sample, Woodbury made 13-of-30 from 3-point range (43.3 percent) and 11-of-14 from the free-throw line (78.6 percent), and those results weren’t a fluke — Woodbury’s shot is rock solid.
He possesses a compact stroke that he can speed up when his shot is contested or when he is shooting off the dribble (he likes to take one quick dribble to his right, usually around a screen, and pull up). When he’s spotting up for an open shot, he takes his time and looks like a prototypical knock-down shooter:
Lots of players can make open 3-pointers, however. What makes Woodbury more exceptional is how he gets open.
Moving without the ball is becoming a lost art in the modern game, which tends to feature lots of ball screens and dribble penetration (with the goal of creating either an easy shot at the rim or an open spot-up 3-pointer). Woodbury doesn’t rely on spot-up attempts — he gets himself open by running around screens, cutting and relocating like a cagey veteran.
Woodbury is in constant motion, and a lot of it is unscripted. He turns teammates into screeners without them even realizing it, and he runs defenders into each other with regularity. Once he creates an opening, he is able to set quickly behind the 3-point line, and he shoots just as well in those situations as he does on spot-up attempts:
Shooting on the move
Woodbury’s movement without the ball is brilliant. He is rarely standing still on offense — if he's not open, he cuts and flares randomly to create space. He is at his most dangerous in the instant just after he throws a pass. While his defender relaxes, Woodbury is already cutting to the next spot and creating open shots for himself and his teammates:
Moving without the ball
Combine that instinctual ability to get open with his high-level outside shot, and Woodbury should endear himself to UNLV’s coaching staff fairly quickly. Every offense can use a player who can create high-percentage 3-point opportunities without dominating the ball.
Far from dominating the ball, Woodbury is probably too willing a passer. He moves the ball quickly, limits his dribbling and doesn’t force the issue. If he has a shot or a driving lane, he takes it; if not, he passes quickly without wasting time. That makes Woodbury a high-efficiency, low-turnover player. In the five games I watched, he committed just four turnovers.
Woodbury picks his spots when he wants to put the ball on the floor. Most of his drives come when he pump-fakes a close-out defender at the 3-point line and scoots past them. When he does attack a defender 1-on-1 off the dribble, he is good at dipping his shoulder and turning the corner. He’s not an explosive athlete, but he has enough self-awareness to understand his limitations, and he tends to stay under control and keep his legs under him while driving:
When Woodbury does get into trouble is when he tries to win at the rim based on athleticism. He is a sound finisher when he gathers and uses feigns and fakes to get defenders off their feet, but when he tries to attack the rim directly it can lead to some awkward in-between shots:
Woodbury has a good eye for kick-out passes and usually spots teammates when they're open under the rim. He is a willing passer, but it’s not a major part of his game yet. He probably won't ever be a primary facilitator, but as a secondary option he should develop into someone who can hurt a scrambling defense. Passing should become a bigger weapon in his arsenal as he gains experience:
He also has a good sense of how to convert fast break opportunities into points. Whether he decides to keep the ball himself or give it up to a teammate, he usually makes the fundamental play and gets the easiest finish:
Another reason for Menzies to fall in love with Woodbury is his ability to throw entry passes. UNLV throws the ball into the post more than most other teams in college basketball, and it helps when wing players can execute the entry pass cleanly. Woodbury can do that — whether it’s over the top, a bounce pass, right-handed, left-handed, he puts the ball on target.
It’s a simple thing, but one of those overlooked fundamental skills that just make the offense run smoothly:
Of course, those offensive skills will be overshadowed if Woodbury can’t defend well enough to earn playing time. In high school, Woodbury was athletic enough to stay with most opponents in 1-on-1 situations, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to keep it up against Division I opponents.
When playing man-to-man, Woodbury was generally able to stay in front of his opponents. His effort was always credible, and his anticipation allowed him to stay attached. But he also had a tendency to get caught leaning the wrong way, and when he’s off-balance, opponents are able to drive past him with ease:
Woodbury was more effective when playing zone defense because it highlighted his anticipatory skills and deemphasized his foot speed and strength. At Clark, he deflected a lot of passes and was generally more impactful when asked to execute zone concepts:
Agility and quickness were not hallmarks of Woodbury’s defensive work in high school, and he knows that. He has spent the last year working out with personal trainers in an effort to improve his lateral movement, and if he becomes even an average defender in college, UNLV will gladly take it.
Woodbury’s defensive limitations can be overlooked because of the unique dynamic he will bring to the UNLV offense. He doesn’t demand the ball, which makes him a coach’s dream, and he thinks the game a step ahead, allowing him to get himself open without having a ton of plays run for him.
And when he finds an opening behind the 3-point line, he makes the shot. The Rebels need shooting desperately — it might be the program’s single greatest need — and Woodbury has the potential to become elite in that regard.
Editor’s Note: The Sun’s Mike Grimala will break down each new incoming recruit from UNLV's 2018 class.