With BYU basketball about to start official practices, it’s time to get the hoops train rolling with a look at BYU’s prize transfer: Matt Haarms. At the time of his signing, Haarms was being called the top grad transfer in the country by both CBS and ESPN so I wanted to take a closer look at what he brings to the table outside of the highlight packages that made the rounds. After watching some full game footage and extended highlights of his time at Purdue here are a few things I noticed about his game and what he may improve on as he finishes his college career for the Cougars.
Coach Pope commented on Haarms’ “passion” and “intensity” when the signing was announced and the film showed that energy in a few different ways. The first was the effort he makes on rebounds. Though he hasn’t averaged an eye-opening amount of rebounds in his career (4.4/game) it was easy to see how much work he does in pursuing extra chances.
It’s clear to see his desire to make a play as he fights through contact and uses his length to be a nuisance on the glass. His energy extends into other plays as well, like this effort to save the ball after a block and initiate a fast break.
The last piece of evidence I saw highlighting his effort was in how he fulfilled his pick and roll assignments in the following play.
It’s a small thing but I was impressed with how on point he was in these two different coverages on different sides of the floor. The offensive guard helps him out on the second screen by waiting but he is right there at the point of the screen when Tennessee’s guard eventually comes off of it. This effort and attention to his assignment is great to see, especially from someone who is expected to come in and help anchor the defense.
Haarms didn’t spend a ton of time in playmaking situations, often ending up in a position where the play was designed for him to finish it. The times he was in a position to share the ball, though, he showed a willingness to find the open man and distribute. Take a look at his plays here against double teams where he uses his length to keep the ball high and pass over the defenders.
Here are a few more simple plays that show his willingness to pass as he doesn’t even think about scoring and instead looks to make the extra pass to his teammate.
I really like the second clip in that sequence since it shows he’s mindful of where his reads are if he feels the help defender on his back. He will get plenty of opportunities to make the same play in BYU’s system and we should take advantage of his height to throw it up to him, even with a defender close, and let him make a play.
Haarms has even shown flashes of being able to make more difficult passes like this drift pass after a drive.
Given BYU’s system of trusting everyone to make a play I would not be surprised to see him set some career highs for assists in the upcoming season.
On the receiving end, Haarms has shown some pretty soft hands. While drops inevitably happen, for the most part I was impressed with some of the catches he made.
Off the bounce his dribble is a little loose, which you would expect from someone that tall, but even when things got dicey he was able to recover without turning over the ball.
This sure-handedness will be useful this year as guards try to get him the ball off of handoff, slip, and ballscreen actions. While teams dedicated a lot of their scheme into corralling TJ last year I wouldn’t be surprised to see opponents letting our guards try and make plays this year, making Haarms ability to secure the ball all the more important to avoid turnovers.
While running offensive sets, misdirection is a critical skill in creating the half second window that breaks down defenses. Haarms has shown he has a knack for misdirection in many different offensive facets. Check out his subtle step towards the ballhandler here before turning and setting a screen, completely taking his man out of a position to help on the shooter.
Here he has a nice change of pace and direction to catch his defender flat footed on a fake handoff. The fake handoff was something I hoped we would take advantage of more last year and it looks like Haarms might fulfill my wish for more fakes this year.
Finally, slipping screens effectively is an important tool in any big man’s belt and Haarms continues to show his knack for misdirection in this slip and score.
In an offense as free flowing as ours can be, it’s important to have people that can not only make the correct reads with the ball but also do the little things that will spring teammates open and create more quality opportunities. Haarms looks to be a big contributor to that fluidity this upcoming season.
In addition to his ability to set up misdirections, Haarms showed a pretty food feel for how to be effective off the ball. One of his go-to moves off the ball was sealing off the paint for a driver, taking his defender out of an effective help position and negating any rim protection.
He also showed an awareness of when he had a step in opportunity and though he doesn’t get the ball thrown to him here he is in good position.
Hopefully we’ll be able to capitalize on opportunities like that where he has his man completely buried under the rim.
One last thing I saw in regards to his off ball feel was the way he sets screens. He showed a good tendency to not just screen a spot but screen a man.
The defender slips before getting to the screen here but even if he didn’t, he was toast and wouldn’t have been able to do much anyway. This headhunting is an underrated skill that our shooters should be able to benefit from.
The last thing I wanted to bring up here was his skill of getting quality high-low catches. Just look at how far he pushes up his man in these clips.
Any time you can push your man up by the free throw line you make life way easier on the passer and yourself. We used the high-low action quite a bit before Yoeli came back last year and with Haarms’ ability to do this and Richard Harward’s ability to move people around I would be surprised if it wasn’t a staple of the offense this year.
Despite the more slender frame, Haarms did a good job playing physical and certainly wasn’t afraid to push people around. A subtle example of his physicality is how he initiates contact in this clip. Watch for how he sucks up the space as the ball goes to the wing so he doesn’t get pushed too low for a post up. Then check out how he stops his roll early to establish the best position he can in the second.
Because of the early work he does to make sure he goes to the defender in the first clip, after battling for position he is still in a great spot to catch and finish.
Defenders understandably tried to push him around but he had his moments of handling it well and scoring through contact.
This physicality has it’s limitations though as he can struggle to keep his leverage on the move. He probably gets away with a travel in the first clip here and then ends up getting stonewalled and turns it over in the second.
It will be interesting to see if this problem manifests itself this season. Haarms can be good on the roll but as these clips show, he can also get his feet a little mixed up when the help is ready. The coaching staff was able to help Kolby thrive in situations like these by shortening his roll and using his “quicks” to be effective so I’ll be eager to see if they can train up Haarms to be deadly with those “quicks” as well.
Going around people
Moving on to things he could improve this year, one of the things I saw was a tendency to try and go around people instead of being more in control and using his length to finish over them. Despite his success in the clips above on his post ups with physicality look at how he tries to go around the defensive physicality in these clips.
The decision to try and use your length to get around someone can pay off but here it’s easy to see how it can backfire. In the first clip he could have challenged the defender by backing down a little more (like he does in the first post up clip above) but instead opts to go around and travels. The second clip is a more designed fake handoff to drive but if he slowed down to more of a backdown instead of putting his head down to try and get around he may have had a play on the backside as the help comes over. Of note, these two plays happened before the post plays above so he has shown he can adjust. Haarms most likely will be featured a lot more on offense with BYU, especially with his back to the basket, so it will be interesting to see if he ends up attacking defensive physicality with his own and his length or if he tries to go around it. Given this staff’s track record of keeping things simple in the post, I think this wrinkle in his game will most likely disappear.
Better feet on the perimeter
I have no idea what it’s like to try and move my feet when they are almost seven feet from my head, but when you’re a big man it’s all about being efficient in your steps so you can move quickly out of one action into another. Haarms has shown this well offensively in his ability to misdirect and especially slip screens but showed some inefficiency with his footwork on the perimeter when guarding ballscreens. Take a look a the unnecessary hops and shuffling that he adds into his show coverage on these two plays.
When a big can’t get out of the show quick enough the whole defense can break down as can be seen with the buckets given up here. Perimeter quickness is always a potential issue with really tall players and though this didn’t seem to be an every play problem, it was a hiccup that can be shored up to continue to maximize his impact on the defensive side of the ball.
Trust your length
One of the toughest things to do defensively is finding the right amount of space or physicality to deploy without getting beat. When you have a 7’6” wingspan you can use that length to your advantage by letting yourself have more of a cushion to give space to drivers while being able to use your wingspan to contest a potential pullup. That wingspan also means if you go vertical you’ll probably be able to alter a lot of shots enough to force misses. Finding that cushion that’s just right to not get beat and staying vertical instead of unnecessarily chasing blocks is part of what I call “trusting your length”. In these three clips Haarms doesn’t do any of those things and ends up fouling.
All of those fouls came from him not trusting that he can use his length to dissuade the shooter enough to put up an inefficient shot. Verticality is a big emphasis that this staff implemented last year so I think some of these fouls will be avoided this season.
A Key Piece
Haarms will be a big piece of the rotation this year and increases the ceiling for this BYU team. His energy and effort will be a nice replacement for what was lost with Dalton and Zac not to mention the additional rim protection that he will provide. He may not be blowing up the box score all the time, only managing two double doubles in his career so far, but he will be a very steady presence on both ends of the floor. Last year he had just as many games with 5 or less points than games in double digits but this staff has shown the ability to help players unlock their own efficiency so look for his offensive output to be more consistent and steady. The biggest impact he makes may very well be things that don’t show up in the box score: setting solid screens, creating extra possessions through hustle, altering shots, and taking up space to allow guards to grab rebounds on defense or get to the rim on offense. It will be exciting to see how BYU maximizes his skills on both ends of the floor as this team seeks to return to the national rankings and eventually the NCAA tournament.