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Northwestern women’s basketball 2020-21 player reviews: Sydney Wood

The junior’s stock continues to rise.

Michigan v Northwestern - Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images

With the graduation of both Abi Scheid and Abbie Wolf, Sydney Wood stepped into 2021 expected to be the third option for Northwestern. She was one of three returning starters and while she had always acted as a tenacious defender, her offensive game needed to advance for the ‘Cats to emulate their 2020 success.

Wood lived up to the task. While her skillset offensively still has a number of holes, her increase in offensive production on top of her already having a critical defensive role is nothing to roll one’s eyes at. The now two-time All-Big Ten honorable mention was one of the driving forces behind the team’s tournament run.

The stats

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Wood’s stats saw a stark increase in virtually every category from 2020, but the most noticeable uptick came on the offensive side of the ball. The junior more than doubled her points per game average, and while this may be a result in an increase in usage percentage, (5.9% increase from 2020), all of her shooting splits saw a bump as well. Her 50.7% field goal percentage ranks in the 91st percentile and is almost a 5% increase from 2020. Wood is yet to develop a consistent game outside of the paint, but in her domain she was one of the most efficient.

Even with the boosted offensive role, Wood improved her defensive numbers. She increased her already impressive 1.8 steals per game to 2.6, which ranked in the 99th percentile nationally. Additionally, the Maryland native finished in the 94th percentile with her 1.1 blocks per game. These averages were good enough to both rank top-ten in the conference.

The shot distribution

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It’s no surprise to see a majority of Wood’s points coming from within the three-point arc. She has never been known to be a reliable shooter and her role as a scorer is to work within the paint. A mere 2.2% of her total points came from three, which is actually an increase from the 2.0% she posted in 2020.

For a player that does a bulk of their work from within the paint, Wood still had trouble getting to the free-throw line. Her 16.1% free-throw rate middled in the 52nd percentile, which is odd to see considering the amount of contact she draws on her shots. In order for Wood to evolve her game she must work on getting herself to the free-throw line, even if she does not have a particularly high conversion rate on those freebies.

The good

Wood is one of the key components to the blizzard defense. Her ability to play as a forward defensively while having the size and quickness of a guard is a hand-in-glove fit for coach Joe McKeown’s scheme. In 2020, her role was to be a mainly perimeter defender who would jump lanes for steals. In 2021, Wood progressed her game to be able to protect the interior while remaining a defensive disruptor. She not only improved her steal and block numbers, but her rebounding saw an escalation. Even being undersized, Wood was able to hold her own against lengthier opponents.

Offensively, Wood was able to proliferate her shot efficiencies and averages while also increasing usage rates. Her exponential rise in points per game came alongside boosts in her field goal, three-point and free-throw percentages. While the numbers are still not great, the improvement showed clear work in the offseason to become a more dynamic scorer. With Lindsey Pulliam headed to the WNBA Draft, Wood will have to expand her role offensively once more.

The bad

Practically every knock on Wood’s game comes in her ability to shoot. The junior has always been a defensive-minded player and while her shot has improved over the years, it is still far from consistent. She improved her efficiency from three this season, but it was to the tune of 25%.

To combat her poor shooting, Wood almost completely eliminates that aspect of her game. Over her three seasons and two starting, she has attempted a mere 23 tries from downtown. By disqualifying the threat of a three, she suddenly becomes much more one-dimensional and often ends up becoming a non-factor on offensive possessions.

Wood’s 64.7% from the free-throw line isn’t anything to write home about either. While this was still an area of improvement in comparison to her sophomore season, it still makes her a liability in late game situations. She was an unreliable presence at the line and was sometimes targeted to be sent up to shoot two. In order for Wood to progress her game to the point where she can act as a reliable scoring option, she must improve her shot to the point where she has confidence in taking shots outside the paint.

Offseason focus

Shooting, shooting, shooting. If Wood is able to develop a half-solid jump shot, it can propel her into stardom. She is already getting national recognition for her defense and with an ever growing offensive game, an ability to connect from deep would open a lot up for Northwestern on offense.

The losses of Jordan Hamilton and Pulliam puts an already poor-shooting Northwestern squad in a worse position. If Wood can get to a point where he is able to space the floor with outside shots and become reliable from the free-throw line, it gives Northwestern a sure second-option going into 2022.

The bottom line

The foundation for Wood’s game is there. She has the defense. She has the interior game. She has the energy. It all comes down to how she will be able to expand her offensive game to the mid-range and perimeter.

If Wood again struggles and doesn’t bother shooting from outside the paint, Northwestern’s offense becomes clustered and homogenous. If she can round out her offensive game, she suddenly becomes one of the best players in the Big Ten.