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Film Session: Dez Wells's defensive struggles against Boston College

The Terrapin guard has played very well on offense, but his play on the other end of the floor has been concerning.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Editor's note: Please welcome Doug Newton, who will be contributing to the site with video posts.

Dez Wells went off for a career-high 33 points against BC, but I find myself frustrated with his play on the other end of the court. Dez has the skills and athleticism to be a fantastic defender in college.

In a recent statistic-oriented post, UMDTerps11 looked at opponent field goal percentages for five-man lineups. The Terps’ five worst lineups by opponents’ FG% all include Dez Wells. It’s always nice to get confirmation of what you observe in game with statistical evidence. So what does the eye test say?

Despite all his defensive potential, Wells is often caught off balance or too upright. Other times, he gets out of positioning due to a lack of awareness or unnecessary gambles. He should be a lockdown defender, and yet his lapses hurt the team time and time again.

Let’s look at this example from the BC game:

Wells does a good job of jabbing at Rahon to show a threat of help defense without overcommitting. But then he gets far too upright, and Hanlan easily blows by him. Defense has to scramble at that point, and Mitchell is forced to foul. It doesn’t help that Peters and Layman miscommunicate on the final closeout.

In this next play, Wells again allows easy dribble penetration.

Wells momentarily turns his body towards the baseline, and Hanlan goes middle. More concerning, look at how far Wells falls off of Hanlan when they bump. That’s indicative of someone off balance, being moved easily by a smaller opponent. Foul on Wells, having to use a hand check to prevent a blow by.

Another play in which Wells is pushed around by Hanlan:

Wells is far too upright when he contacts Hanlan. Notice Hanlan’s shoulder is into Wells’ chest. He cannot let a ballhandler get that much leverage, no wonder he’s pushed so far off his spot. I don’t see much extension from Hanlan’s arm, so no offensive foul, just a smaller guard outmuscling Wells. It almost looks like Dez wanted to take a charge and got caught in between.

Here’s a large hop on a closeout that puts Wells on his heels.

Technique can be corrected. Wells has all the tools to be Maryland’s best defender. But right now, he’s hurting the team on that end.

I would also keep in mind that the players might be cognizant of the rules changes regarding hand checks. Wells might be actively avoiding fouls on some of these plays, and the result is matador defense.

My worry is when it is his focus that holds him back. Poor decision-making and awareness of the court are more concerning than poor technique.

This is a prime example of a head-scratcher. Even if the gamble works for Dez, his momentum takes him out of bounds. There’s zero chance for a steal. It’s either BC ball on the sideline, or this mess. Terps dodged a bullet as BC missed a wide-open 3.

These plays are the most frustrating. Wells’ technique can get better, but his basketball instincts are tough to alter. I’ve noticed Dez’s transgressions often include over-helping, recovering slowly, ball-watching and being both unaware of backscreens and not prepared or willing to fight through them.

Dez has plenty of potential as a defender. I would speculate that the offensive burden he shoulders has resulted in a lack of focus on the other end. Still, there are ways to conserve energy without being completely out of position. Perhaps Dez should not be assigned the opponents’ top perimeter player. Save him, and let Faust carry the defensive load. Dez needs to be on the floor for his offense, turning him into a positive on the defensive side is the next step.