Tony Wroten is the most important player on Washington

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There are a myriad of reasons for Washington’s struggles early in the season.

They don’t rebound the ball well, they don’t force turnovers, they’re mediocre defensively, they have no low-post presence.

But perhaps the biggest reason for their struggles early in the season is arguably the most important player on their roster: Tony Wroten, Jr.

The reason for that is Wroten’s unbelievably high usage rate. When he is on the floor — which is for more than 24 mpg — the possession ends with Wroten 35.7% of the time. That’s the third-highest number in the country. The problem? Wroten’s efficiency is absolutely horrendous. His offensive rating is just 89.9, well below the efficiency numbers of players like Terrence Ross, CJ Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy.

The get an idea of what that means, the two players with higher-usage rates that Wroten are Josh Watkins of Utah and Chase Plummer of UMBC. Both Watkins and Plummer have similar efficiency numbers to Wroten. Utah and UMBC have combined for two wins on the season. When you have one player using such a high-volume of possessions, and that player is getting minimal results from the possessions that he uses, its very difficult to win basketball games.

So the question that must be asked of Washington is whether or not this is a permanent thing. Can Wroten turn it around? And, frankly, based on the way that he was played the past couple of games, I’d lean towards to affirmative. Wroten had 13 points, six boards and three assists against Marquette at MSG, following that up with 23 points — but five turnovers and zero assists — in a loss to Duke. He brought Washington back from 19 down late in the game to make things interesting.

There are two reasons why Wroten’s efficiency is so low: he turns the ball over at an ungodly rate and he cannot make free throws despite living at the foul line.

Wroten is fourth on the team in minutes played, but he has more than double the number of turnovers this season of anyone else on the roster. With averages of 4.4 t/o’s and 24 mpg, Wroten is turning the ball over once every five-and-a-half minutes. There are players that would be happy if they scored that often. Wroten’s also made more free throws than anyone else on his team has taken despite making just 51.9% — 27-52 — from the charity stripe. There is no way that those numbers don’t improve.

(It also should be noted here that Aziz N’Diaye, who is by far the least efficient player in Lorenzo Romar’s rotation, has the third-highest usage rate. The guys that are the most ineffective are making the most plays right now. Not a good combination.)

Wroten is only a freshman. He’s also a high-risk player. Like Isaiah Thomas last season, Wroten is the kind of guy that is always in attack mode, but he’s still learning how to harness his immense ability and utilize it as effectively as possible. He has to learn how to better delineate what is a good shot or what is a bad pass. He’s capable of the spectacular, but he has to learn when and where to pick his spots; when the spectacular fails, Wroten looks reckless and selfish.

“As long as he’s not trying to make the fancy play every time and is just being a solid point guard, he’s going to be really good,” CJ Wilcox said after Saturday’s loss to Duke at the Garden.

Those turnovers are even more costly for a team like Washington. The Huskies have quite a bit of offensive firepower on their perimeter with the likes of Terrence Ross, Wilcox and Gaddy joining Wroten on the perimeter. Throwing the ball away not only costs them the opportunity to put points on the board, but it takes away from their ability to get into a rhythm. The best way to slow down a shooter that is in a zone is to have a point guard that doesn’t get him the ball.

I believe Wroten will put it all together before the season is over. I don’t think he will ever protect the ball like Jordan Taylor, but I do think that he will make better decisions as time goes on. Freshman are on a learning curve, and Wroten is no different.

There’s a quicker way for him to improve as well.

Start hitting your damn free throws.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.