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The junior center returned from the summer with a new haircut and a new number. Natyazhko will wear 14 this season, and will be relied upon to provide quality minutes at center.
Reports are that Natyazhko returned from Ukraine out of shape. Natyazhko has been working hard with Chris Rounds to drop some weight and improve his conditioning.
Natyazhko played in every game last year, but averaged the fewest minutes of the players who did. Natyazhko only averaged two points, but shot the ball well. Kreal shot 50 percent from the field, 4-7 from deep, and 9-10 from the free throw line.
Natyazhko runs the floor well for his size, and should be able to anchor the post. Last year, Natyazhko would often get the ball in good position, but make a quick move that ended wildly. It appeared Natyazhko needs to develop some patience and be able to absorb some contact. Natyazhko also needs to attack the basket with aggression, as he should be able to dunk much more often than last year. Natyazhko only attempted ten free throws last season, indicating he was not challenging defenders.
Natyazhko didn’t score during the NCAA tournament, but provided an interior defensive presence that earned him 16 minutes against Texas. Sean Miller commented on Natyazhko’s improvement. The hope is that he can develop into a defender that can regularly handle opposing centers.
Offensively, Natyazhko has shown a jump shot with decent range. He will need to develop some post moves so that he can play closer to the basket. Offensive rebounding will also be a key area for Natyazhko. The best way for Natyazhko to see more minutes is to play well on the glass, as the team will sorely miss Derrick Williams’ rebounding.
Defensively, Natyazhko showed promise towards the end of the season. His footwork looked improved, and he was able to stay in front of opposing post players. He also did a better job of not biting on fakes and picking up unnecessary fouls. Natyazhko played solidly and didn’t make many mistakes. This season Natyazhko will need to continue that play as he has the most experience defending college centers.
Natyazhko seems poised to compete for the starting center position. If he has improved during the off season, he will likely begin the season in the starting lineup. Arizona will look to push the tempo more this year given the depth in the back court, and Natyazhko’s ability to run the floor could become a huge asset.
If Natyazhko struggles early, Sidiki Johnson seems ready to challenge for the starting spot. Much more will be known about Natyazhko’s development once games begin.