Over the past five years, Gonzaga fans have been teased by athletic shooting guards/small forwards. Both Erroll Knight and Larry Gurganious arrived at Gonzaga University with the reputation of being great athletes and defensive stoppers. Unfortunately, injuries derailed the potential and development of both prospects, thus preventing the coaching staff from totally utilizing the length that it should have had at its disposal. While a guy like Micah Downs presented a nice option on the perimeter, I have personally longed to see a guy who is built like an NBA SG/SF manning the perimeter with Steven Gray.
While I hope I am not jinxing him by putting him in the same breath as Knight and Gurganious, I think Mangisto Arop will finally be the guy who holds down that role on the perimeter for the Zags. Arop has the rare combination of size, length and athleticism to emerge as one of the elite wings in the country if he is able to stay healthy and develop a more consistent offensive game.I realize that it may be odd to have such lofty expectations for a guy who average a mere 3.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game during his freshman season, but it was abundantly clear in watching him that he is oozing with potential. In the final seven games before his foot injury in the WCC Tournament, Arop played double-figure minutes in every game, and also began to show some flashed of the offensive potential he has. With his rare ability to rebound from the wing position, Arop is guaranteed a couple of easy baskets a game through offensive rebounds and put-backs. Where the growth must occur is in his ability to naturally score in the flow of the halfcourt offense.
One perception about Manny that may be a little bit off is that he really needs to improve his jumper. While it was a limited sample size (only 17 attempts), Arop his 47% of his shots from behind the arc. If he can continue to shoot over 40% from behind the three-point line when his number of attempts increases, it will provide this team with another player that is capable of scoring 15+ points on any given night. From what we have heard, Arop has shot the ball incredibly well over the summer, and his really developed some consistency with is jumper. It will be vital that this confidence and ability to score from the perimeter carries over into the season, because he already is a great threat attacking the rim and scoring on the fastbreak.
It would be incredibly surprising if we don't see Manny starting at the SF position when the season kicks off. Arop fits in nicely with Monninghoff and Harris as options on the wing. With his able to defend on the perimeter, I would expect seeing Arop matched up with the opposing teams best scoring option. I questions a little whether Arop has the lateral quickness to guard an opposing point guard, but he should have no problem using his length and basketball IQ to match up with any SG/SF. His ability to lockdown defensively is the reason why I expect this to be an incredibly difficult team to get clean looks against.
While I don't think this is the year we see Manny reach his full potential, his ability to become a consistent threat in the halfcourt offense is a key to how good this group can be. As he continues to develop his jumper and ball-handling ability, Arop can potentially develop into one of the best wings we have seen come through this program.