A quick look at Przemek Karnowski's stat line through four games this year looks pretty decent. The sophomore center is averaging 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds a game in 21 minutes.
By all accounts, this is an improvement on last year, which is exactly what the Gonzaga Bulldogs needed from the big man. By virtue of the thin front court, Karnowski would be leaned upon heavily this year, whether he was ready for it or not.
I had this big 'ol article written out voicing concerns about Karnowski's turnover issues. Although the fouls that limited his minutes against Bryant and Oakland had everyone up in arms, it was his 10 turnovers through his first three games that had me more worried. Then, of course, like Przemek apparently does, he changed the narrative against the Washington St. Cougars and finished with one turnover in 27 minutes. One game doesn't make the turnover issue solved, but it lessens the worries I had.
Still, Przemek isn't going to get off that easy. I had 900 words written and I'll be damned if I won't use at least some of them. So instead of focusing on his turnover issues, which despite the one turnover game are still issues, let's focus on the enigma that is Karnowski.
Karnowski is a beast, and no one needs to tell you that. You could be watching the Gonzaga game through bunny ears on a TV in the Tibetan plateau and through the fuzz you would see the hulking Polish mass that is the Gonzaga center. He shows glimpses of that potential that led many scouts to declare him a McDonald's All-American if he had played in the states in high school. Going into this season, after a freshman year where not much was required from him, early reports made it sound like Karnowski was ready for the jump. Coach Mark Few told Luke Winn with Sports Illustrated that, "[Karnowski] will take a big step forward. He's primed for that." There were talks of a slimmed down big man ready to make a big impact on a thin frontcourt.
Take a look at his game log through the first four games of the year (courtesy of Sports-reference.com) and notice one thing, Karnowski hasn't appeared to really put a complete game together yet.
Going game by game, we can consider his first game against the Bryant Bulldogs as a complete wash. Sure, he finished with 10 points, but four personal fouls limited his minutes greatly and he only saw the court for 12 minutes. Against the Colorado St. Rams, we saw an improved version of Karnowski, sort of. He had a very efficient offensive game when the Zags buried the Rams with threes. He only missed one free-throw en route to scoring eight points, and snared nine defensive rebounds against an undersized opponent. Solid shot choice, improved free-throw shooting, everything seems good. But there it is - an ugly number. Karnowski finished with four turnovers, a very high number in a game when the offense wasn't going through him.
Against Oakland, Karnowski once again found himself in foul trouble and finished the game with limited minutes. But in those 19 minutes he was solid on the offensive end, scoring 12 points with solid footwork down low and attacking the offensive glass, picking up four offensive rebounds. Again though, an ugly number appears. Karnowski finishes his second-straight game with four turnovers. Once again, this is a very high number for a player who the offense isn't going through.
Through his first three games, Karnowski had 10 turnovers -- good for an average of 3.3 a game. That was nowhere near the top in the NCAA (four different players currently average 5.0 turnovers a game). In fact, Karnowski's turnovers per game before the Cougars ranked him 84th in the nation. The cause for concern was there, however. Karnowski was averaging 19 minutes a game at the time. The players that are leading the nation in turnovers per game all average close to 30 minutes a game. If we extrapolated Karnowski's 3.3 turnovers to a 30 minute per game average, and suddenly the center is averaging 5 turnovers a game as well.
Everything changes after the Cougars game. Karnowski, who is averaging 3.3 turnovers and 3.6 fouls through his first three games finished with 27 minutes, turning over the ball once and tying a career low for fouls (zero). All is seemingly right in Przemek-land. But again, a different ugly number rears its head. Against the Cougars, Karnowski finished the game a terrible 2-for-8 from the free-throw line.
Last year, Karnowski was downright awful from the free-throw line. He finished the year 32-for-72, good for 44 percent. With him logging more minutes, the hack-a-Shaq technique would most likely get employed, and really with successful results. Through the first three games, Karnowski had eased those fears, going 10-of-14 from the charity stripe. Through three games he was shooting 71 percent from the line, now he is at 54 percent.
Now, of course, four games isn't much to get in a tizzy over. Gonzaga played 35 games last year, so we aren't even one-seventh of the way through the season. But Przemek will be under greater scrutiny than Sam Dower this year, and with good reason. Dower shoots the ball at a good clip and when he gets the minutes he scores a bunch of points. Karnowski hasn't displayed that consistency, and with the frontcourt as thin as it is, consistency is more important from Przemek than putting up drool-worthy numbers.
Karnowski has displayed flashes of all the aspects of his game. The true growth for him this year will be to put those aspects all into one productive effort. Gonzaga has the guards to score points with the best of them, but a Przemek Karnowski that coaches have to plan around will make this team a threat with anyone come March. Right now, Karnowski isn't quite there yet. Unfortunately, the Zags don't have the frontcourt depth to wait around for him to get there. So with it, the team and the fans are left riding the roller coaster of Karnowski's growth. It will be a fun, yet maddening ride, to be on, and it is one ride we have no choice but to take.