'Rotation frustration' might as well be a valid diagnosis in doctors offices all across Spokane, Washington. Over the past decade, questions are consistently raised about who is playing, how many minutes are they playing, and why is this person playing more than this person. I have largely tried to avoid such discussions but this season, more specifically last night's game, have really made it hard to ignore. Rather than go on a complete rant about 'how I would do it if I was the coach', I would prefer to just point out a few high-level thoughts about what I am seeing.
This current post, so everyone knows, was sparked by a simple statistic from last night. In 150 minutes of time on the court against Portland, the starting five for Gonzaga scored 41 points. In 40 minutes of time on the court, Angel Nunez, Drew Barham, and Kyle Dranginis combined for 28 points. Simply looking at points per minute, the stats indicate that the bench trio I noted were 256% more efficient than the starting five. The frustration for most fans, myself included, is that most of this damage was done in the first half. It wasn't that the trio didn't perform well in the second half - it was that they were relegated to the bench as the staff elected to hang with their starting five down the stretch.
The most remarkable individual tale from last night has to be the one of Angel Nunez. Nunez was outstanding in the first half. In fact, I would argue that his stretch in the first half may have been his best at Gonzaga. He was controlled on offense and extremely aggressive on defense. The Zags absolutely dominated the Pilots with Nunez on the floor as his length is such an asset against WCC foes. He entered the game about 5-6 earlier than usual as Sam Dower was struggling with turnovers early and was subsequently pulled. Nunez came in and scored 11 points in the first half while adding a blocked shot and a couple boards. He didn't turn the ball over once. At the half, Gonzaga held a 17 point lead.
To be honest, I always hold out a glimmer of hope that Mark Few will actually start the best five from the previous half to start the second half. You'd think many, many years of this not happening would stop me from thinking this crazy thought but, it hasn't. Nunez was on the bench to start the second half, as were Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis who also made big first half contributions. After 3 minutes went by and 8 points fell off the Gonzaga lead, I was anticipating a Nunez entry. Every subsequent minute from there seemed to correspond with one more lost point and it wasn't until the 11 minute mark of the second half that Nunez was able to get back in the game.
By that point, the lead was chopped to 4 points and the Zags were scratching to avoid an epic flop before the biggest game of the season. Angel was largely quiet during his time in the second half and exited stage left after about three or so minutes played.
This tale of Angel isn't an isolated occurrence. Throughout the WCC season, Nunez is averaging just 9 minutes per game and over the past 3 games, that average has dipped to about 7. Whereas many of us expected the minutes for Nunez and fellow transfer Gerard Coleman to increase as the year went on, they actually are decreasing. With the starting five occupying roughly 150 minutes per game over the past 3 games, the rotation is getting extremely tight heading into the roughest stretch of the season.
It is abundantly clear though minutes played and tolerance for errors that Gonzaga's two Big East transfers have yet to earn the full trust of the staff. The question now is, is it time for the staff to go out of their comfort zone a bit and spark this club a bit. Is it time to let Nunez exceed his apparent 14-minute max playing time? Is it time to let Coleman stay in the game after two missed shots? Is it time to start Kyle Dranginis? While I will tell most people that I don't expect these things to occur, I genuinely hope to see a Gonzaga result when Nunez logs 20 minutes or when Kyle trots out of the pregame huddle into the jump circle alongside Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos.
I have blabbered on for long enough so the last point I will make is this. Sports are very copycat. Most coaches build their teams with the intent of making sure past results don't happen again or because they play a team that does something they want to emulate. When the staff was reviewing Coleman and Nunez as potential transfers, I would be shocked if one of the coaches didn't say "We need this guy to play against a team like Memphis".