One of the big question marks heading into the season was just what we could expect from Bryan Alberts? The hype was on Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, justifiably so as the two more heralded recruits. But in the background, there was Alberts, the unassuming guard from Northridge, California.
The season started, and it seemed we knew what to expect from Alberts. He was the teams defacto three-point specialist, and would help stretch the defenses while Gonzaga pounded it down low to either Kyle Wiltjer, Przemek Karnowski, or Domantas Sabonis. Alberts, for his part, did the job nicely.
He finished with nine points in his first two games against Northern Arizona and Mount St. Mary's. He was shooting 6-of-10 from behind the arc. Things tapered off a bit against Washington because of foul trouble, but he still hit his three point shot, giving him 7-of-11 from three-point land.
Then, something happened. What happened, we will never know. Bryan Alberts disappeared from view, so did the outside shot, and struggles started to happen. After averaging 16 minutes per game in his first three contests, Alberts played a combined 18 minutes in the next five.
I don't want to say correspondingly so, because that places too much emphasis on Alberts' role within the team. He isn't the make or break player. But his role as the outside shooter greatly enhances Gonzaga's ability to break teams, and without him, Gonzaga struggled. From Texas A&M to Montana, and all the games between, Gonzaga players not named Kyle Wiltjer shot 17-of-46 from beyond the arc. Still, Alberts sat.
He had some defensive woes in his game and was beat off the dribble a few times. That might have quickened his step into the infamous Mark Few doghouse. But the confusing part about it all was that while Alberts was punished for his on court misdeeds, Few was whole-heartedly committed to letting Perkins and Melson play through theirs--to painful results.
With everything apparently having failed, Few finally went to Alberts against UCLA for the young guard's first set of meaningful minutes in nearly a month. Alberts responded with a heads up effort and came away with four rebounds. Few liked what he saw, and against the D-II Saint Martin's, Alberts got his first start, and he responded with 14 points, including 4-of-5 from outside.
It is for this reason, that outside reason, that Alberts deserves to be in the lineup more. Not necessarily the starting lineup, especially if Kyle Dranginis breaks out of his slump, but definitely meaningful minutes. In fact, until Melson can figure out how to take one good shot instead of three bad ones, the job of first guard off the bench should be Alberts' to lose.
With him in, Gonzaga has a legitimate outside threat lurking. That opens up the floor for Sabonis and Wiltjer to operate more cleanly inside. As we saw against Montana, teams were starting to flat out disrespect the Gonzaga guards ability to make shots--and rightfully so. Why bother getting in the face of someone shooting 31.3 percent (Perkins), 31.8 percent (McClellan), 28.6 percent (Dranginis) or 24.0 percent (Melson)? That just wastes energy.
There have been a lot of missing pieces from Gonzaga's puzzle this year. Three-point shooting just happens to be one of them. As a team, Gonzaga is hitting 33.5 percent of its threes, good for No. 193 in the nation. Take out Alberts and Wiltjer from that equation, and that number drops to just 28.3 percent, around No. 318 in the nation.
Gonzaga's back isn't up against the wall quite yet. There is still plenty of time for this team to gel, but Alberts, for now, has proven he deserves meaningful minutes on this team. At the moment, Gonzaga is better with him on the court, and should continue to play him until Alberts proves otherwise.