When this team was going through its growing pains, all focus seemed to be on Josh Perkins, but there probably wasn't a player who needed more time to settle his head than Silas Melson. The sophomore guard hadn't exactly taken any growth and was drowning on the court, at one point missing 16 consecutive field goal attempts over the course of four games.
Coach Mark Few inserting Bryan Alberts into the starting lineup and making Melson the second guard to come off the bench was the smartest bit of player management we've seen all season. It was quite clear that Melson needed some time to settle into his role and that the trial by fire wasn't working.
Grade: D+/C- as of late
So, grade wise in mind, we are trying to be objective here. The easy idea is to say that Melson has flunked out this first semester, and to a certain extent, the stats agree with that.
Melson averages 6.8 points off of an abysmal 33.3 percent shooting. Worst of all, he does this while still taking an absurd amount of bad shots. There are only 35 players in college hoops that take as many field goal attempts as Melson and shoot the ball at a lower rate (a statistic in itself that seems shocking).
It is pretty easy to see why Melson has struggled here. He has some Kobe-esque tendencies that have apparently needed to bleed out of his system. His shot selection leaves quite to be desired, and generally speaking, when this is what you are throwing up, it is going to clang out.
In that example against Saint Martins, Melson calmly brings the ball up the floor following a defensive rebound. Rather than starting the half-court offense, Melson squares up and takes a long jumper with a hand in his face the entire time and 23 seconds left on the shot clock. In the world of a successful offense, that should never happen.
There are signs that Melson is breaking out of his shooting slump, however. Since breaking his 0-for-16 slump against Saint Martin's, he is shooting 42.9 percent. Much of this is because he is now taking good, high-percentage shots.
In this example, Pepperdine's game plan knows that Gonzaga is going to try and feed the ball down low, and they are eyeing an easy double team on him. Rather than force it into the post, Kyle Wiltjer sends it across the court to Melson, who squares up and hits the open three-pointer.
We have seen more of these open and good field goal attempts from Melson. There is nothing to suggest that he still won't uncork a couple of real wincers, but it looks like Melson has been in the right head space as of late.
And way back up there, we said we were being objective, right? Part of the reason you can't give Melson a failing grade is that his defense has been legitimately good. He still has a tendency to get beat off the dribble at times, or leave his feet and foul the three point shooter. But Melson is one of the more tenacious defenders the Zags have at guard. Melson has the seventh-highest defensive rating in the WCC and the eighth-highest steal percentage. Even amongst all of his offensive struggles, he remained relevant in the rotation because of his aggressiveness on defense.
For Gonzaga to truly round into form, they will need some of Melson's scoring ability. But until he can find it in a consistent way, the young player needs to do what he has been doing lately--knowing his role. We've heard Richard Fox repeat this mantra on local broadcasts consistently, and it is true. Melson just needs to put his head down, play good basketball, and let the open shots come to him. If he can do this, it'll go a long way to getting his confidence back, and that will go a long way to Gonzaga being a dangerous team.