Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Zags will lean on a dependable transfer early and often this upcoming season.
It is not often that a school off of Tobacco Road or away from Lawrence or Lexington can replace a lottery pick immediately, let alone a guy that averaged a double-double. But Gonzaga will have redshirt Junior Johnathan Williams playing major minutes in the front court, reprising the role of “transfer stud” that had previously been filled by guys like Kyle Wiltjer and Byron Wesley.
And it’s instances like Wiltjer’s in particular that ultimately won Williams for the Zags, as he cited the staff’s work on Wiltjer and Olynyk’s games during their redshirt seasons as a huge opportunity for him when looking for a new home. The 6’9 forward chose Gonzaga over the likes of a Larry Brown-coached SMU, Georgetown and Kansas. Even Michigan State was vying for a visit and open scholarship.
What makes Williams so special is how battle tested he is. He averaged 27.8 minutes per game and was a standout on the struggling Missouri Tigers in both of his first two seasons. He is the athletic big that Gonzaga normally hasn’t had in their dominant run. Williams will likely play the power forward and a bit of the center role during smaller units, but he is also adept and agile enough to go out and guard the wings.
Williams’ bread-and-butter is his interior play. He led the Tigers in rebounding (6.5) as a freshman, and again as a sophomore (7.1). He also led the team in scoring his second year (11.9 points per game), though seemed to struggle a bit offensively in SEC conference play as a power forward (averaging 10.1 points per game).
The lefty looked to improve his offense during his redshirt season, as he has room to improve his 41% field goal percentage from his sophomore campaign. Williams is also capable of pulling up from behind the arc, something that could cause great mismatches against bigs throughout the season and especially in conference play.
It’s difficult to really know the jump Williams has made in his play so far, considering that he had a partial meniscus tear throughout most of his sophomore season. He is also joining an incredibly different team than the then 9-23 Tigers he led. Without question having another big inside like Pzemek Karnowski or Zach Collins will do the versatile stretch four some favors on both ends.
You could see a lot of Williams’ offensive difficulties came with defenses swarming him, as he was the only real threat in a struggling Mizzou offense. As a somewhat undersized power forward, Williams would rely heavily on his jump shot, but would makes teams pay when he was able to face-up the basket and shoot over his defender or find a lane to get passed them. This could happen easily and often for him in Mark Few’s stretched out offense, and the uptempo play Gonzaga has really become adept at.
The Jacob Larsen injury is upsetting for front court depth but also for the potential of Williams playing some time at the small forward position. Williams is a capable perimeter shooter (34.7% while at Mizzou), and could cause havoc with defenses using switches by picking apart their prevention of drives or overeager perimeter pursuits.
Overall, much of Gonzaga’s identity is up in the air for 2016-2017 and Williams’ is no different. At minimum you are looking at a solid glue guy that will fight on the glass, play a high-level of defense and surprise people with his next level athleticism. We could also be looking at a developed offensive option that will live up to his potential as an in-and-out player that made him a top 100 recruit by ESPN (55) and Rivals (47). Regardless, the Zags are lucky to have a capable big and reload rather than rebuild.