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Expect big things from Josh Perkins

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The Gonzaga point guard showed his improvement last season, but the real question is whether or not anyone paid attention.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Gonzaga David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

There are rarely such things as “hated” players in the realm of Gonzaga. But without a doubt, if anyone was able to achieve such lofty rankings, it was Gonzaga’s point guard Josh Perkins.

And to a certain extent, sometimes it was rightfully so. Perkins always seemed to be making a pass that was too flashy. His shot wasn’t good enough. On a team that was needing to replace the likes of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., and on a team that was suddenly struggling when no one expected them to struggle, people need a lightning rod for that anger. That rod was Perkins.

People complained of turnovers as if Perkins led the entire nation in them. Last season, he was one of 347 college players to average at least 30 minutes per game and turn the ball over twice per game. People liked to harp that turnover fact because Pangos rarely turned the ball over, especially his senior year. But in doing so, people weren’t even giving Perkins the benefit of the doubt—namely that he as in his freshman year.

Or did you forget that this happened.

perkinsfacesmashed

After perkinsfacesmashed.gif, he didn’t practice, for a long time. He kept his jaw wired shut and consumed liquids for sustenance. So last season, whether you’d like to admit it or not, it really was Perkins’ freshman year campaign.

He was tasked with leading a team that lost its starting center to injury. He was tasked with leading a team whose bench was three seats long at its deepest point. He was tasked with leading a backcourt that was completely unproven and not Pangos and Bell. The Zags coaching staff called on Perkins to do a lot, and, lets be frank, many times last season he couldn’t deliver. In no ways does that make him a lost cause, however.

With the addition of Nigel Williams-Goss to the roster, Perkins can finally take some time to develop. Let us not overestimate how important this was, especially last season. The Zags just flat out had no other options in the backcourt, especially when the rest struggled, as it tended to virtually every game. Perkins doesn’t have to sit in the game making the same mistakes over and over again this season. He can be punished for his mistakes, he can learn from his mistakes. Most of all, he can have a proven player to assist him in the backcourt.

Perkins best games came when he didn’t have to shoulder the burden of scoring, which seemed to happen too many times last season. For all of the talk of how Perkins is too flashy of a passer, at the same time, he is still pretty good at finding the man he needs. He averaged 4.1 assists per game last season, which is better than Pangos freshman through junior years.

Most of all, when you look at Perkins’ numbers, you have to look at them through two different lenses. There aren’t too many arguments in support of his first-half of play. But when the Zags hit conference play, there was a stark and noticeable improvement across the board for the Gonzaga point guard. It isn’t like he accidentally fell onto the WCC All-Freshmen team for no reason.

One of the key aspects of Perkins game to watch will be his outside shooting. He hit 46.3 percent of his three-point shots in conference play last season, and the Zags will need him to develop into a consistent sharpshooter from afar. Jordan Mathews is a career 41.6 percent three-point shooter, and he will be able to help carry that load. Nigel Williams-Goss, unless big developments were made in his redshirt year, is not a good three-point shooter, with a career mark of 30.7 percent (25.6 percent in the 2014-15 season). The Zags lost their biggest outside shooter in Kyle Wiltjer last season, and Perkins will be relied upon to keep opposing defenses honest. It is a rather simple defensive scheme to adapt to if your opponent can’t hit outside shots, and that situation presented itself way too often last season.

The beginnings of Perkins long road to redemption started to show itself in the second half of last season. There has never been anything to suggest he doesn’t have a tireless work ethic. Considering that his responsibilities and load to carry on the team will be much less, Perkins should be able to take the necessary steps this season to set himself up for a stellar junior and senior year at Gonzaga.