Somehow Zach Norvell is the best kept secret of newcomers on this Gonzaga roster. Some could see a dynamic shooter and scorer as a surplus in a log-jammed backcourt. But Norvell could be the cake—not the frosting—of this packed 2016 freshman class.
Norvell has exactly what you want from a shooting guard, with classic physical gifts of length and size. He has the offensive skill set to take over games, with the bonus of a Chicago guard mentality.
The lefty may also have been the best shooter in the country last year. There is that notorious highlight reel of him dropping 53 points off of 14 three pointers in front of fellow Simeon alum Jabari Parker in the AAU circuit. Norvell was an integral part of Simeon Academy’s team the last two seasons, and averaged 18 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists last year while leading the Wolverines to a city title.
Norvell is capable of working off rebounds, which often would lead to dynamic fast break plays. With a prototypical size for a shooting guard, Norvell will be able to bully many in-league opponents who try conventional wisdom when guarding him.
Norvell has work to do in the half court offense, but is an ideal weapon for a system with movement like Coach Mark Few’s. Norvell also has potential on defense, with his large wingspan, making him potentially an incredibly special player.
Norvell is a guard that Gonzaga is not all too familiar with. Coming in at 6-foot-5-inches, Norvell is by far one of the tallest guards recruited by Gonzaga. When he committed last year, many thought the Windy City native would push for minutes early.
That was before Jordan Mathew’s transfer, who gave the Zags a perimeter shooter with the added bonus of experience. All of a sudden Norvell is looking at taking on a depth chart of three guys with a couple years within a Few system in Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Bryan Alberts; former McDonald’s All-American Nigel Williams-Goss and fifth year senior Jordan Mathews in search of minutes. Not an easy task for any freshman.
Then there is the rehabilitation timeline. Norvell is coming back from meniscus surgery three months back, which has complicated his progression in fall practices. Depth is always a concern for a college team, and that can’t be proven any more obviously than Gonzaga’s 2014-15 season which saw Perkins and Melson swap red shirt claims.
Norvell by all accounts looked phenomenal in summer workouts and would be a welcome addition as a shooter, scorer and lengthy body to play the perimeter. You just can’t teach his natural ability on offense. But the freshman is also missing crucial work while recovering from his nagging knee injury.
A red shirt season would not be the end of the world for him or this Gonzaga team, as there is a clearer path for major minutes in the 2017-2018 season. Norvell would likely be the team’s top perimeter shooter. Ultimately, his decision and medical recovery is one of many questions this Zags team face that only time will answer.
What is known is that Norvell is a special player. And that the questions circulating around him are “when” not “if.”