Nigel Williams-Goss landed at Gonzaga as a premier Pac-12 guard with two strong seasons at Washington and a McDonald’s All-American on his resume. His name was included in NBA draft conversations and reasonably so as he had legitimate credentials. But despite all that, is it possible he was underrated?
After sitting out a year, part of which he spent rehabbing an ankle injury preventing him from developing his game further, Williams-Goss has emerged as Gonzaga’s closer, and as a better player than many fans might have expected.
Williams-Goss played big minutes at Washington and put up big numbers, but lost in the dysfunction (Romar’s characterization, not mine) of that listless program is all of the little things Williams-Goss brings to the table that can push a good team over the top. When losses pile up, things like basketball IQ, court vision, and poise get missed. But those are the special traits Williams-Goss carries, and they’ve helped propel Gonzaga to the program’s best ever start.
It takes a mature player to know when to play aggressively, and when to scale back. To know how to set teammates up for success, and understand when it’s time to put the team on your back. For all the hype that surrounded Markelle Fultz when the Huskies came to town to renew a rivalry and face off against their old floor general, it was the experienced Williams-Goss who demonstrated to a national audience what a complete point guard looks like.
Williams-Goss is leading a very balanced Gonzaga team in scoring (14.0ppg), assists (4.8apg), steals (tied at 1.5spg), and free throw percentage (88.1%). He’s also second on the team in rebounding (5.7rpg) and offensive rating (119.2, but I see you Ryan Edwards, the king of small sample size island). A casual observer would look at Williams-Goss’s scoring output and note that it was down from his sophomore campaign at UW, but his shooting percentages are up across the board as he’s shown he can be a more efficient player when freed from the burden of keeping a mediocre team afloat.
And, we haven’t even gotten into the benefit his presence has had on Josh Perkins who would probably be the first to admit that sharing the backcourt and point guard duties with Williams-Goss has been a boon to his development. Opposing defenses have a harder time shutting down an offense when there are two capable point guards on the floor that are equally skilled at breaking the press, getting to the rim, or playing off the ball and spotting up.
Perhaps most significantly, Williams-Goss has seized the closer role that was missing from last season’s Sweet 16 squad. Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis will be remembered as two of the best players to have ever put on a Gonzaga jersey, but their games weren’t built to break down a defender in isolation, and they had to rely on good service from the guards. Several times this season—Iowa State, Arizona, Tennessee immediately come to mind—Williams-Goss has answered the bell in crunch time. Whether it be a big bucket or making the right pass, he’s made a big play on multiple occasions to help seal a victory for the Zags.
Healthy relationships are a two-way street, and it’s safe to say that the union of Williams-Goss and Gonzaga has been mutually beneficial. He was refreshingly candid in his reasons for leaving UW for Gonzaga, stating he wanted to be in an environment that focused on developing and winning. It’s evident he made the right choice as he’s a better player than he was when he left UW, and is on his way to his first tournament berth. Gonzaga got the missing piece of its puzzle who is the type of player you want with the ball in his hand at the end of the game.
All of this is to say that Nigel Williams-Goss has been better than fans could have hoped for since he announced he was trading in Seattle for Spokane. And for that, we have to give him our highest grade.