Redshirt sophomore point guard, Josh Perkins, has started all but one game over the last season and a half. But, on a rather benign looking play in the first half against Saint Mary’s on Saturday night, Perkins came down on a fallaway jumper and immediately signaled to the bench that he needed to come out of the game. At the next dead ball, Perkins left the court and headed straight to the locker room with a trainer in tow. He didn’t return until after the start of the second half, but did finish the game.
Afterwards, Mark Few commented that Perkins’s back had been bothering him, and he tweaked it in the first half. Perkins himself said he just got a little back spasm, but that it loosened up in the second half which allowed him to return. Neither Few or Perkins seemed that concerned about it, which is a good thing. And I must stress that for now, this appears to be just a small blip on the radar.
However, soft tissue back issues can be worrisome as they tend to linger, and this could put the Zags in an interesting position should Perkins have to miss any extended period of time in the future.
The Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss combination has worked out better than expected this season, with both guards playing significant minutes together. The dual-point guard system has helped the Zags remain undefeated by flummoxing opposing teams who have to manage two guards that are equally adept at orchestrating Gonzaga’s offense, and breaking pressure defense.
Perkins, to his credit, has exhibited great maturity and growth as a player by making room for Williams-Goss at the cost of his own personal stats.
Should Perkins be forced to miss any time, Mark Few has some interesting decisions to make. Over the last two seasons, Few has shown a preference for playing with a tighter rotation of no more than eight players. In the 2015-16 campaign, this was out of necessity as the Zags simply didn’t have the depth to merit an expanded rotation. However, this season that doesn’t seem to be the case, yet Few has continued with this approach.
Silas Melson has proven to be a valuable member of the rotation, and he could pick up Perkins’ minutes without missing a beat. But, what to do about the first guard/wing off the bench role that he would vacate?
The natural inclination would be to bump up Bryan Alberts and/or Rui Hachimura to fill in the void. Despite the size and athleticism that both players could bring to the wing, I’m not sure Few is comfortable with playing either one of them extended minutes.
Last season, Alberts played 11.4mpg and at times showed flashes of the talent he possesses. But, his play was up and down and Few seemed to lose trust in him as his inconsistency persisted, and by the end of the year he was rooted to the bench. A bigger role hasn’t materialized for Alberts this season as he’s currently playing 6.7mpg, primarily in mop-up duty. While his 2PT% is up this year, his 3PT%—which was billed as his strength—is significantly down at 18.8%, albeit in a very limited sample size (3-16).
Hachimura, who energizes the crowd with his electrifying athleticism each time he sees the floor, has fans salivating at the prospect of the player he could become. However, he is not that player yet, and it’s clear from watching his cameos that his understanding of Gonzaga’s offensive and defensive systems is still a work in progress. Hachimura is a devastating weapon in the open court with a full head of steam. But, depending on him to contribute meaningful minutes as he continues to adapt to a significantly higher level of competition along with his English learning curve, would be a big ask from the coaching staff.
Coach Few could also try squeezing a third big man onto the floor when he needs to give one of the guards a break, with Killian Tillie or Johnathan Williams the best equipped to handle such an assignment. This would allow us to hearken back to the days of pondering whether the Zags could play three bigs together as he wondered at the start of last season. Both Tillie and Williams have put enough on tape that they pose threats as shooters, and therefore could still provide some spacing. However, both have limitations as ballhandlers, and both are drawn to playing in the paint which could find Gonzaga imbalanced in transition. As fun as it would be to pursue this thought exercise, at the end of the day I don’t think it’s in the cards.
Another option would be to pull Zach Norvell’s presumed redshirt, as this would be the best answer to filling in the wing void if Norvell’s knee is healthy. Norvell is extremely talented, and played high-level competition throughout his high school days in Chicago. I don’t have any doubts that he could slide into the rotation right now and pick up any slack. As Norvell hasn’t played at all this year beyond the exhibition game against West Georgia, it seems pretty evident that he is taking a redshirt. It would feel a little wasteful to burn that redshirt at this point in the season just to soak up some spot minutes if Perkins needs any time to get over the back spasms.
Jeremy Jones is another intriguing option, but we simply haven’t seen enough of him to determine how he would handle an expanded role at this point.
Gonzaga is entering a stretch of games (Santa Clara, Portland, USD, Pepperdine) where Mark Few would be best served to find some more minutes for Alberts, Hachimura, and Jones during meaningful parts of the game just to prepare in case he loses Perkins or another guard to injury.
The Bulldogs have been extremely fortunate with injuries so far this season, but it only takes the loss of one player to throw the rotation into chaos. Should the unfortunate happen, the Zags need to be prepared.