Depth has been the foundation of much of Gonzaga’s success over the last 18 years. For every Adam Morrison, Dan Dickau and Nigel Williams-Goss there has been a David Pendergraft, Mike Hart and Kyle Dranginis. Versatile workhorses who are just as comfortable playing five minutes as they are playing 25, and capable of guarding the post while bringing the ball up on the other end. Gonzaga not only lost starters Nigel Williams-Goss, Pryzemek Karnowski and Jordan Matthews last year, but saw the departure of 6th man Zach Collins and useful bench pieces in Bryan Alberts, Ryan Edwards and Dustin Triano. While Gonzaga’s depth will be tested in a major way heading into the 2017-2018 season, there is a lot of talent on the Gonzaga bench to get excited about.
The hardest part about highlighting key bench pieces for Gonzaga next season is that we don’t know which players will be in the starting five. While Jonathan Williams, Josh Perkins and Silas Melson seem to be virtual locks to start each game, any of the other starting spots are up for grabs. This post will highlight a few guys who may not start this season, but figure to contribute in a big way for the Zags as they look to keep their NCAA tournament streak alive once again.
There’s a very real chance Killian Tillie is a starter this season, either at the start of the year or by season’s end. However, the tentative guess is that redshirt freshmen Jacob Larsen will start at the five and senior leader Jonathan Williams will start at the four, leaving Tillie to fill the role most recently held by Zach Collins and Domantas Sabonis as the first big man off the bench. Tillie may not have the upside of either of those two, but his smooth outside shot and explosive athleticism should make him a dangerous threat off the bench. Tillie is a prototypical stretch big man, demonstrating range out to the three-point line and the ability to pass from the top of the key. What he lacks in strength down low he makes up for in jumping ability, likely spawned from his volleyball background. Expect to see a big growth in Tillie’s game this year, and don’t be surprised to see him playing big time minutes, potentially as a starter for this Gonzaga squad.
Another position battle appears to be brewing in Spokane, as many predict Zach Norvell will start in a three guard lineup alongside Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. However, sophomore Rui Hachimura presents a matchup nightmare at the three and I think he will ultimately win the starting job, pushing Norvell to the bench. Norvell was a 4* recruit out of Chicago and dazzled fans with an 18 point performance in a scrimmage game before redshirting last year. He brings versatility and scoring off the bench, having played both guard positions and being 6’5, plenty big enough to play the three if needed. He is a smooth scoring guard and will have no problem lighting up scoreboards in a Gonzaga uniform, possibly as soon as this season. Norvell is capable of thriving in a three guard starting lineup, but is also just as capable of being the go-to option on the second unit, if needed. Regardless, fans who have waited a year to see what Norvell can do needn’t wait much longer.
Kispert follows in the footsteps of Seattle-area Zags Steven Gray and Gary Bell, both of whom had very productive careers manning the wing in Spokane. Kispert, who was ranked as the 4th best high school basketball player in Washington, is 6’6 and capable of playing both the two and the three, making him a nightmare matchup for opposing teams. This is great news for the Zags, who have long been searching for a SF type after filling the roles recently with grad transfers Jordan Matthews and Byron Wesley. Kispert has a chance to step in and contribute immediately, creating matchup issues on the wing and bringing lights out shooting to a team that lost outside scoring in Matthews and to a lesser extent Bryan Alberts. The starting three will likely go to either Rui Hachimura or Zach Norvell, but expect to see Kispert get plenty of minutes at that spot regardless of who starts.
It is easy to forget about Wade, since he committed to the school eons ago. But now that he has his mission out of the way, the sharpshooter from Utah is bound to gather some minutes on the floor, helping out Josh Perkins at point guard. On a team of prolific shooters, Wade might be one of the best marksmen, and it will be interesting to see how many minutes Few grants him as the season goes on.
Losing four big players always tests the depth, but all signs point to the Zags being ready to roll with the new wave of talent in 2017-2018. Regardless of who starts, this team will present matchup issues for nearly everyone they face, and should not have any problem putting up points in a hurry.