The Gonzaga Bulldogs head into the new campaign needing to replace four of their top five scorers from last season. This isn’t uncharted territory for the Zags. Last year at this time we were talking about how 70% of the scoring output had walked out the door. This season, that number is down slightly to 65.4%, and really more like 60% (49.6ppg) when only accounting for the rotation players who departed.
Still, the question remains, who will Gonzaga turn to in order to make up that production?
Gonzaga averaged 82.6ppg last season which was a program record. Over the last three seasons, which ended with no worse than a Sweet 16 appearance, Gonzaga has averaged 80ppg so let’s use that as the benchmark for where we want the offense to be in terms of raw production.
After relying heavily on Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis to carry the offense in 2015-16, Gonzaga was much more balanced last year with five players averaging double digit scoring. For the majority of the season, Gonzaga’s offense ranked inside the Top 10 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency rating (it dropped out during the NCAA Tournament), and teams were forced to pick their poison defending its inside-out attack.
When looking at this year’s roster, we should see another balanced attack with contributions up and down the lineup. However, don’t expect things to come as easy for the Zags on offense (there’s really no where to go but down after all). Mark Few will need to adjust the offense to better suit the skillsets of Killian Tillie and Johnathan Williams, who can post up, but shouldn’t be asked to do so as frequently as a Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins, or Domantas Sabonis as they are much better facing up.
Williams should, and is expected to, build off his 10.2ppg debut season and lead the team in scoring. Few has already dubbed Williams as the team’s best defender, but he’ll need to be its best player on both ends of the floor if Gonzaga is to hold off Saint Mary’s and get out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. In my estimation, Williams will need to raise his average to around 15-16ppg to keep the train on the tracks. He won’t have Karnowski around anymore to draw double teams and create easy buckets for him, but Williams will have plenty of opportunities to increase his scoring output now that he’s the headliner in the frontcourt.
Behind Williams, I’m expecting a nice bump from Silas Melson (7.2ppg last year) who will finally be a full-time starter this season after dutifully serving in a role as a wing-stopper off the bench. Melson’s Per 40 Minutes average last year was 12.0ppg, and I suspect he can get to 11ppg this year with more touches available for him in the offense. The easiest way he could help himself is using his athletic ability to draw more fouls and get to the free throw line. Melson only averaged 1.3 free throw attempts per game last season, but shot 84% from the line when he was there. Finding a way to earn two more trips to the line per game would be a big boon to the offense.
Josh Perkins started last season as a deadly threat from the arc, but fizzled out after the non-conference schedule and his confidence appeared to wane. While Perkins finished the year shooting a respectable 39.9% from the arc, he only scored 8.1ppg despite playing the second most minutes behind only Nigel Williams-Goss. Perkins’ primary duty will be to keep the offense running smoothly, but he’ll also need to raise his average a few ticks to about 12ppg. He only took 18.5% of his shots at the rim last season, and on those attempts he shot 53.5% (not good). Improving his finishing at the rim will help improve his efficiency over the course of the season, and in turn help the Zags come up with much needed production.
The two big jumps in production I’m expecting are from Killian Tillie (4.2ppg) and Zach Norvell (redshirt). Tillie was a do-everything player for Mark Few last season, but he wasn’t asked to do much scoring. That doesn’t mean he can’t. He has a reliable stroke out to the 3-point line, and he can manufacture scoring opportunities in the paint by sheer force of will and hustle. After playing only 12mpg last year, he should more than double his time on the floor this season. His Per 40 average last season was 13.7ppg, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect him to score around 11ppg this season in a significantly expanded role.
Zach Norvell could very well be the second-leading scorer on the team as a redshirt freshman. He exhibited an ability to be a dynamic scorer throughout his high school career facing top competition in the Chicago Public League. Now, after a year spent getting his knee healthy, developing his game, and improving his conditioning, Norvell has the makings of a breakout player. I’ve previously suggested the idea of putting Norvell in the super 6th man role so he can balance the scoring between the starters and bench, but I expect Norvell to win the last starting job. Either way, he’ll become a reliable go-to scorer and averaging 12-13ppg is not out of the question for him.
Rui Hachimura has received a lot of the hype this offseason, and rightfully so. He’s a rare talent that has all the tools to be a superstar. However, I’ll fall in line with Tommy Floyd who has stated that Rui is probably still a year away from truly breaking out. For now, I think he’ll carve out a solid role without being asked to do too much and 7-8ppg seems realistic for him (hopefully with most of those points coming on monster dunks). The remainder of our targeted 80 points should be filled in by Larsen, Kispert, Jeremy Jones, and Jesse Wade. If it all works out as hoped, the scoring averages at the end of the year should look something like this:
17-18 Projected Scoring
Remember that these are just projections of how we ideally would like the production to manifest, rather than predictions. The defense’s effectiveness will of course be a huge key to the team’s success, but if we see efficient offensive production as broken down above, Gonzaga should be in for another good year.