Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins both had great seasons for Gonzaga, and with notable performances throughout the NCAA Tournament, both players now face the decision whether they should strike while the iron is hot and parlay that success into a professional career next season.
Gonzaga fans have known for some time now that the day would come when we would have to face this situation. With the season now officially over, that day is here.
With the NCAA and NBA’s recently amended early entrant rules, it’s a given that Williams-Goss, Collins, and perhaps even Johnathan Williams will enter their names into the draft pool to “test the waters.” If you don't recall exactly what changed in the rules, allow me to refresh your memory.
The old rules allowed for college players to declare for the NBA Draft and then return to school, so long as they didn't hire an agent. This is still the case now. However, the NCAA used to require players to make the decision to return by mid-April, which is before the NBA hosted its Draft Combine. Thus, while players could announce their draft eligibility, they didn't have a complete evaluation of how NBA teams viewed them before deciding to return to school or not. This clearly left players in a difficult position, as they had to make a significant life choice without the requisite information to make an educated decision.
The new rule passed by the NCAA in January 2016 extended the deadline for underclassmen to decide on returning to school or forfeiting their remaining eligibility. Now, draft hopefuls can make their decision 10 days following the conclusion of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. This year, the Combine runs from May 9-14, so college players will have until May 24 to decide whether to remain in the draft or return to school, provided they haven't hired an agent and still have eligibility. College players must announce their intent to enter the draft process by April 23.
The key thing to watch for is whether the players who declare for the draft sign with an agent, as that would terminate their remaining college eligibility and cement their place in the draft pool.
As mentioned above, I fully expect Williams-Goss, Collins, and maybe Williams to at least go through the process since there is absolutely no downside to them and they can, at a minimum, get feedback from scouts on what they need to improve in their respective games. Of the three, I think it’s a very safe bet that Williams will return for his senior season as I haven’t seen his name mentioned in any draft buzz.
Williams-Goss and Collins, on the other hand, are likelier candidates to depart.
Collins was never expected to stay at Gonzaga for all four years, and my belief was that he would follow the Domantas Sabonis path and leave for the NBA after his sophomore year. However, as the season progressed, Collins worked his way up NBA draft boards, and is now being projected as high as #11 in Chad Ford’s most recent mock draft. While these draft boards aren’t those of NBA teams themselves, they do reflect the rising stock of Collins in the eyes of talent evaluators around the country.
If Collins gets feedback from scouts and NBA front office types that he has a good chance to be a lottery pick (Top 14 pick), it would be extremely hard to turn that down and I suspect he would remain in the draft. Collins has all the physical tools to be a really good NBA player, doesn’t have an injury history, and possesses a polished post game that is quite advanced for his age. The biggest reason for a Collins return would be to improve his strength and get more reps using his jump shot in his repertoire to demonstrate his stretch-4/5 capabilities so he could secure a Top-5 or Top-10 selection in the 2018 draft (a good class in its own right, but not as stacked as the 2017 class), which would mean a higher starting salary.
Below is a projection of the 2017 and 2018 first year salaries for NBA rookies by draft slot per Real GM, to help visualize the potential differences in earning capacity.
NBA Rookie Salary Slots
|Pick||2017 1st year salary||2018 1st year salary|
|Pick||2017 1st year salary||2018 1st year salary|
Williams-Goss is in a different position than his younger teammate. He has good size for the point guard position, and demonstrated he can play a complete game orchestrating an offense, scoring on the perimeter or in the post, grabbing rebounds, and defending. Those traits, coupled with his maturity, undeniable leadership ability, and basketball IQ all make him a coach’s dream and a terrific player to have on your team.
However, the one trait he lacks—elite explosive athleticism that most modern NBA guards possess—is the one trait that NBA GM’s and scouts value most, especially at his position. This significantly suppresses his draft prospects leading to his current projection as a second-rounder or undrafted on most draft outlets. Working against him also is his age (will be 23 in September), as he’s closer to his ceiling than his raw but uber-athletic counterparts like De’aaron Fox, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith, and Markelle Fultz.
All of this puts Williams-Goss in a tough spot, as his athleticism and age will work against him as much, if not more, in next year’s draft. He could return to Gonzaga for another shot at a national championship (though those chances are diminished if Collins leaves), mount another Wooden Award worthy campaign, and complete a very decorated collegiate career. But, this summer may also be his best chance to get drafted.
If Collins and Williams-Goss both end up leaving, you can’t blame them for seizing the opportunity to fulfill their lifelong dreams. Whatever ends up happening, there’s no doubt that Zag Nation should be supportive.
- April 23: Deadline for early entry eligibility
- May 9-14: NBA Draft Combine
- May 16: NBA Draft Lottery
- May 24: Deadline for early entrants to withdraw from NBA Draft
- June 22: NBA Draft