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Gonzaga Mailbag: NBA Zags, freshman Zags, and plenty more

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Which Gonzaga grad is poised for a breakout this year in the NBA, and which current Zag is flying under the radar.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Farleigh Dickinson vs Gonzaga Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the first Slipper Still Fits mailbag of the season, which is already a bit outdated since it has been announced that Oumar Ballo will be redshirting. Alas, we try our best to answer a few of the other relevant questions out there.

Who is most likely to redshirt: Zakharov or Arlauskas?

Steven: I’m still not convinced anyone redshirts, but if somebody does, it’ll be Arlauskas. He’s still incredibly raw, especially offensively, and getting used to playing within Gonzaga’s system. He can hold his own on the defensive end, for the most part, and Mark Few has praised him for being sneaky athletic, but his offensive skills need a lot of polishing before he can contribute. And now that Oumar Ballo can’t play this season because of academic paperwork, and Killian Tillie isn’t fully healthy yet, they will need minutes from Pavel.

Arden: I’ll go with Pavel Zakharov. The Gonzaga frontcourt has a lot more depth to it compared to the backcourt and it’s hard to picture the Russian native getting much time on the court this season (maybe in the beginning of the season if Tillie isn’t back by then). Another year of developing his body and working on his offensive skill set would be a good decision for the Montverde Academy alum (the same high school that Filip Petrusev attended). We don’t exactly know what the backup guard rotation looks like yet so there’s a slight chance Martynas Arlauskas could get thrown in there at times.

Agedude: I don’t think anyone redshirts, considering the lack of backcourt depth, Ballo’s questionable status and the uncertainty always surrounding Tillie. If I had to choose, it would be Arlauskas. He’s coming off an injury and could use the year to return to full speed. I also think he’s 3rd on the depth chart at wing, Watson’s natural position. I’m not entirely sure Zakharov isn’t in a nine-man rotation at least in the first half of the year.

Keith: Arlauskas is more likely between the two options here, but I would put the likelihood of either one of them redshirting at less than 50%. With the way Gonzaga recruits these days, there’s really no need to redshirt anyone unless the athlete wants to do it (see Norvell, Zach). Few prefers the seven or eight man rotation, but there is value in having both Arlauskas and Zakharov available in a pinch if any unexpected injuries arise.

Peter: I think that Arlauskas will red shirt if anyone does. Considering the injury to Killian Tillie (and his constantly lurking injury concerns), I think that Zakharov will be a necessity going forward. With Kispert taking a lion’s share of the minutes at the wing, and Watson there to back him up, I’m not sure we need Arlauskas right off the bat. That said, red shirting is also something that happens after the season is done. If at any point Arlauskas is what it takes to get over any hump this season, you slot him in no matter what.

Excluding seniors, who do you think is most likely to depart early for the NBA?

Steven: Assuming he has even an above-average season, Filip Petrusev should be gone after this year. Gonzaga is at a point where they are basically recruiting and developing 2-3 year bigs. Petrusev tested the waters last year, and scouts are already very high on his body and skill set for the 2020 draft. If he proves he can defend and rebound at a higher level than last season, he can be a first-round pick next spring. If you want one of my bold predictions for the season, I believe that Petrusev will actually lead the team in points per game.

Arden: It has to be Filip Petrusev. He’s already seen what it takes to be an NBA player as he tested the NBA Draft process last year and scouts liked what they saw from 6’10” mobile big man. His all-around offensive game is what those at the next level like most about him. If he can become more physical and work on his speed/agility this season, a lot of NBA teams are going want a piece of this guy in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Agedude: Filip should be gone. He’s developed an NBA body and he won the skills competition (great for the combine). If he demonstrates a consistent three-point shot and plays any sort of reasonable defense, his post-game and passing are already developed enough for the next level.

Keith: Petrusev is definitely the most likely candidate, but I’ll throw Anton Watson’s name out there as an alternative. Watson won’t get enough usage to put up the eye-popping numbers that will catch the national media’s attention early, but I can envision a scenario where his star rises throughout the season and culminates in a strong tournament showing in March a la Zach Collins. Watson is a phenomenal athlete, which is the first and most important trait that NBA scouts evaluate. I expect him to demonstrate quick growth throughout the season under the tutelage of the coaching staff, and he won’t need to average 18-20 ppg to be a viable draft candidate. If he can prove that he can rebound and defend right away at the NBA level, while projecting to be a good scorer, he’ll receive a draftable grade in 2020. I could see him being Gonzaga’s next one-and-done, though I think it’s more likely that he’s a two-year player.

Peter: I’ll throw my name in the ring for the Petrusev love. He showcased some nice potential last season, and this year, he is going to get a lot of the offense in the paint. Everyone is big on all of the recruits and obviously Killian Tillie is a force to behold (when working), but Petrusev could be the most consistent scoring option on the squad day in and day out.

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary’s at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Which freshman do you think will have the largest impact?

Steven: It’s a toss-up between Watson and Timme. They both bring something to the table. Watson brings rebounding, versatility, and elite athleticism. Timme brings toughness and a strong post presence. “Impact” can mean a lot of things and I think each guy will impact several games in different ways.

Arden: Drew Timme. He’s a smooth operator in transition which you love to see from a 6’10” forward. He’s extremely patient on offense and already has a mature style of play. What I love most about him are his skilled footwork and solid post game. He will step right into the rotation and be an immediate contributor.

Agedude: I think Watson. His athleticism and physicality will give him the edge defensively and he has the versatility to play both three and four. With the thin backcourt, I see time Kispert plays two and Watson gets minutes at the three. He could even stay in the game if Tillie sits and Timme comes in for Petrusev. If any freshman has the potential for one and done, it’s Watson.

Keith: I love the competitive spirit that Drew Timme plays with, and I think that will have an underrated but significant impact on this roster even though he’s only a freshman. He doesn’t have Tillie’s experience, but Timme is a very skilled big in his own right. He will serve as a capable fill-in if Tillie has to miss any games, while still being able to hold down a spot in the rotation otherwise, so I’ll give him the edge over Watson in terms of largest impact even though Watson is a tantalizing prospect as well (see my comments above).

Peter: I’m going to go with Watson because I think that Timme’s style of play is rather similar to a few other players on the Gonzaga roster. He is going to be really good but I’m not sure how much his stats will stand out. If Watson is getting minutes at the three as well, he can carve himself out a nice bench role for Corey Kispert. In terms of just straight up athleticism, Watson has it over Timme,

If you could have had any Gonzaga player who left early come back to finish their college career, but it had to be during the years they were eligible and not this year, who would you choose?

Steven: Nigel Williams-Goss coming back for his senior year would have made the 2017-18 teams one of the best in the country. Starting NWG with Perkins and Norvell with Melson and Kispert coming off the bench would have been pretty damn good. Add J3, Tillie, and Rui, and that team could have won it all (though I’m not sure anyone beats that Villanova team). That GU team desperately needed another guard and, more importantly, they needed depth - something that really showed up when Tillie got hurt and they could only play six players against Florida State.

Arden: The leftie Lithuanian, Domas Sabonis. Just picture having him on the 2017 National Championship runner-up team. NWG, Josh Perkins, Jordan Mathews, Sabonis, JW3, Przemek Karnowski, Silas Melson, Killian Tillie, Zach Collins. Five NBA players right there (I’m counting Williams and Tillie). That’s a lot of talent in Mark Few’s arsenal. The 2016-2017 season might have ended a bit differently.

Agedude: Adam Morrison. The guy was such a phenomenal college scorer and did it during a time when he didn’t have much help besides Batista and Ravio. Opponents knew he was going to carry the load and they still couldn’t slow him down. Put him on a team with four other quality starters and a good bench and I think he could put up Pistol Pete numbers.

Keith: Gonzaga wins a national championship in 2017 if Domantas Sabonis is on that team. That frontcourt would have been absurd...I’m having unpure thoughts just thinking about it. Since the prompt suggests that the player remains at Gonzaga until their eligibility is exhausted, having a senior year Sabonis on the 2017-18 is an interesting thought exercise as well, though I agree with Steven’s point that another guard was needed on that team. If Zach Collins stayed for an additional three years, and teamed up with Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura, I have to imagine that Gonzaga would have made at least another Final Four appearance.

Peter: It is so hard not to just drool at the thought of what if with Nigel Williams-Goss. I’m still not sure that NWG means the Zags beat Florida State in the NCAA Tournament, but pairing a player of his caliber with a sophomore year Rui Hachimura and one more year of Johnathan Williams would have been fascinating to watch. It goes to show how interesting NWG’s legacy is with Gonzaga. He came and he conquered. It is too bad he didn’t commit to Gonzaga over UW in the first place.

Who is someone we haven’t been paying enough attention to that will have a significant impact this season?

Steven: Not sure if “paying attention” is the right wording, but I’m not sure fans understand how good Admon Gilder is. He was a legit NBA prospect after his junior season before his blood clot issue. He played in an extremely similar offense at Texas A&M with Tyler Davis and Robert Williams when they went to the Sweet 16. He’s incredibly strong, a fantastic defender, a quality shooter, and can play both guard spots. He should lead the team in minutes. It’s hard for anyone to have the one-year impact that Nigel had on this program, but Gilder is built in that exact same mold and it would not shock me if he became a Gonzaga legend by leading this team to a deep run.

Arden: I’ve heard a lot of negativity about Gonzaga’s backcourt this offseason and the lack of talent at the point guard spot. They’re wrong. Ryan Woolridge is going to be the man. He’s an extremely versatile player and he’s going to make everyone around him a lot better. If he becomes a more consistent three-point shooter, watch out.

Agedude: I agree with Arden about Woolridge raising the level of his game to meet that of his teammates, but I think Pavel Zakharov might be a surprise. If Watson plays a lot of 3, I could see him and Timme subbing for Tillie and Petrusev.

Keith: Joel Ayayi is ready.

Peter: There are a lot of people on Team Joel Ayayi and there are a lot of fans who forget that he even has a jersey number, understandably so. Ayayi arrived at Gonzaga very young, and it took some time for him to grow into his body and his talent. His games during the FIBA World Cup this summer showed he is ready to step into a role with this squad. We will see a lot of Woolridge and Gilder in the backcourt, but Ayayi is going to get a lot of us excited for the future.

I don’t know if you’re specifically looking for questions about this year’s team, but if not: Which Gonzaga alum do you think will have the best season in the NBA? Of all of the current Zags on an NBA roster, who do you think has the biggest potential for a great career?

Steven: Domas Sabonis might be the most underrated player in the NBA. He finished second in the sixth man of the year voting last year and just signed a monster deal to stay in Indiana. They utilize his strengths within their system and he thrives. There’s going to be a season where he averages a double-double and this may be the one.

Arden: Rui Hachimura is going to have a breakout season in the nation’s capital. With John Wall out for the season, Bradley Beal is going to be the guy for the Wizards. Who’s going to be his #2? The most popular man in Japan right now, that’s who. It’s Rui’s world and we’re just living in it.

Domas Sabonis will have a better overall career though. He’s already off to a hot start with Indiana after he got paid the big bucks. If the trio of Victor Oladipo, Sabonis, and Myles Turner can stick together and grow, the Pacers could own the Eastern Conference down the road.

Agedude: Ja Morant is going to fall in love with Brandon Clarke and get him the ball whenever possible. He’ll have the best season. Domas will play at a high level for a dozen years.

Keith: I’m apathetic about the NBA but I have to imagine that Sabonis is going to have the best season amongst the GU alums simply by virtue of where he’s at in his development curve relative to the other Zags in the league. Brandon Clarke will land on the most highlight reels though.

Peter: I think it is Domas, solely because he is being utilized perfectly at Indiana. I’m not sure he will have a better year than last year, but second place in the 6th Man of the Year Award isn’t too shabby in the NBA. Last season showcased what we all knew he was capable of, he just needed to find the right system to work in. His career stats should have an asterisk next to it for his rookie year with the tag: “Billy Donovan is an idiot coach.”

Who takes the last shot?

Steven: Gilder.

Arden: Three seconds on the clock. Woolridge will take the ball out. He swings it over to Gilder. Gilder finds Kispert in the corner… GOOD! IT’S GOOD!

Agedude: Don’t be silly, it’s Tillie.

Keith: Timme will take the last (and unnecessary) shot in a blowout win and Mark Few will not be happy about it. If someone has to take a game winning shot this season, my eyes will be closed anyway so I couldn’t tell you.

Peter: No need. This team wins every game by 20 (or loses games by 10).