Rui Hachimura was the first—but expected—domino to fall as Gonzaga’s roster transition begins following the end of the college basketball season. We’ve also highlighted the decisions that Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie have to make over the next few days/weeks. They’re not the only ones, however, as Gonzaga’s absurd wealth of talent means that Zach Norvell Jr. may also be testing the NBA draft waters this spring as he weighs his future.
Norvell built on his freshman campaign with another strong season of production. He started the year off with a bang by putting together an excellent string of games throughout Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule. He was dominant in the wins against Texas A&M and Creighton (remember that crazy second half?), and he learned to be a little more judicious with his shot selection as the year progressed. Even when he was in a cold spell, Norvell never showed any fear, and he never saw a shot he wasn’t willing to take.
The most growth from him, however, might have come in the leadership department as he fully matured into a vital voice in the huddle.
As a freshman, Few called Norvell Gonzaga’s “spiritual leader,” citing his persona as a much-needed element in the locker room. It should have come at no surprise then that this past season, Josh Perkins called him the “emotional leader” and the group’s “glue guy off the court.” That’s significant coming from the senior floor general who has been at the helm of the program’s golden age. While Norvell plays with the grit and tenacity on the court you would expect from a Chicago-raised guard, Perkins identified him as the guy that kept the group loose and helped everyone maintain perspective during the grind of the season. And if you weren’t sure how invested Norvell was in Gonzaga and his teammates, go find the video of him walking off the floor following the Elite 8 loss to Texas Tech.
So why leave early?
As a third-year sophomore, Norvell likely feels that his birth year is going to start working against him with respect to his draft prospects and the eyes of projection-obsessed scouts.
NBA draftniks consistently place Norvell somewhere in the second round, so there is certainly an opportunity there for him to make the jump even if it doesn’t come with the status and security of being a lottery pick. His defense improved his freshman to sophomore years, and he demonstrated he was a capable passer as well. Those are definitely areas of his game that still need growth, however, along with continuing to work on his explosiveness so he can break down defenses off the bounce and defend high level athletes.
With the flexibility to go deeper into the process now that the rules have changed, testing the NBA draft waters would be an extremely valuable experience for Norvell. He’ll get a much better feel about where he stands—and the strengths and weaknesses of his game—from having the opportunity to have more workouts and feedback than in years past. So don’t be surprised if he goes through the process and stays in it until the deadline to withdraw on May 29.
An early departure by Norvell would leave Gonzaga in quite the pickle with no heir apparent waiting in the wings at the shooting guard position (let’s not put that kind of pressure on Brock Ravet just yet), and torpedo the point guard by committee approach that seems to be the direction where Few is headed for next season. But if Norvell gets good feedback and a firm NBA opportunity is placed in front of him, I imagine it would be very hard for him to turn that down.