With the commitment of Derryck Thornton to Boston College, Gonzaga’s roster for the 2019-2020 season is still looking for another experienced guard. For now, it looks like Gonzaga will go into the year with 11 scholarship players and Admon Gilder being the lone guard with meaningful college basketball experience.
This is not going to be an article about who should start. Everyone has their own opinions on that. Arguably, Gonzaga’s best player has come off the bench in three of the last five seasons, so it really doesn’t matter. Instead, we will try and analyze the strengths of the rotation and how they can operate cohesively on offense.
Gonzaga’s offense has evolved over the years. It was flex-heavy in the early Few days, moved to more motion offense in Morrison’s final year, started playing inside-out around the Rob Sacre era, started using a ton of side ball screens with Kevin Pangos, and has now moved into ball screen continuity while still keeping some inside-out principals. With a plethora of talented post players and guards who have never put on a Gonzaga jersey, what can we expect next year?
Let’s start with Gilder. During his sophomore and junior years at Texas A&M, their offense consisted of a lot of post-ups and a lot of ball-screens because of Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, two outstanding big men. Theoretically, he should transition smoothly to Gonzaga’s offense. With Thornton going another direction, there’s a good chance Gilder has the ball in his hand more than anyone else on the team.
Remember how Gonzaga used Nigel Williams-Goss in post-up isolations? Gilder did some of that as an Aggie, and he’s bigger and stronger than Nigel, assuming he’s gained his weight back after being sidelined with a blood clot last year. Texas A&M used him as a post-up option as they set a double screen for a shooter on the other side.
Gonzaga will use Gilder as a lead guard a lot, but also as an off guard with Brock Ravet, much like how Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins played off each other. Joel Ayayi could also see some time at point in a pinch. This isn’t to say that Gilder will have as big of an impact in one year that Williams-Goss did, but it’s not entirely out of the question. He was an NBA prospect coming into last season before his health troubles. He reads screens well, is a big-bodied guard, defends well, and rebounds well. Sound familiar?
Before we get into the true big men, let’s talk about Anton Watson, who might be the most versatile player on the roster. He may not start, but he will almost certainly see minutes on the perimeter and in the post. When he plays the “4” spot, Gonzaga will run their traditional ball-screen heavy offense. But when he’s at the “3” spot and Gonzaga is playing three guys at 6’8”+, how will they operate together? Look all the way back to two seasons ago and you may find an answer.
Gonzaga used lineups with Hachimura, Tillie, and Johnathan Williams a lot down the stretch of the 2017-18 season. The actions they ran for Rui are probably similar to how they can use Watson. A lot of the actions involve cross screens for either straight post isolations, or a wing isolation to get a mid-range jumper or a one-dribble drive. They also ran a lot of this:
In essence, it’s a pin down screen from Rui to get a high-low seal. Because three big guys are on the court, Rui often had a smaller defender on him, creating an easy seal and lob opportunity. In this case, Tillie’s defender bites down on Rui to avoid an easy lob, and Tillie drains a 3. You’ll probably see this exact same thing with Watson in Rui’s role. Since Tillie, Petrusev, and Timme can all shoot from the perimeter, you’ll either get a lob or an open three, if executed properly. The nice thing about having bigs who can shoot is that you can run this with any of them at any spot.
They also used Rui as a cutter from the corner a ton, something he excelled at. If you aren’t convinced that Watson can play anywhere on the court, feel free to watch his state championship game highlights.
Now let’s get to the crux of this whole thing – the big men. The last several years, Gonzaga has always had a primary low-post man who couldn’t stretch the floor much (Sacre, Karnowski, Sabonis, Williams, Clarke). This year, everyone in the rotation can stretch the floor. Tillie and Petrusev have already proven to be capable three-point shooters. Anton Watson shot at a fairly high clip in high school. Drew Timme has great touch and handles the ball well in the open court. When all four guys can go inside-out, it’s almost impossible to guard.
That could mean a few things offensively. Primarily, you’ll try to see a lot of actions designed to get them deep positioning – high-lows, post isos, etc. With the three-point line moved back a foot, the paint may not be as clogged as usual.
You may also see more pick-and-pop and roll-and-replace actions within ball screens. I’m going to show you three actions that Gonzaga has run the last couple of seasons that I think this group will excel at. All of them are designed for easy post touches.
First is weave action. Two guards plus a post player (Rui) go into a dribble weave. On the final handoff, the post (Rui) gets a back screen from the third guard, freeing him up for either a layup or a deep post-up. If the other post defender wants to help down, Gonzaga would get an open 18-footer with their other big (Larsen, in this case).
The second action is what this video calls a “shake” pick-and-roll. A shake is another word for a lift, which essentially is the weak side guard elevating along the three-point line for a throw-back 3-point attempt. You need a really smart guard who reads the court to run this well - hello, Admon Gilder.
In the first two clips, the defense goes under the screen and it’s an easy pull-up three. That rarely happens, though. You have three options if your own shot isn’t there. With a little patience, the roll man will be open. If he’s not open, it could mean the corner shooter’s defender is anchored in the middle and you can pass to a wide-open corner shooter (Tillie). If you’re blitzed on the screen, or the weak side defender tries to tag the roller, you have an open throwback for a three. If you run this with Gilder as the ball handler, Petrusev/Timme as the roller, Tillie in the corner, and Kispert as the throwback man, you’ve got a lot of buckets coming your way.
The last action is a version of Kansas entry, which Bill Self has run for an eternity. Gonzaga alters it slightly, wanting a high-low pass from big-to-big as opposed to guard-to-big (the Bill Self way), but it works regardless.
The wings filter out to each side and then you get a cross screen with the bigs, creating separation for a deep post-up. If the post entry isn’t there from the other big or a wing, they’re already set up to get right into their continuity ball screen (last clip). Almost every single action Gonzaga runs against a man defense flows seamlessly into ball screen continuity.
Of course, the majority of Gonzaga’s offense will continue to be high ball screens because that is who Gonzaga has become. The point of all this is to show how Gonzaga may use their excellent bigs within their offense. All of them have the ability to score inside, shoot from the perimeter, and even lead the break if necessary. The staff will put them all in spots where they can thrive and play off each other. The videos were examples of some of the actions we might see a little more of this season to utilize those strengths.
With the current roster, it looks like Mark Few’s preferred eight-man rotation is already set. Joel Ayayi is expected to make a large step forward in his development. Brock Ravet will see heavy minutes as a true freshmen.
Assuming Watson and Timme are as good as advertised, Pavel Zakharov will probably get spot minutes, ala Petrusev this past season when Tillie returned. Oumar Ballo is probably going to end up on the “Rui Plan” where he plays sparingly year one, but becomes a rotation player the following year when Tillie and (probably) Petrusev leave school. Martynas Arlauskas, who is still working his back to 100 percent from injury, is probably the only candidate to redshirt if the staff determines Watson is good enough to play on the perimeter, but it would still surprise me to see it just because they may need the depth.
With seven newcomers and only four returning scholarship players, it will be very interesting to see how quickly this group meshes together. They have another brutal non-conference schedule with multiple true road games, so they will be thrown into the fire real quick. Several of them, including Ayayi, Arlauskas, and Petrusev will be competing in the FIBA U-19 World Cup at the end of the month. A preview of the event will be up in the coming days.
109 days until Kraziness in the Kennel.