After missing out on his services straight out of high school, the Zags had to wait for Florida Gators transfer Andrew Nembhard to pick Spokane the second time around. The short player preview for the 2020-21 season is simple: Andrew Nembhard will not play this year.
The longer answer is the ever juggling key to the roster puzzles. Not having Nembhard this year is not exactly a bad thing. The Zags are well stocked in the backcourt between Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi. Next year, with most likely both Suggs and Ayayi out of the picture, Nembhard will be ready to step in at point guard with a year of practicing the Gonzaga system under his belt.
The immediately easy comparison for a lot of people will be Nigel Williams-Goss. Both are big 6’5 point guards who have a slower style of play, relying more on crafty two-pointers than bombing away from three-point land. In these highlights, you can see that deliberate pace and stellar court vision.
Nembhard’s numbers do not pop out at you. Last season, he averaged 11.2 points and 5.6 assists per game in 33.2 minutes played. He shot just 30.8 percent from three-point land, but a very respectable 51.3 percent from inside the arc. Perhaps, most importantly, he averaged just 1.5 fouls per game, a rather nice and tidy number for someone on the court that long per game.
Looking at Nembhard’s box score, it is important to recognize that the Gators have operated one of the slowest tempos in college basketball in the two seasons he was their point guard (No. 344 in 2019 and No. 326 in 2020).
The Zags, meanwhile, tend to run at a quick tempo, by no means the fastest in the nation. They did average around five more possessions per game than Florida last season, a large amount in a game of inches. The biggest switch for either Nembhard, or Gonzaga, will be which direction does the offense go? Will we see Nembhard enter a Gonzaga system in which he is running the ball more, pushing transition, and not settling for the slower, half-court style of play he is accustomed with? Or will we see Gonzaga alter its system to better suit the slower-tempo of play Nembhard is coming from?
My guess is the former. It has always been Mark Few’s style to push the pace. Incoming 2021 recruits Kaden Perry and Ben Gregg both look like they are capable of running the floor as big men. Without assuming anyone will be departing early, we know that Anton Watson and Drew Timme have no issues sprinting a bit as well.
So that is what we get to look forward to next year. This year? It will be Nembhard learning the ropes of the offense and defense as a member of a potential championship team. Bringing that experience as the starting point guard in 2021 will be invaluable.