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Filip Petrusev Struck While the Iron was Hot

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The Gonzaga big man had a hell of a season last year. Next year, he wouldn’t do better.

Loyola Marymount v Gonzaga Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

Earlier today, Filip Petrusev decided to finish his amateur playing career with the Gonzaga Bulldogs and take the first step towards actually getting paid for playing basketball, signing with the Serbian club Mega Bemax.

Considering that Petrusev was “engaged in the NBA Draft process” (whatever that looks like at the moment) and that Gonzaga is widely viewed as one of the top teams in the 2020-21 season, for some individuals, his departure might be a bit confusing.

If you take a step back, it is not a surprise that Petrusev is not coming back. If anything, it would have been more of a surprise if he did come back. Despite returning to one of the top teams in the nation, it was highly unlikely that Petrusev would statistically have a better season than last year, in which he won the WCC Player of the Year and was named as a Third-team All-American.

After averaging just 6.5 points in 11.4 minutes per game his freshman season, Petrusev exploded last season. He led the Gonzaga Bulldogs top-ranked offense with 17.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He shot 56.2 percent from the floor. His only real struggles on the offensive end were his free throw shooting (65.5 percent) and the notion that he did not play through contact all the time (the ever consistent eye test).

Petrusev put up big numbers, and outside of improving on the free throw end, he was not going to produce better numbers this upcoming season. The Zags frontcourt outside of Petrusev features an established Drew Timme, a ready to work Oumar Ballo, and the cog of the whole danged machine, a healthy Anton Watson.

The Zags backcourt also will go from the pass-first mentality of Ryan Woolridge to the score first abilities of Jalen Suggs. Last season, the entire offense revolved around getting Petrusev the rock when he was on the floor. Mark Few always loves the inside/out game, but Petrusev benefited highly from having a guard like Woolridge manning the point.

Woolridge averaged 7.2 field goal attempts per game last season, the sixth-highest mark on the squad. Extend that to per 40-minute averages, however, and Woolridge’s 8.8 FGA were the third-lowest, only higher than Matthew Lang and Martynas Arlauskas. Since the 2009-10 season, only four players have averaged less than eight FGA while playing over 30 minutes per game. Woolridge is one of those four.

Petrusev is no doubt good on his own, but he benefited from having a backcourt that was largely adverse to throwing the rock up too often. Petrusev’s usage percentage last season was 30.9, higher than a 2013 Kelly Olynyk. His percentage of shots taken was the highest by a Gonzaga player since Kyle Wiltjer in 2016.

The Zags ran a tight ship last season. There just weren’t the minutes to go around. Petrusev stepped into a large void and he filled it admirably. Next season, he would have help. With a backcourt featuring the likes of Jalen Suggs, Dominick Harris, and theoretically Joel Ayayi also looking to increase his stature, Petrusev was not going to get the ball 30 percent of the time when he was on the floor.

In short, Petrusev’s basketball value last season was most likely the peak, and it was in his best interest to maximize that interest.

Now, we do not need to go into how it apparently all went down. There are life lessons to be learned and hopefully, communication is one of them. Like Zach Norvell before him, Filip Petrusev is a showcase of what happens when your team starts to move up the ladder rungs of college basketball. Guys deserve to get paid and earn what their basketball skills are worth. Congratulations to Petrusev for making the big step.