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Anton Watson In; Malachi Smith Out

The Mayor of Spokane has some unfinished business.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament West Regional-UCONN vs Gonzaga Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Anton Watson is officially heading back home for his fifth season and it could be the most important offseason move for the Zags. His terrific on-ball defense and rim protection will provide both experience and versatility to a team that will look very different than it did last season.

With Drew Timme moving on, Watson is going from the glue guy to the face of the program. He averaged 11.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 2.4 APG last season and you can expect those numbers to jump with his very much bigger role post-Timme era.

Watson comes into the upcoming season as arguably college basketball’s most underrated player as well. He has learned under the likes of Holmgren and Timme which has led to his play being consistent and aggressive on both ends of the floor. The growth from his junior to senior season went under the radar in the national scene but that won’t happen next season.

His three-point range and shot selection drastically improved in the latter part of last season which is a fantastic sign going for the future. Watson was 8-of-30 (26 3P%) from beyond the arc through the first 21 games last season. He was 8-17 (47 3P%) through the final 16 games.

Anton Watson will be the focal point of Gonzaga’s all-around offense in 2023-2024 and with Ryan Nembhard as his lead guard, that 1-2 punch will be extremely dangerous for any opponent.

As for Malachi Smith, all good things must come to an end. The WCC Sixth Man of the Year (8.7 PPG on 53.6 FG% and 50.0 3P%, 3.6 RPG, 1.4 APG in 2022-2023) leaves his mark on a program that is known for having terrific one-and-done transfers throughout its deep history. I will always remember the shooting display he put on against Portland. That was his best performance in a Gonzaga uniform.

I wish Smith the best of luck whether it be in the NBA, the G-League, or overseas. Forever a Zag. Time to move on to the recruitment of Zyon Pullin of UC Riverside, the perfect replacement for Malachi Smith in that sixth-man role.

Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho