Gonzaga remains a powerhouse mid-major out of Spokane, even with the departures of Andrew Nembhard and Chet Holmgren. They still have Final Four and championship aspirations, bringing in one of the best transfer point guards in Malachi Smith to replace Andrew Nembhard, as well as expectations of internal growth and development from returning players. While the WCC is expected to see a slight drop-off, Gonzaga has a strong out of conference schedule: they play Michigan State, Texas, Baylor, and are participating in the Phil Knight Legacy tournament.
Here is how the roster shapes out, and what each player’s draft upside looks like:
The runner up for the NCAA Player of the Year in 2021-22, Drew Timme should be right back in that race again as a senior. Timme will again be a part of a two center system, this time instead of #2 draft pick Chet Holmgren beside him, he will be joined by LSU transfer Efton Reid. This will create slightly more pressure on Timme on both ends, since Chet was better and more skilled on both ends of the ball than Reid currently is. Timme’s ability to create for others out of the mid-post and even top of the key, a major skill for playmaking big men in the NBA, make him stand out as part of his great offensive arsenal.
While Timme’s points per game slipped last season, without Chet Holmgren taking as many touches away from Timme will likely allow for Drew to see his PPG average cross 20 this year. One area to watch for improvement that will contribute to his PPG increase, beyond simply volume, is jump shooting. When I saw him in a private workout in Dallas back in May while he was still in the draft before eventually withdrawing, he was emphasizing shooting jumpers above the break and spotting up. While the success still needs to be proven, the upside is definitely there.
The NBA outlook on Timme is a bit polarizing. His stock is likely to be similar to Luka Garza, the 52nd pick of the 2021 NBA Draft, as a dominant collegiate scorer and player, but many are unsure of how his game translates due to defense. Timme will struggle in the NBA to defend both switches and P&R sets, both of which are incredibly common in today’s NBA. He will need to have another mobile big, a la Chet Holmgren, next to him to minimize his defensive woes. However, a team might invest in him being a well-rounded center offensively that can score at all three levels and playmake from any spot, as well as being a post threat. I project Timme to get drafted in 2023 around 45-60.
Nolan Hickman only played 17 minutes per game as a freshman, but showed flashes on both ends that can build high expectations for a sophomore leap with Andrew Nembhard leaving for the NBA (even if Malachi Smith is replacing him). Defensively, Hickman is strong in holding his ground against triple threat fakes, and anticipating the next move. The two areas he must improve defensively are against screens, often getting swallowed and unable to fight around contact, and getting stronger, particularly against physical slashers. He can hold his own against the first two dribbles on straight-line physical drives, but once there’s a pause & slow-down, Hickman’s lack of needed strength gives the slasher an easy advantage and scoring opportunity, especially since Hickman is just 6’2.
On the offensive side of the ball, Hickman has a clean jump shot that his percentages do not accurately depict (splits of 44/31/67). He has a good jump shot, especially off of a rhythm dribble/stop & pop, and his floater shows his soft touch near the rim, often a good projector of shooting touch. With an efficient sophomore season, Hickman would be on the bubble of draftable. I could see him going the Joel Ayayi route and playing three years at Gonzaga before going pro.
While Sallis was a bit overlooked as a freshman, his defense stood out in his limited minutes. Offensively, he has a good release on his jumper, but his elbow flares out with his low release on the windup to the jumper. He will have to become a more proven & consistent shooter to really pop offensively. Look for Hunter Sallis to continue into a higher volume off-ball role as a cutter and finisher near the rim, as well as a good defender.
Julian Strawther gets to the paint well, almost exclusively relying on layups and floaters. Strawther is a straight-line driver. In order to take a step forward, his shooting will have to improve (70.5% from the free throw line as a sophomore) to become a more consistent all-around scorer. Strawther doesn’t create jump shots, almost only drives (again, simple straight line drives too). He had zero isolation possessions as a sophomore, which emphasizes his lack of creation ability. While he has potential defensively, he gets lost in screens and P&R sets which limits his NBA defensive upside, despite good physical tools and potential versatility.
A quick shooter, Rasir Bolton is a combo guard entering his fifth year of college (will be 23 at the end of the month). Bolton, like Strawther, lacks much off the dribble shooting with a low release. Bolton is quick with the ball in his hands, and uses this to his advantage on catch & drive opportunities, especially behind screens. Bolton is largely a layups or 3 point shooting guy with some playmaking value, which at 6’3 and 24 years old at the start of his rookie year training camp, may make him hard to latch on in the NBA. He will likely receive a summer league invite, as well as a training camp invite, as do most Gonzaga high volume players, but his chances of latching on are slim given his combination of skill-set, size, and age.
A transfer from Chattanooga, Malachi Smith was the key cog in a mid-major darkhorse in the NCAA Tournament. After a poor outing against Illinois, he will have to prove himself capable of playing some of the toughest out of conference matchups in college basketball. Smith was full of energy defensively at Chattanooga, helping make plays even when his scoring was lacking. This helps continue the identity Gonzaga appears to be making with their current roster: defensive minded team that will allow Drew Timme to create offense at a high level. Malachi Smith will be 23 by draft time, giving him an uphill battle towards being drafted. With his shooting ability at 6’4 with the ability to run pick & roll at a high level with above average finishing at Chattanooga, if that can translate to Gonzaga he might get talked into the late second round.
Efton Reid is a raw big man with good athleticism, but needs to improve his jumper. While his free throw percentage is below 50%, he did show upside with in-game shooting, which could be big in his fit next to Drew Timme. His 15 assists to 51 turnovers emphasizes how raw he is, and how he needs to turn his physical tools into a combination of tools and skills. Reid will likely be a play finisher offensively, and defensively living at the rim and surviving switches when needed. Reid has a long ways to go towards being an NBA prospect, but if he can thrive on both ends at the rim with minimal mistakes (fouls, turnovers), he could be a long-shot second round prospect.