Gonzaga Basketball: Each Projected Starter's Top Priority in 2014-15
Gonzaga basketball could very well be ranked in the top ten to start the coming season, and this is for good reason.
The Bulldogs return starting guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. for their senior years, as well as breakout center Przemek Karnowski.
However, it is the additions of transfers Kyle Wiltjer from Kentucky and Byron Wesley from USC that truly elevate Gonzaga to the next level.
If each of Gonzaga's starters can focus in on their respective top priorities, Mark Few could have his most talented and most well-rounded squad in his tenure at Gonzaga.
Top Priority: Increase Assists Per Game
Gonzaga fans would never admit that they envy a player from rival St. Mary’s.
However, an exception could be made in the case of former Gaels point guard Matthew Dellavedova.
Dellavedova, like Pangos, was a prolific scorer and shooter, but what he did beyond that was average 6.4 assists per game. His ability to pick out passes to open teammates allowed St. Mary's to play on a level well above that which would dictated by its talent level.
Pangos averaged 3.6 assists per game last season as the part-time point guard alongside David Stockton.
As the full-time starting point guard, Pangos will need to increase his assists per game in order to facilitate the offense and create for his teammates.
Everyone knows that Pangos can shoot and that he can score, but to take his game to the next level, and to better contribute to his team, Pangos will need to become a better pure point guard.
Gary Bell Jr.
Top Priority: Lock Down the Best Opposing Scorer
With a depleted frontcourt last year, Mark Few relied on his guards to score in bunches to keep them in games. That led to an increased offensive role for Gary Bell Jr.
With a bevy of other scoring options on the team this season, however, Bell Jr. can revert to his primary role as a defensive stopper.
Over the past three seasons, Bell Jr. has been asked to match up with the opposing teams' best primary scorer. This has included Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, St. Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova, BYU’s Tyler Haws and Arizona’s Nick Johnson.
As a defensive stalwart and stellar athlete, Bell Jr. has the ability to take the opposing team’s best scorer out of the contest.
When Gonzaga makes its opponent’s less capable scorers beat them, its winning percentage goes up.
With less pressure to score, Bell Jr.’s defense should shine this season.
Top Priority: Add Scoring from the Wing Position
I have fallen for the incoming, athletic wing trap before.
This past year, Gerard Coleman was supposed to step into the Gonzaga starting lineup and use his scoring ability to elevate Gonzaga’s backcourt to the next level.
While that did not occur, there is no saying what Byron Wesley could accomplish in the Bulldogs lineup.
Last season, Wesley was the lone bright spot in Andy Enfield’s USC squad. He averaged 17.8 points per game for the Trojans, including a 27-point game against UCLA and a 31-point game at Gonzaga rival Washington State.
At 6’5”, Wesley steps into a vacancy at small forward that has been a weakness over the past few seasons. Gonzaga has lacked an long, athletic wing to complement its smaller, quicker guards in Pangos and Bell Jr.
If Wesley can provide consistent scoring and athleticism at the wing position, there is a chance that Gonzaga could have the best backcourt in the country next season.
Top Priority: Stretch the Floor
Kyle Wiltjer transferred from Kentucky to Gonzaga to bulk up and to contribute to a dominant offense.
With Przemek Karnowski anchoring the paint, it will be important for Wiltjer to utilize his shooting ability to balance out Gonzaga’s frontcourt.
In his last season at Kentucky, Wiltjer shot 36.7 percent from beyond the arc. He played his best when pulling opposing big men away from the basket and using his face-up game to get to the basket.
Wiltjer spent his redshirt season working out in the same way that breakout Gonzaga star and current Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk did.
What Olynyk did best in his breakout season was utilize his face-up game. He was quick enough to get past bigger defenders and finish at the rim, but he was also tall enough to shoot over smaller defenders who were not comfortable guarding the perimeter.
If Wiltjer can channel some of this face-up game, Gonzaga’s frontcourt could be an incredibly potent one-two punch.
Top Priority: Anchor the Defense
Przemek Karnowski made a real case for WCC Defensive Player of the Year last season.
At 7’1” and 296 pounds, Karnowksi has the size to disrupt any team in the nation, regardless of conference.
Last season, the big man out of Poland increased his blocks per game total from 0.3 to 1.7.
Some of this was born out of his increased playing time as a starting member of the frontcourt.
However, I’d argue that his increase in defensive production can more accurately be attributed to his dramatically better fitness and his vastly improved defensive awareness.
As a freshman, Karnowski was prone to getting lost on defensive possessions, especially when put in a pick-and-roll situation.
This past season, however, Karnowski’s ability to defend the paint, protect the rim and even guard out of position in the high post made him a force to be reckoned with.
If Karnowski can continue to improve his rim protecting, Gonzaga’s defense is going to be difficult to score against.
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