It was expected that Gonzaga men’s basketball wasn’t going to run it back next season in the same fashion as they did this past year. However, after three of the team’s five previous starters announced that they’ll be heading back to Spokane in the fall after initially declaring for the 2022 NBA Draft in April, the team won’t be as novel as some speculated.
The return of Julian Strawther, Drew Timme and Rasir Bolton has butterflied into other moves happening around Gonzaga’s exterior. Former Chattanooga guard Malachi Smith has since chosen to add more experience to a seasoned Zag team while Spanish wing prospect Baba Miller committed to Florida State Monday after boiling his chances down to the final two.
With a good amount of old combined with a lot of new on the roster, the Zags now get the chance to remix their starting five next season just enough in hopes of creating a championship team.
PG: Malachi Smith
Gonzaga runs one of the most high octane offenses in the nation and it’s a tall task to be whoever Coach Few decides to hand the keys over to run it efficiently. Smith is just that dude for the job. More aggressive than Andrew Nemhbard but not an isolation maestro like Jalen Suggs, fans will get to see a player who is willing to take a game over early so then shots can open up for his teammates down the stretch. Smith is competent at attacking the rim on both offense and defense which sets him up for a lot of free throws, which he hit 82.7% of last season, and rebounds, having procured 6.7 a game last season.
SG: Rasir Bolton
Bolton can be expected to return to a starting backcourt spot next season, with a wealth of added responsibility. Unlike last year when Nembhard ran the show while Bolton set up off-ball a lot to pick his shots, with Smith in the backcourt who relies on a lot of twin-action with fellow guards to set up scoring lanes, Bolton will have to rise to a lot more challenges on both ends of the court. It will go a long way in helping him increase his own offensive output however, as the more he can get his teammates involved on offense, the more ripe 3-point opportunities that will come up for him too.
SG/SF: Julian Strawther
What’s old is new again when it comes to Strawther’s position on the court next season. While he was listed as a guard last season, his role surely fit that more of a true small forward. A lot of his tasks will remain the same next season, pick up the lengthy off-ball scoring threat on defense and similarly work hard off the ball on offense to create for himself. However, next season Strawther will get the chance to showcase his prowess as an all-around offensive weapon and if a shot’s not immediately there, he may be tasked by Few to facilitate an offensive scheme and control ball distribution himself. Look for Strawther to become a more pivotal option for the Zags to run their offense through in 2022-23.
PF: Drew Timme
If the skills that Timme showcased throughout his short NBA draft venture are any indication, the Zags could become the most varied team in college basketball due to his development alone. At the NBA Draft Combine, Timme demonstrated an improved 3-point shot and hardnose defense where he was picking up his opponents before the break. Granted, these new skills still have a ways to improve and they have to fit within Few’s system next season which isn’t certain given how well Timme worked for Gonzaga in his old role last season. But if he can stretch the floor even more on offense and pick up big men beyond the arc on defense while the Zags let Efton Reid control the block down low on both ends, boy will that be a fun style of basketball to watch.
C: Efton Reid
Reid may not be this yet, but the 6-foot-11, 238 pound big man can become the bruiser that Gonzaga has potentially been missing since Przemek Karnowski. The Zags will need somebody to hold down the low post on both sides of the floor, and while Reid averaged .8 blocks a game and only attempted 42.8% of all his shot attempts around the rim, expect those numbers to tick up handsomely next season. He demonstrated good footwork and movement at LSU, which led him to taking more shots outside the paint than Few will probably want him too. Shortening the sophomore transfer’s scope to be more just around the rim will optimize his impact in tandem with the rest of the Zags’ starters.