(Every once in a while I have to pull out an over the top sarcastic clickbait headline, so you’re welcome)
Three Gonzaga Bulldogs were named to preseason position award watch lists: Ryan Nembhard, Anton Watson, and Graham Ike. The total number of Zags is unsurprising, as are the specific players selected, but the positions are a little eyebrow raising.
Nembhard is of course nominated for the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard, no surprise there, but Anton Watson’s nomination comes at small forward, while Graham Ike’s is at power forward.
What does it mean? Well, if we’re being honest, probably not much. Watson’s best chance at actually winning or finishing as a top five finalist this year likely comes with the Julius Erving Award, while Ike has a much better chance competing at power forward (Karl Malone Award) rather than at center, where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finalists will include Zach Edey, Hunter Dickinson, Ryan Kalkbrenner, and Armando Bacot.
But it does lead to at least a little speculation, the kind of speculation one finds themselves pondering when it’s been roughly seven months since Gonzaga actually played a real basketball game against an opponent.
Could Watson realistically spend some time, or even a lot of time, at the three this year? Last year at around this time everyone was quite confident Julian Strawther was going to play a small ball four role, a la Corey Kispert, but that basically never happened with Watson emerging as the team’s power forward.
This year, with more uncertainty at the wing/guard spots and a relatively secure group of frontcourt players – thanks to the emergence of Ben Gregg last season – would it be possible for Watson to play the three? If he did, Ike and Gregg could play together in the frontcourt which would leave Nembhard, Nolan Hickman, Steele Venters, Dusty Stromer, and Luka Krajnovic to play the two guard spots.
The main question is how it would work offensively, where floor spacing could become an issue. Watson has improved dramatically as an outside threat across his four years with the Bulldogs, but he’s still only a 33% shooter from deep. Gregg is far superior, shooting about 38% last year, but do either of them have the ball-handling skills to play away from the rim for long stretches of time offensively? And is it better to just play two of them together, along with Venters and a pair of guards, to give Nembhard more room to operate?
Questions Mark Few no doubt has considered and experimented with this offseason, but as fun as it is to speculate, the award nominations likely don’t mean much with regards to how these players will actually be utilized when the season tips off on November 10 against Yale.
Andy hosts the Locked on Zags and Locked on College Basketball podcasts, and serves Locked On in a marketing/digital content creator role as well. He lives just outside Portland with his wife Jenna and dog, Tillie.