Improving to Contend, Part 2

In late April, GuNation.com took a look at the returning starters from its 2004/05 men's basketball team, and analyzed what each player needed to work on in the offseason in order to improve. We will look at the returning reserves, as well as some team goals.


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RETURNING RESERVES:

G – Pierre-Marie Altidor-Cespedes (2005/06 stats: 2 PPG, 2.4 APG, 1.2 RPG, 39% FG, 33.3% 3PT, 74% FT).

2004/05 Analysis = Like Derek Raivio the previous season, Pierre had the enormously difficult task of learning one of the hardest positions to learn in division one college basketball: point guard in the Gonzaga system. On top of all this, due to Erroll Knight's early season hand injury, Pierre was forced into playing more minutes and assuming a lot more responsibility than previously planned. Typically, he made many freshman mistakes, but GU fans also got to see just how athletic and talented Pierre is. Most of all, they got to see his potential as a one-on-one defender, as well as his great court vision and passing ability.

2005/06 Improvements Needed = Historically speaking, Gonzaga players have experienced a tremendous amount of growth between their freshman and sophomore years. This especially goes for Gonzaga point guards. The living proof of this was Raivio's performance this past year. Pierre needs to continue to learn the system, and to learn it so well that he can run it with precision. Largely due to Pierre's inexperience, Raivio probably had to play too many minutes last year, just as Blake Stepp did due to Raivio's inexperience during his freshman year. Gonzaga has the advantage now of two point guards who have three years of combined experience.

Pierre is supremely athletic, and has a lightning fast first step. He needs to learn how to use that quickness in order to penetrate into the lane and either finish or kick out to open jump shooters like Raivio and Nathan Doudney. Continuing work in the weight room should help him gain more confidence when finishing near the basket. Often times Pierre would penetrate to within layup distance of the basket, then pass it to a teammate who had a more difficult shot.

While his long range shot looks a little awkward, Pierre was a very good 3 point shooter in high school from international distance, and one would hope that a lot of offseason shooting work will help him bring up his 33.3% three point shooting clip.

Pierre is a very gifted passer, and has superb floor vision. However, as Billy Packer likes to say, a point guard must know who he is passing to. While Gonzaga players – particularly big men – need to have a heightened state of alertness when Pierre is on the floor, they also need to have passes delivered to them in a position where they can score. Pierre has a habit at times of passing too low to big men, or passing to players during a fast break situation who are not ideal ball-handlers. He also tends to thread the needle too much at times with his passing. Some of this probably had to do with the style of play Pierre was used to in Canada, where it was highly unusual for teams to have tall wide bodies like J.P. Batista on the floor.

G – Nathan Doudney (2005/06 stats: 3.3 PPG, 1.9 APG, 1.6 RPG, 33% FG, 21% 3PT, 50% FT. Note: Doudney was sidelined with a season-ending ACL injury after just 6.5 games)

2004/05 Analysis = After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, Doudney was without a doubt anxious to get back on the basketball floor, and to do it in a new uniform. Unfortunately, two bad things happened to him. First off, he started off the year in a miserable long range shooting slump, which was no doubt due to the year layoff and his need to get used to game speed all over again. Then on December 7 in Pullman, Doudney went down with a terrible season-ending ACL injury. Needless to say, Nathan's priorities over the last several months have been to heal his leg, and to be fully healthy for the 2005/06 season. Things have gone well, and a full recovery is expected.

2005/06 Improvements Needed = Get the leg healthy. Nathan is going to have to deal with the psychological issues of favoring his healthy leg, which is a challenge for any player coming off of an ACL injury. And once again, he will also have to get used to game speed, as he has not played a game since December 7, 2004.

It is very important for Nathan to start off the year with his long range jumper in solid shape. He came into Gonzaga with a reputation for being a sharpshooter, and in a year where GU needs to hit more 3 balls than they did last season, this becomes all the more important. It would be nice to see Nathan hit around 43% or so of his 3 point shots. It'll help free up Raivio more, and it would just help GU's offense overall.

But Nathan has more abilities to score. He also has a mid range game, and one would hope that as he regains confidence in his leg, he will be able to show off more of what he has to offer beyond just his great jumper. He admires Manu Ginobili and has shown that kind of aggressive slashing to the hoop in pick up games, but never had the chance to showcase it due to his early injury. The more dimensions he can have in his game, the bigger offensive asset he'll be.

Lastly, while Nathan is fantastic at anticipating passes and picking them off on the defensive end, he also needs to be more selective in the chances he takes. There were several instances in games he played in last season where he got burned after failed steal attempts.

F = David Pendergraft (2004/05 stats = 2.9 PPG, .52 APG, 2.6 RPG, 56% FG, 47% 3PT, 63% FT)

2004/05 Analysis = The 2004/05 season was originally planned as a redshirt season for Pendergraft, but when Erroll Knight went down with a hand injury just prior to start of the season, Pendo had to give up his redshirt year. Being fairly well physically developed already, Pendo immediately showed why he was Mr. Basketball in the state of Washington. He is a guy who does everything "well" on the basketball floor, but his greatest attribute is his all out effort, and his willingness to play any position that is needed for his team to win. At times Pendo was a wing last season, but a lot of the time, he was forced to guard big bruising power forwards. No matter how challenging the task, Pendo busted his tail on every play, and became an excellent rebounder for a man of his size. He also shot a surprisingly high clip from the 3 point line.

2005/06 Improvements Needed = It's very hard to target what a particular player needs to work on to improve when he already does everything well. The first priority for David is to get healthy. Although it was not widely reported, Pendo has a leg injury throughout a good percentage of last season that limited his mobility, quickness, hops and probably his minutes. Everything appears to be going well, and David is healing nicely as we speak.

Pendo's role on the 2005/06 squad will be very much like his role last season. He will be called upon to play some wing and a whole lot of interior defense. Because of his small stature compared to most big men, Pendo needs to continue to work on his rebounding technique and overall defense in the post.

He needs to continue to work on his long distance shot, and to work on his mid range game, which was one of the main things he was known for coming out of high school.

F = Sean Mallon (2004/05 stats = 7.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 52% FG, 72% FT)

2004/05 Analysis = Last season was an up and down affair for Mallon. He started off the year with a huge bang in his first three games, but when J.P. Batista became eligible, and began asserting his offensive skills in the paint, Mallon lost his starting spot, and for some reason, some of his offensive confidence. But regardless of the drop off in his offensive output, Sean played hard on every play, and was a key figure in discouraging teams from double teaming Turiaf and Batista. He was fantastic at cutting to the basket at just the right time. He also showed improved rebounding skills.

2005/06 Improvements Needed = Prior to Adam Morrison breaking his record, Sean was the all time leading scorer in Spokane high school basketball history. That speaks a lot about his offensive skills as a big man. With Turiaf moving on, it is critical that Sean pick up his offense where he left it back in November 2004. He has tremendous footwork and highly developed skills in the post. The Zags need him to step up.

Sean also needs to continue to get stronger so that he can battle with the best of bigs underneath. Being a junior and one of the hardest working Zags, Mallon has the potential to become a key vocal leader on this year's team.

F/C = Josh Heytvelt (sat out the 2004/05 season as a redshirt)

2004/05 Improvements Analysis = Many people were quite surprised when the news came out that Josh had elected to redshirt. It goes without saying that Josh is the most highly recruited big man to ever enter the GU program, and even if he had elected not to redshirt, he would've been able to do things that no other players on the GU roster could've done. However, as it turns out, the decision to redshirt was a wise one. Not only did it allow Josh the chance to hit the weight room hard, but it also allowed him the chance to work on post moves, and to see first hand how hard one must compete in division one basketball. Also, Josh was very young for his grade and redshirting put him on par with other college frosh.

2005/06 Improvements Needed = Coach Mark Few has said publicly on many occasions that Josh has as much God gifted natural ability as anyone he has ever coached at GU. He can score anywhere on the court. He has long arms and ridiculous athletic ability for a 6'11" man. However, like many young players who are so talented and who have the game come so natural to them, Josh had a bit of a reputation for "coasting" and not playing hard at all times in high school and on the AAU circuit. "Coasting" is not allowed in the GU system, and moreover, the competition is so intense on the division one level that players who work harder can easily outplay those who are more talented. By battling guys like Ronny Turiaf in practice, day in and day out, and by seeing GU have so much success last season, Josh got a first hand look at what it takes to succeed at this level.

Josh needs to continue to add muscle so that he can bang underneath with big men. He also needs to continue to work on his post moves. Despite his 6 ft. 11 frame, Josh's game has a tendency at times to be perimeter oriented, which is both good and bad. It's good because it shows how skilled he is and draws opposing bigs away from the paint; it's bad because Gonzaga needs him to be in the post much of the time. He has long arms, a huge wingspan and crazy athleticism that will allow him to make so many easy shots underneath the basket, and to snag rebounds that other guys can't get to.

SOME TEAM GOALS:

Since basketball is a team game, it is only appropriate to address some team goals for this offseason.

The first goal is to tighten up the perimeter defense – especially when it comes to defending the three point line. Consider these stats:

* GU gave up more 3 pointers per game than any team from a BCS conference besides Miami, FLA.

* GU had 12 games last season where they gave up 10 or more 3 pointers.

* In 3 of GU's 5 losses, they gave up 10 or more 3 pointers, including 16 to St. Mary's and 14 to Illinois.

* Teams shot 637 three pointers against GU last year. Only six division one teams had more attempted against them.

* 187 division one teams held opposing teams to a lower 3 point shooting percentage than GU did.

These stats pretty much show that opposing scouting reports are saying to shoot long range against GU – that they allow too many open looks. While the three point shot isn't as high of a percentage shot as say, a 7 foot shot, teams score one more point by nailing a three pointer. Also, missed three pointers most often lead to long offensive rebounds.

The 3 point defensive problems were compounded by the fact that GU allowed teams to shoot at a 42% clip overall last season. That isn't terrible, but it is also not good, and it certainly didn't help compensate for the amount of three point buckets they gave up. A realistic goal for the 2005/06 season is to see that 3 point percentage defense get down to around 31%, and to see the overall opposing field goal percentage lowered to around 38%. Because GU has more perimeter depth this season, Few will have more bodies at his disposal. This should help the defensive intensity.

Having more bodies at the guard and wing slots should also help GU apply more pressure, and to press more in order create turnovers when GU's offense isn't operating well. Now matter how good GU's offense is, it too sputters at times. By stealing the ball and generating turnovers, you are allowed extra possessions and the chance at easy buckets that do not require you to run your offense. Gonzaga was dead-last in the WCC in steals. This figure must go up. GU cannot just rely on its offense to bail them out. They need to use defense to stay in games or maintain a nice lead until the offense comes around again.

Despite last year's tremendous offensive numbers, there were two areas where GU didn't do so well. Consider these stats:

2004/05 = Gonzaga 486/15.68; Opponents 487/15.71
2003/04 = Gonzaga 556/17.94; Opponents 409/13.19
2002/03 = Gonzaga 520/15.76; Opponents 457/13.85
2001/02 = Gonzaga 522/15.82; Opponents 386/11.70
2000/01 = Gonzaga 537/16.27; Opponents 420/12.73
1999/00 = Gonzaga 587/16.80; Opponents 437/12.50
1998/99 = Gonzaga 572/16.34; Opponents 433/12.37

The first number are total assists; the 2nd number are assists per game.

Last year was the first year in quite some time where GU allowed more total assists and more assists per game than what their own offense generated. This is an area that must improve in 2005/06. It is an indication of too much one on one play, and not enough passing to the guy who is in the best position to score.

While GU did shoot 39% from the 3 point line last season, they only made 135 as a team. Last year, the Zags really only had one legitimate three point threat in Derek Raivio. The loss of Nathan Doudney really hurt the Zags, not only in the area of 3 point shots made, but it also allowed teams to focus in on Raivio and limit his looks. The return of Doudney should help, but Nathan, as well as other Zags like Morrison, Altidor-Cespedes and Knight, need to work on their long range shooting so that the Zags can score more from the 3 point line. Having more players who are 3 point threats will help free up Raivio, who is as deadly as they come from long distance.

The return of Adam Morrison is a great thing, but it could turn into a not-so-great thing should the team become overly reliant upon him for offensive production – especially during crunch time. Adam should not be averaging more than 20 PPG, and if he is, it is most likely a sign that other Gonzaga players are not stepping up to the plate.

The current trend for success in college basketball is offensive balance. Last year's great Illinois team had 5 starters who averaged double figures. By not having balance, GU is forced into a position where they have to rely on Adam to make one-on-one plays. As good as Adam is, he is at his best when he is operating within the flow of the offense. Because so many teams will be focusing on trying to stop Adam this year, other guys need to step up to free him up (especially Raivio and Batista), and to make the GU offense that much more lethal, ala Illinois last season.


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