There isn’t an NCAA team more likely to produce more NBA players on Thursday night than the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
We’ve been lucky to get some insight from Peter Woodburn of The Slipper Still Fits, the Gonzaga blog here on SB Nation. Last week, he dropped some truth bombs about Jalen Suggs. If you haven’t read that, you should absolutely take time to read about how Suggs is ready to lead a team in the NBA and should be a real consideration for the Rockets at #2.
Peter was kind enough to also provide some answers to questions about Corey Kispert (projected late lottery to mid-first round), Joel Ayayi (late first to early second), and Filip Petrusev (second round to UDFA). With the Rockets looking to move into the late lottery and possibly trying to buy back into the second round, any of these guys could be on the table for Houston.
The comparison I see a lot with Corey Kispert is Joe Harris. Do you find that accurate?
It definitely fits. Kispert’s success is largely tied to his shooting, and he is probably the best overall shooter in the draft pool. He is deadly when his feet are set, is great at a catch and shoot, and demonstrated some serious range last season. He is a threat from every single spot behind the arc that he stretched college defenses to their breaking point. His game has evolved in such an impressive way during his four years at Gonzaga—the one thing that is clear with Kispert is his drive to improve. Any team getting Kispert is not only getting a quality human being, but also someone who will work relentlessly on improving his game.
What is Kispert’s biggest strength outside of shooting? Biggest weakness?
Kispert is rather sneakily athletic. He has great burst off the dribble and is rather adept at finishing around the rim. Everyone focuses on his long-range shooting, and rightfully so, but he also shot 62.8 percent from two. Last season, Kispert used this to his advantage all the time. A lot of defenses would guard the three on him rather aggressively, and it would open up opportunities to drive to the lane.
His biggest weakness without a doubt is his defense. He got better at it over the years and was a great piece in Gonzaga’s team defensive schemes, but it remains to be seen how that will translate at the NBA level. Can he stay with quicker guards on the perimeter? That will be the big question. His defensive instincts and awareness are great, so that should help him a little bit.
Which positions can Kispert defend? Does he have shutdown potential or is he more suited to team defense?
Definitely more suited for team defense. Kispert is an average defender at best one-on-one. He isn’t the quickest player laterally. Like I said above, he has good instincts. He knows how to get his hands in there, create havoc, clog passing lanes, etc. He very rarely misses defensive assignments or help spots because he is such a smart player overall. He isn’t going to be the defensive player of the year ever in his career, but there are also going to be worse players on defense as well. There might be some growing pains of adapting to the speed of NBA players, but Kispert is an athletic guy.
Does Kispert need good players around him to succeed, or can he elevate a team to another level with his shooting?
Watching Kispert’s career at Gonzaga has really been a treat. When he came in his freshman year, he was definitely talented, but he looked more like a supplemental piece to the puzzle—the ever-important glue guy. That was how he operated throughout his freshman and sophomore years, and he was good at his job. Between his sophomore and junior year, the Zags lost Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura to the NBA draft, and on top of all the other graduations and early departures, Gonzaga lost over 80 percent of its scoring. Suddenly, Kispert went from being a glue guy who liked attempting threes to being one of the offensive focal points. It was a seamless transition, and honestly, it was at the beginning of the junior year that the NBA path became a legitimate reality.
In short, I think the answer is both. Kispert has done everything ever asked of him at Gonzaga. When he needed to fill the support role, he did that. When the team needed him to be the leader, he did that. I think it is probably an issue if Kispert is the best player on the team, but at the same time, he doesn’t need good players around him to be successful.
I feel like Joel Ayayi has been an under-the-radar prospect. He did everything at Gonzaga, and even had the program’s first ever triple double. Why do you think he’s hovering as a late first/early second round pick in most mock drafts?
I’m a full-blown Ayayi supporter and have been #A11Aboard since the beginning. That said, Ayayi is always going to be a supplemental piece to the puzzle, which I think is one of the bigger knocks to his draft stock. Of course, there is nothing wrong with having a solid NBA career for years, and I do think that is what Ayayi will have. However, unlike Suggs, you aren’t getting a future face of the team.
Much of that stems from Ayayi as the basketball player. He does a lot of things great, but he doesn’t necessarily have a lot of flash to it. Last season, he would routinely (and quietly) drop 15 points, and no one would really notice until the box score was released. It is just how he is as a player.
What is Ayayi’s best position at the next level: point guard or shooting guard?
Ayayi can run as a secondary playmaker, but he is best suited doing his thing off the ball. One of the beauties of watching him play is just tracking all his movement off the ball. He will find ways to get himself open, either along the three-point line or on a baseline cut to the rim. His handles are fine, and he doesn’t turn the ball over too much when pressured, but he never was forced to operate as a point guard at Gonzaga for extended periods of time. If your team is drafting Ayayi to fill that role, they might want to rethink their draft ideas.
Ayayi was a jack of all trades at Gonzaga. Was that due to being a master of none, or just because the team needed him to do a bit of everything? What areas does he truly excel in?
Ayayi arrived at Gonzaga very young and very raw. He took some seasoning to turn into the player he is today, and a lot of that also meant the coaching staff had to give him the freedom to develop his game. Last season, depending on who was on the floor, Ayayi was the fifth option, sometimes the fourth. That isn’t a knock against his scoring prowess, it more speaks to how many absurd offensive talents the Zags trotted out.
As mentioned above, watching Ayayi just play the overall game of basketball is to see how he excels. He is a high IQ player on both ends of the floor who just makes the correct play at the correct time. From switching hands on a drive to the hoop to just identifying long rebound attempts, you ask him to play all aspects of basketball, and he does that better than most players. The big difference is that outside of his quickness (he is fast as all get out), he isn’t the best at any one part of the game. More of a high mark across the board than a boom/bust player.
What part(s) of his game does Ayayi need to improve?
Ayayi could stand to bulk up a little bit and he doesn’t necessarily draw the most contact. He is a crafty offensive player who loves to find easy looks at the rim or a nice tear-drop floater, but he only averaged two trips to the free throw line per game last season. The jump shot is great, but it isn’t always the highest percentage shot, so he could stand to bulk up a little bit more and learn how to not shy away from contact as much.
Obviously, Petrusev went overseas last year and wasn’t part of Gonzaga’s title game run, but I expect you remember his game pretty well. In college was mostly played with his back to the basket. Are there more aspects of his game?
The interesting thing about Petrusev is that when he left Gonzaga to go play in Serbia, I honestly thought he was readying himself for a long-time European stay. He is a tremendous low post player, but there are college graveyards littered with the likes of guys like him who just aren’t the modern-day NBA big man.
After making a total of 11 three-pointers in two years at Gonzaga, Petrusev apparently shot 41 percent from three-point last season in Serbia—so that is an aspect to his game that I guess now exists.
Probably the biggest portion to his success at Gonzaga was his ability to generate contact. Petrusev drew 7.7 fouls per 40 minutes his sophomore year, good for the fourth-highest mark in the entire country. He is just able to grind down opposing defenses borderline single-handedly in that regard. That said, to draw that many fouls, you need to be used like Gonzaga used him—entirely in the post.
Can he defend multiple positions?
No. He is a tall guy, but he has an average wingspan and he isn’t exactly the quickest on his feet. Petrusev isn’t the best rim protector, and I can list of a litany of NBA guards who would take him to task day in and day out. There is definitively room for him to improve in terms of defensive awareness, but he just lacks the physical tools to be anything beyond an average defender.
How do you feel he will fare as a professional in the NBA?
Like I said earlier, immediately after he left Gonzaga, I thought Petrusev’s game would land him in Europe forever. The introduction of the more consistent three-point shot is something that is going to help him out, but until he learns how to play better defense, I think his impact on teams will be limited. That said, he has the body for the modern NBA big, he can play through contact, and he has a nice shooting touch, so I think there will always be a role for him as a backup center.