Kelly Olynyk will be forgoing his final season of eligibility and declaring for the NBA draft, according to a report from the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. The decision makes sense for Olynyk, who had a breakout campaign for the Bulldogs and really doesn’t have much more to prove at the college level, especially with the Bulldogs not being in a major conference, so his opportunities to impress are more limited.
Olynyk will be an interesting draft candidate. He showed excellent face-up touch and a remarkable efficiency with his offense this season. He has decent hands and showed an ability to pass, too. He’s not all that physical when trying to score around the rim, though, and he’s not a great rebounder for his height, often getting away with reaching for rebounds instead of using his body to seal. If he gets a little stronger in all areas, he should be a very capable NBA player, though.
For Gonzaga, this means the loss of both components of the frontcourt that helped drive them to No. 1 in the nation and a 1-seed in this year’s NCAA tournament. This year’s Bulldogs were fueled by Elias Harris and Olynyk, a combo which most opponents didn’t have the personnel to handle, and now that will have to be overhauled, although returnees like Sam Dower and Przemek Karnowski certainly should be able to step in and fill some of that void. Interestingly, CBSSports.com’s @GaryParrishCBS writes that Gonzaga is strongly involved with both Mike Moser (transferring from UNLV) and Josh Davis (Tulane’s leading scorer who is leaving the Green Wave). Getting either of those guys would be a big plus. Getting both would make me further revisit expectations for next season.
As it stands, though, there will be more of a burden on the quite-good-but-not-elite backcourt of Kevin Pangos, David Stockton and Gary Bell. What differentiated this Gonzaga team from past years was that its frontcourt was so much more dominant. That earned it the respect of college hoops observers, but also raised the question as to whether the backcourt was truly national-title caliber. We’ll never know, thanks to a historic offensive stretch-run blitz from Wichita State, and now the Zags will go back closer to the traditional “non-power conference” model with guard play being a bigger part of their overall success.
Losing Olynyk is obviously a blow, but Gonzaga will be fine. The only real challenger in the league next season should be BYU, with Saint Mary’s dropping back a bit. The Zags likely will win the WCC again and are good enough to pick off some teams in nonleague and have a very credible NCAA profile again. They won’t be a No. 1 seed next season, and likely will rue this year’s missed opportunity until they finally do make their Final Four breakthrough, but all things considered, they’re better positioned than most teams — and definitely most non-traditional powers — to weather the loss of a 7-foot first-round pick.