2020-2021 may have laid the groundwork for a bellwether Zag
It’s tricky to pinpoint Dominick Harris’ biggest impact for the Gonzaga Bulldogs early in his journey. The talented combo guard wrapped up his freshman year with the program last month but it feels like he’s been a part of the program for three years. What is easy to predict is that his biggest impact is still ahead of us.
He committed to Gonzaga in 2018 and through charisma and championing the program, helped convince Jalen Suggs and Julian Strawther to come along with him. Harris exuded the Zags mentality those final years in high school and his freshman season.
Coach Mark Few and his staff have always emphasized a culture of competition, promising playing time to no one but minutes to those that show they want it through high level and intense practices. Harris came in fighting a clear one-and-done Suggs and fifth year senior Aaron Cook for minutes in the backcourt.
Then suddenly the redshirt transfer year was lifted for another venerated guard, junior Andrew Nembhard who played two years previously with the Florida Gators. It became immediately evident that playing time would be sparse considering the experience of the guards as well as Suggs NBA-readiness and body.
Having Harris as your fourth guard in regards to playing time is perhaps one of the most obvious signs that Gonzaga has officially elevated itself as a program. While earning a few minutes in the opening Kansas game, it’s clear that entering the COVID protocol hampered his early season role.
Harris averaged 3 points and .4 assists per game, averaging 5.66 minutes per game. Looking by minute, Harris played at a level that suggests he was larger than that role. As the primary ball handler in those limited minutes, he turned the ball over just three times in his 102 minutes on the floor.
At the start of the season it was clear that senior Corey Kispert was the lone perimeter scorer on the team and the Zags had a wide vacancy at number two. Kispert finished a 44% on 207 shots and junior Joel Ayayi finished the season shooting 38.9% on 98 attempts. Harris virtually matched or bested Ayayi with 39.1% on albeit just 23 attempts.
He was 6 for 12 from outside this calendar year and could likely be the best perimeter shooter on this team to start next season. And next season has been an interesting topic of speculation by many fans after a heartbreaking championship loss and a second year of being in the conversation for the greatest recruiting class in the country.
Harris taking a backseat like he did with a top tier pick in Suggs, a true point guard and elite pick-and-roller Nembhard and defensive virtuoso in 23 year old Cook does not seem likely or viable to repeat itself with this cast of characters. Harris and freshman Hunter Sallis will be competing for the off ball guard position that will be paired with Nembhard heading into his senior year.
Harris offers the advantage of a full year of development within the program and its training staff. His freshman year provided plenty of growth and acclimation to the offensive system as well as what playing high Division I basketball is like. Having a dynamic ball handler, dribble-driver and perimeter scoring threat will remain crucial for the Zags to extend their dominance.
Gonzaga last week received the transfer signing of junior Rasir Bolton, who adds yet another lethal backcourt option for the Zags. His 15.1 points per game were the best for a disappointing Iowa State Cyclones team. But as our conversation with Levi Stevenson suggests, Bolton will likely be fulfilling a specific role in Few’s system off the bench.
To complicate minutes even further, landing the number one overall recruit and position-less unicorn like Chet Holmgren only muddies the situation further. Will Few try to keep Holmgren as a stretch four or will he play a wing position? Will the coaching staff prefer pairing Holmgren and likely returning an National Player of the Year hopeful junior Drew Timme with a three guard lineup or could they go with junior Anton Watson, sophomore wing Julian Strawther or even physical phenom freshman Kaden Perry?
Last year’s seven man rotation has oddly become dogma for speculators predicting how playing time will shake out. But it’s hard to imagine that tight rotation remaining with the depth of talent. Regardless, minutes will be fought over, and the winners will be guys who persevere through adversity. I like Harris’s odds.