It’s another long off-season, and as the NBA Draft looms large above the minds of many young men, there is one in particular to whom it doesn’t. Kyle Wiltjer, from Gonzaga, has decided to return for his fourth season of college basketball. He was a redshirt freshman at the University of Kentucky before deciding to transfer to Gonzaga one year ago, which has proved to be a fruitful decision as the Zags had a great year with him and Kevin Pangos leading the way. Next year will be a different story, as always, and I think it’ll be a good one for Wiltjer.
Pangos is leaving for the NBA, and that leaves a major hole in Gonzaga’s roster. He had a lot of offensive touches, averaging 11.6 points per game throughout the past season, along with 4.8 assists. These are great numbers, and on a team with few other apparent stars (Presemek Karnowksi is the closest), his loss will be a large one. This leaves a wide gap that Wiltjer is perfectly prepared to step into.
Wiltjer’s minutes have increased steadily since the start of his career in Kentucky, and this is largely due to his changed role in his transfer to Gonzaga. What is more promising however, is the steady increase in his efficiency. Volume tends to make players more efficient, but, like the true stars, Wiltjer seems to be an exception. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) over the last season was 30.7. Just to put that in context, other star players like Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky have 30.7 and 34.4, respectively. The most important part of this is that Wiltjer is not about to become an elite player, he already is.
There are two problems with the Wiltjer for MVP campaign. First, volume shooters make fewer shots. To this, I point out that he shot .540 on the season on over 300 attempts, and his true shooting percentage (according to Sports-Reference) was .638. The second is the fact that he plays for Gonzaga. Well, the fact is that Zaga is here to stay. They made the Elite Eight with a 35-3 record and led the country in field goal percentage. They dominated the WCC, and they’re bringing back three of the starters that did it, along with a great looking class of freshman. Mark Few has turned this team into something great, and no one can argue Gonzaga isn’t a powerhouse now. The NCAA better get used to it.
Next year is sure to be an interesting one, with so many great players leaving and so many young faces ready to step up. While no one can ever predict exactly what will happen, the tables are certainly set for Wiltjer to turn some heads, and now it’s up to him to execute. Personally, I’m hoping to look at back a year from now and remember a season of dominance from one of the most promising players I’ve seen in a long while.