Gonzaga Starters and their NBA Dopplegangers


Every year at the NBA draft, the ESPN analyst panel delves into strengths and weakness of each draft prospect that leads to giving comparisons to current or former NBA players to give more of a tangible sense of potential player impact to viewers.

For example in the 2014 NBA Draft Bill Simmons, Jalen Rose, Jay Bilas and Rece Davis compared lottery pick and now Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton III to legendary Seattle Sonic Gary Payton–a stout comparison, due to the fact that the former has yet to accomplish anything in the NBA except being named a starter on a rebuilding team but regardless you get the point.

An array of comparisons can be drawn from many college players, Gonzaga being no exception. Obviously a direct comparison to a professional player may not be realistic for some members of the team, but the list I have crafted matches traits and depicts those very comparisons to the starting lineup.

DISCLAIMER: Since I have yet to see any of the freshman play, I am (to my utmost dismay) excluding them.  And yes that includes Domantas Sabonis.  And no, I would not compare him to his father under any circumstance thank YOU sir. Also, I will not succumb to lethargy and link up Karnowski with Polish ally Marcin Gortat—yes they are both of Polish decent, but their games are completely different.

Kevin Pangos to Luke Ridnour

Mar 21, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos (4) reacts after making a basket against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first half of a men

I draw this comparison because at age 33 Ridnour still plays on an NBA team. That should be what Pangos dreams about at night.  Only one player in the history of GU basketball has played made it to  that age, needn’t I say his name.  But realistically, Pangos should be looking Ridnour’s career dead in the face and copying every step along the way.  A very serviceable point guard, starting for Minnesota and Milwaukee in his prime, Ridnour has sidestepped attitude, frustration and yee old obsession with the dollar sign as many great college players whose games don’t exactly translate to the NBA to find teams wanting to pick him up.  He will backup Orlando’s rookie lottery pick Payton this year.  He aided a fresh-off-the-boat Ricky Rubio in Minnesota and saw time behind a young Brandon Jennings with the Bucks.  Ridnour and Pangos share a lot of similarities in their game as well: saucy from the three-point-line, not elite defender  yet they manage to get by, not flashy but an ability to shoot the lights out and their cool-as-a-cucumber demeanors.  Duck fans bequeathed the name “Cool-Hand Luke” upon Ridnour in college.  “Kool-Hand Kev” has a nice ring to it.

Gary Bell Jr. to Leandro Barbosa

It is hard to compare Bell to any NBA player without factoring in size. The 6-foot-2-inch guard would need to play the point, which he has hardly done in college and will not do this year season with depth at the one. His role as a spotty scorer and a wing defender bodes well in the WCC, but will not fly in the NBA. The easy assumption on paper would be to compare him to Jason Terry: the same height, both with a pretty jumper, pure from beyond the arc and both even from the Seattle area. Bell is not as elite of a scorer as the Jet is/has been because Terry is selfish. A product of Few’s team-first concept, Bell would never pull up for three on a three-on-one fast break, or blow off a wide opener clearly better player for a difficult look at a shot (Terry has found success with both). That is why I love the Leandro Barbosa comparison. Barbosa, a cerebral under-sized off-guard whose all-around game has been of value to NBA teams? Sign Bell up.

Byron Wesley to John Salmons

Jan 26, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; USC Trojans guard Byron Wesley (22) in the second half of the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Galen Center. Stanford Cardinal won in overtime 77-71. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Wesley on paper looks like a scorer. I legitimately have not seen him play enough, let alone display his arsenal of talents in Few’s system, so my judgment is skewed. Averaging over 17 points at USC last season, it’s easy to want to proclaim him as only a scorer, which could not be a bigger mistake. Big scoring numbers on dismal teams might be the most misleading statistic in basketball because for crying out loud, someone has to score even in losing efforts! These numbers detract from his rebounding, defense and passing—all places I believe will help him thrive at GU. That is why I chose Salmons. In a pinch he can score, but he is not coveted in that category. He averaged over 18 points during his prime for dismal Bucks, Kings and Bulls but also averaged over four rebounds and three assists per year during that stint. Wesley will likely play a similar role, with more emphasis on the perimeter defense and less on being the number one scoring option.

Kyle Wiltjer to Ryan Anderson

Feb 27, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Mississippi State 85-55. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

This one wrote itself.  Last year when I was writing a feature on Wiltjer’s redshirt year, I asked him which NBA players he aspired to be like, in which he responded that he loves the games of Cleveland’s Kevin Love and New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson and drew comparisons from his aspirations for his own game with the two shooting bigs. If Wiltjer can be as durable as and inside and out of the post scorer, teams simply cannot pass on him. Anderson shoots the three-ball as well as any big in the league, and Wiltjer is right there. Although no one has seen him play in over a year, a recent video showed him draining 70 out of 75 three pointers in five minutes by himself—To give you something to compare to, current Sacramento King and former Michigan standout Nik Stauskas completed the challenge twice: once making 102 three pointers in five minutes, and the second time going 70-76 (92%). Wiltjer beat that. He beat a player who will be used in the NBA primarily for his shooting ability. Players have to aim high, which is probably why he named Kevin Love. Wiltjer has added weight and ability to take contact down low in his redshirt year, which will help him this year. Depending on the impact he makes he could procure quite an admirable draft stock after this season.

Przemek Karnowski to Jason Smith

Mar 21, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs center Przemek Karnowski (24) drives against Oklahoma State Cowboys forward/center Kamari Murphy (21) in the second half of a men

This was tough.  Przemek’s size presents major matchup issues in college, but in the NBA every team has at least two seven-footers. At 7-foot-1-inch, Karnowski will be picked up in the NBA as a role player. When ESPN analyst and self-proclaimed Gonzaga bandwagon member Seth Greenberg compared Przemek to legendary former Blazer center Arvedas Sabonis I laughed harder than someone watching a Chris Rock sketch; it was clinically insane. I understand the need to fill airtime, draw attention and spark viewer interest but weighing that at the expense of Greenberg’s credibility (I actually respect Greenberg and will always hear what he has to say, but come on…) is just a bummer. I love when analysts buy into a certain coach and system, because someone who devotes there life to studying and breaking down the game has a good amount of credibility. This year is critical in seeing what parts of his game Przemek has honed during the offseason. He put up career numbers of 10.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks last season. That is why I played it safe. Jason Smith is primary known for is wearing down good players for stints defensively, and providing screen setting and a serviceable low-post option on offense.  That being said, he does not have the killer instinct Smith has. Karnowski will not shove Blake Griffin in mid-air on a fast-break leading to an ejection; they are not equivalent in game but Karnowski should be dominant this year, giving him the ability better well round his game and fill a role when the opportunity presents itself in the NBA.