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Gonzaga Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Former Gonzaga standouts back at it after abbreviated NBA offseason

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 12, 2020

Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis points to a teammate after hitting a 3-pointer during a January road game against Phoenix.  (Associated Press)
Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis points to a teammate after hitting a 3-pointer during a January road game against Phoenix. (Associated Press)

Rui Hachimura starred with Bruce Willis in a Japanese TV commercial. Kelly Olynyk had the shortest offseason break of his eight-year NBA career. Domantas Sabonis got engaged.

The offseason didn’t last long, but former Gonzaga standouts found time to attend to important matters.

The Los Angeles Lakers defeated Olynyk and Miami in the Finals with the clinching win in Game 6 on Oct. 11. Training camps opened Dec. 1 and Friday marked the first preseason games. The 72-game regular season begins Dec. 22.

A record nine Zags appeared in NBA games last season – which was interrupted in March by the COVID-19 pandemic before resuming in the Orlando, Florida, bubble in July – and at least a handful should have prominent roles again this season.

Those battling for roster spots received positive news with the Competition Committee’s recommendation to allow 15 players to dress on game day instead of the customary 13, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. A final decision is expected Thursday.

Here’s a look at Zags in the NBA.

Olynyk helped the surprising Heat, seeded fifth in the Eastern Conference, reach the Finals. Roughly a month later, he exercised the player option on the final year of his contract to stay with the team. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent after the 2021 season.

Olynyk is a steady player who provides a boost off the bench for a Heat frontcourt anchored by All-Star Bam Adebayo. Olynyk averaged 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds last season. He made 40.6% of his 3-point attempts and 86% at the foul line.

Brandon Clarke’s rookie season with Memphis looked like his lone season in a GU uniform. The bouncy 6-foot-8 forward made nearly 62% of his shots while averaged 12.1 points and 5.9 rebounds in 22.4 minutes.

Clarke, selected No. 21 overall, was fourth in NBA Rookie of the Year voting and made first-team all-rookie. He started just four games last season, but he’ll probably be a starter this season, at least early on, with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow sidelined by injuries.

Clarke worked on his play-making ability during the offseason.

“It’ll make a pretty big difference,” Clarke, who added 10 pounds, told the Arizona Republic.

Killian Tillie wasn’t drafted, but within 30 minutes of the final selection he had agreed to a two-way contract with the Grizzlies. Under revised rules for this season, two-way players are eligible to play in as many as 50 NBA games.

Tillie’s 3-point ability and court sense should translate well to the NBA. He missed the first preseason game with a strained hamstring.

Sabonis put together an All-Star campaign for Indiana with career-high averages of 18.5 points, 12.4 boards and 34.8 minutes. He was sidelined for the NBA bubble restart in Orlando with plantar fasciitis in his foot, but he’s been participating in training camp.

The Pacers appear poised to challenge in the East with a talented roster, led by the 24-year-old Sabonis.

In September, Sabonis posted a picture on Instagram of his proposal to girlfriend Shashana Rosen with the caption: “I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

Hachimura battled back from a groin injury to post solid stats (13.5 points, 6.1 rebounds), earning second-team all-rookie. The ninth overall pick had to take on a prominent offensive role with John Wall and Bradley Beal injured. The Wizards recently traded Wall to Houston for Russell Westbrook.

Hachimura seems entrenched in the starting lineup and should benefit from the Wizards’ multiple scoring options. He recently told NBCSports.com that Westbrook has “actually changed our energy, the team.”

Hachimura’s Air Jordan XXXV Warrior PE shoes launched in October. He shared the screen with Willis in a recent commercial for Japanese corporation SoftBank. They shot their spots separately because of COVID-19 and he didn’t meet Willis.

Zach Collins suffered an ankle injury in August just before the start of the playoffs. He had ankle surgery and is expected to return in mid-January. He’s well on his way to recovery and went through some drills hours before Portland’s preseason game Friday.

Still, it was a frustrating season for Collins, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in the third regular-season game that required surgery. He averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds as a starter in his third season. He’ll be relied on for rim protection, rebounding and to stretch the floor after his 3-point percentage reached a career-high 37% last year.

Nigel Williams-Goss returns for his second season with the Utah Jazz. He saw limited time in 10 games, including one playoff appearance. It won’t be easy to carve out playing time. He’s one of nine guards listed on the roster that includes the starting backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley.

Zach Norvell Jr. had an eventful rookie season, logging five combined games with the Lakers and Golden State. He put up big numbers (14.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists) for G League South Bay and Santa Cruz.

The Chicago native is one of 20 players in training camp after signing a one-year deal with the hometown Bulls. Teams are allowed to carry 15 players and two on two-way contracts.

Norvell had two assists and two boards in 6 minutes in the Bulls’ preseason loss to Houston on Friday.

Former Zags Jeremy Pargo (Golden State) and Johnathan Williams (Washington) are no longer on NBA rosters.

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