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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther picked late in first round by NBA champion Denver Nuggets

Wing Julian Strawther drives to the hoop and scores in Gonzaga’s first-round NCAA Tournament win over Grand Canyon in March.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Julian Strawther wasn’t projected as a first-round pick in most mock drafts, but he was in the minds of the NBA champion Denver Nuggets.

Shortly after the first round passed the three-hour mark Thursday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the Nuggets, with the 29th overall pick acquired from Indiana on Wednesday, selected Strawther, giving Gonzaga at least one first-round pick for the third consecutive year.

Cheers erupted from a sizable gathering of family and friends – including former GU teammate and current Orlando guard Jalen Suggs – at Strawther’s draft party at a private suite in his hometown of Las Vegas when his name was called by commissioner Adam Silver, according to a video posted on social media by long-time family friend Willie Ramirez.

Strawther worked out for at least four teams, Golden State, Atlanta, Indiana and Charlotte, but the Nuggets apparently had their eye on Strawther for a while.

“Strawther’s an ‘elite’ 3-point shooter. The Nuggets loved his range/release/profile. Was their top target heading into tonight,” tweeted Mike Singer, who covers the Nuggets for the Denver Post.

Denver defeated Minnesota, Phoenix, the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami en route to the franchise’s first NBA title. The Nuggets’ high-powered offense is led by two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray. Strawther, generally projected to go in the top half of the second round, adds his smooth 3-point stroke to a squad that ranked fourth in the NBA at 37.8% last season.

“They’re getting a guy who can win, playing in that Gonzaga program,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said. “He made big shots, he can catch-and-shoot. He’s a very good cutter. I think he can be a much better defender. At the offensive end, he’s legit.”

Strawther’s offensive game evolved in his second season as a starter with the Zags. He averaged 15.2 points, second to Drew Timme’s 21.2 and 6.2 rebounds, equaling Anton Watson for second on the team, as a junior. Strawther paced the Zags with 203 defensive boards.

The 6-foot-7 wing made a team-high 80 3-pointers, connecting at a 40.8% clip. He was perhaps the best Zag in the clutch, knocking down memorable, game-deciding 3-pointers against BYU in Provo and versus UCLA in the Sweet 16 in Las Vegas. He made 77.6% of his free throws.

He hit 42.1% on 3-pointers from beyond 25 feet and 36.4% from beyond 27 feet, per Synergy. He drained 56.2% on 89 floaters.

“With Strawther, it’s all about the shooting and his overall touch,” the Athletic wrote of Strawther’s strengths. “He is a very high-level shot maker, particularly off the catch. More importantly, he also displayed real NBA range on his 3-point jumper. His jumper will translate … and he has the best floater in this draft class.”

“Strawther is not an awesome athlete,” the Athletic wrote of Strawther’s weaknesses. “Doesn’t have a ton of juice there by NBA standards. Not a superb leaper. Doesn’t have a ton of speed … Not weak but also won’t have a strength advantage in the NBA. Needs to maximize whatever he can from his frame because he will be disadvantaged in this respect. The big issues from his lack of athleticism come on defense.”

Strawther nailed eight 3-pointers and scored a career-high 40 points in a road win over Portland. He scored 28 points in Gonzaga’s first-round NCAA Tournament win over Grand Canyon but made just 12 of 40 from the field in the ensuing three tournament games.

“I’m an elite shooter, that’s what I was known for coming out of Gonzaga,” Strawther said following a workout or the Warriors. “That’s the main thing I wanted to showcase, just consistency of my shot and my ability to stretch the floor. It’s a luxury in the league right now, and it’s what lot of teams are coveting.”

Strawther attended the draft combine but didn’t participate in scrimmages, leading to speculation that he had received a guarantee from an NBA team. Strawther’s 10.3-second lane agility time was No. 1 in the 2022 combine, but his time slipped to 10.94 this year. However, he was one of the top 3-point shooters in combine drills.

Gonzaga has had at least one player selected in six of the last eight drafts. Eleven Zags have been drafted since 2016. Strawther is the 30th GU player drafted, 18 under head coach Mark Few, and 13th to be picked in the first round.