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After plenty of wins in college, Wiltjer hopes the NBA comes calling

June 21, 2016 Columns No Comments
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Gonzaga has two players who figure into the NBA Draft coming up in less than a week. One is sure to be drafted in the first round and has a pedigree, while the other has been on the radar quite a bit in college but may not be drafted.

Unlike Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer has no pedigree, but has plenty to offer a team that takes a chance on him.

To be clear, Sabonis has more going for him than merely being the son of Russian great Arvydas Sabonis. He has a great motor, great size and rebounds very well. He doesn’t have the look of a future perennial all-star, but he looks like a valuable piece for a winning team. It’s not hard to envision him one day being the heart and soul of a team the way he was at Gonzaga this year.

Wiltjer, on the other hand, is a very different player, though like Sabonis his size can help him. Wiltjer is a 6’10” forward who is better facing up than posting up, one who can hit from long range reliably. While he doesn’t have Sabonis’ pedigree, he does have something Sabonis doesn’t, which is a national championship ring as he began his career at Kentucky. Originally part of a much-heralded recruiting class, he was basically a bit player on the Wildcats’ 2012 national championship team before having a larger role a year later, a season where the Wildcats were very much up and down.

After two seasons, he transferred to Gonzaga and became a featured player – as well as a star. He shot over 46 percent from long range as a junior and 54 percent overall on a team that featured a deep and experienced backcourt. While he naturally had an even bigger role this past season, it’s clear that he benefited from having the guards on his team a year earlier as he didn’t shoot quite as well from long range as a senior. His 43.7 percent figure, though, is still nothing to take lightly, nor is the fact that Wiltjer’s teams won a lot of games in his career. The Bulldogs reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament in 2016 before losing to eventual Final Four team Syracuse.

There’s not much doubt about what Wiltjer could do as a pro. He’s a complementary player, not a guy a team will count on to be the go-to guy. He’s a four man who can shoot, and that’s what he does; there’s a certain role he would fill and that’s clear. In that context, he could help a team playing off others, something he demonstrated nicely over his career. He can be a stretch-four, hitting shots that pull post players away from the basket and finding teammates when he’s not open, though he’s a good but hardly world-class passer. With even more talented teammates around him, you could imagine his passing numbers looking better.

A player like Wiltjer would not be a first round pick. Most likely, if he is drafted at all, it will be in the second round by a team that sees value in a stretch four from winning programs. Wiltjer is not a great rebounder or shot-blocker for his size, so a team may have to try and hide him a bit at the defensive end. What role he would serve should he make a roster is clear.

Should Wiltjer not get drafted, he will almost certainly get an invite to a summer league roster. Ultimately, it’s not hard to imagine him going overseas and making a lot of money should the NBA not pan out right away. Plenty of players similar to him have done that. His intangibles help, as he’s been part of winning teams and is largely regarded as a solid character guy. From that standpoint, he carries little risk.

The second round is always interesting with the selections that come about. Some are completely unexpected, while others look like great potential value plays and others are teams opting to take a flyer on someone who would be a big risk if drafted in the first round. Wiltjer could be one of those players on Thursday night, following his teammate who will go much earlier and possibly even in the lottery.

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