Gonzaga Needs Przemek Karnowski to “Break Out”Posted by Chris Johnson on August 23rd, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
The sophomore breakout formula Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn has been using over the past few seasons to highlight players expected to dramatically improve in their second years is not like any old fuzzy, subjective, qualitative preseason guessing game. It is grounded in a precise statistical methodology, designed to identify players who evince star potential in limited sample sizes and, in turn, realize that potential over more minutes by putting up big numbers in the coming season. Here’s his explanation: “To qualify, a player cannot have averaged much more than 20 minutes per game as a freshman. But while he was on the floor, he had to use a go-to-guy’s share of his team’s offensive possessions (around 24 percent or higher) with a respectable level of efficiency (an ORating of at least 100.0, or one point per possession). The underlying theory, as first proposed byBasketball Prospectus, is that go-to-guys tend to act like it from the start of their careers, even in limited playing time. “Players who are not very involved in the offense,” Ken Pomeroy wrote for BP in 2007, “tend to stay that way.” Winn’s track record is terrific; most of the players he highlights make good on their breakout promise – from Malik Waayns at Villanova in 2010-11 to Terrell Stoglin at Maryland in 2011-12 to Andre Hollins at Minnesota last season.
This year’s No. 1 breakout candidate, according to Winn, is Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski. Last season, Karnowski averaged 5.7 points per game, posted a 102.5 offensive rating while using 27.0 percent of his team’s possessions, and logged 26.1 percent of available minutes. Karnowski’s minutes and shot opportunities are expected to increase next season – a fundamental criterion in Winn’s predictive method – largely because last season’s dominating frontcourt duo, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk, are now playing in the NBA. The Zags need a dominating frontcourt presence to help make up for their lost production and Karnowski, a highly-touted international recruit last season, is the perfect candidate. Picking him as college basketball’s biggest breakout candidate doesn’t just pass the tempo-free smell test; it makes intuitive sense. Karnowski is in excellent position to make the proverbial sophomore leap.
But what if he doesn’t? What if, by chance, Winn’s formula glitched, or Karnowski gets injured? Will Gonzaga be able to maintain the stranglehold it has so convincingly maintained over the rest of the WCC in recent seasons? Mark Few’s team doesn’t look nearly as deep as it was last year, and recreating Olynyk and Harris’ lost point-producing output (and rebounding and underrated defense) is a quandary Few may struggle with the entire season. The Zags will need to rely heavily on their backcourt, which should be one of the best in the country. Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, David Stockton and Providence transfer Gerard Coleman give Gonzaga the creative intuition and perimeter scoring chops to compete with any backcourt it will face this season. Even BYU’s pairing of Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws, to say nothing of incoming freshman big man Eric Mika, can’t stand up to the Zags’ guard cohort. The other biggest challenger, Saint Mary’s, lost all-program great Matthew Dellavedova and doesn’t bring back anything close to an equal replacement (that’s a high bar to meet, but the point stands).
That backcourt advantage should keep Gonzaga atop the WCC for another season, but their grip on the league championship doesn’t look nearly as firm as it did heading into last season. And if Karnowski doesn’t prolong Winn’s run of predictive excellence, it’s not unreasonable to think BYU or Saint Mary’s could end the Zags’ run of metonymic WCC dominance. The formula rarely fails, so there’s little reason to worry. Karnowski should blossom and every bit of preseason speculation about Gonzaga’s possible downfall will seem petty in hindsight. That’s what the numbers say, anyway.