Philly Front Office

A Look into Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Jr.

RS Sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr. has thrown his name in to enter the 2019 NBA Draft. How does he project into the NBA, and how does he fit with the Philadelphia 76ers?

Fun Fact: Zach Norvell once hit 11 threes in a half in a high school game.

Zach Norvell Jr. has been a known quantity as a shooter since he hit the AAU scene many years ago. He went to Simeon Career Academy, which produced Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker, among others. He ranked in ESPN’s Top 100 prospects coming out of high school.

If you’re looking for a shooting guard who can fit into a star-studded team, provide spacing, keep the ball moving, and execute his defensive responsibilities, look no further than Norvell. Wait, that’s exactly what the Sixers are looking for?

Zach Norvell the College Player

Norvell was recruited by a handful of 2nd and 3rd tier major conference programs, but chose the perennial powerhouse Gonzaga. Gonzaga develops players differently than most college programs, finding undervalued prospects and bringing them along slowly. Norvell redshirted his freshman year, sitting behind a crew of upperclassmen guards. In his RS Freshman season, he started the season on the bench before earning his way into the starting lineup in less than 10 games, where he has remained ever since.

Norvell’s two seasons were remarkably consistent. He shot 37% from 3 on close to 500 attempts, and all of his rate stats remained almost identical from season to season. He was average or better at everything across the board. One of the big things I look for in college prospects is what will make them better than a good G-League player. For Norvell, his calling card is his ability to handle the ball and create without turning the ball over, which is far better than the typical spot up shooter.

When Norvell’s shot wasn’t falling, he contributed to the game in other ways. That’s important for a shooter. It’s what makes him a real prospect at the next level. 

Where can we expect Zach Norvell to go in the 2019 NBA Draft?

It’s still early in the process, but I don’t anticipate Norvell significantly rising from the combine. If he does, it will be due to good workouts and interviews.

ESPN: 77 91

Tankathon: 42 40

The Athletic: 37

Why the huge discrepancy between ESPN/NBADraft and the other three? I have no idea! Neither ESPN nor NBADraft have anything written on him.

Zach Norvell’s Strengths

Shooting: Norvell can and will shoot shoot shoot the ball. 37% on 470 three point attempts, 83.6% on 195 FT attempts. His lefty stroke is very consistent from shot to shot. He can catch and shoot, he can step back and fire, and he won’t hesitate to let it fly. He would do well to speed up his release at the next level, but even as is, defenders will not be able to stray far from him.

Handling and passing: Many modern 3-and-D players lack the ability to drive to the basket against weaker defenders or to create out of the pick-and-roll without turning the ball over. Norvell has no such issues. While he is not explosive, he can punish weaker and smaller defenders and get to the rim, and he has the vision to find the open man if and when help comes. His 2.2:1 A:TO is PG level, and it’s possible he could even develop into a backup primary ball-handler down the road.

Off-ball movement: There is an art to getting open. One issue often seen with younger guards is that they spent so much time with the ball in their hands at lower levels that they never developed off-ball skills, and so their movement is mechanical instead of natural. Norvell has no such issues. Norvell constantly moves, creating passing lanes for his teammates and forcing the defense to track him at all times. It’s a skill that will serve him well at the next level.

Zach Norvell’s Weaknesses

Low upside: While Norvell is well-rounded, he doesn’t do anything particularly well. His best case scenario will be blending into lineups featuring other stars. There is certainly a need for guys like him in the NBA, but it’s hard to advocate highly drafting a guy who probably tops out as playable.

Streaky: Nothing gets fans more riled up than a streaky 3 point shooter. Well, Norvell is the very definition of streaky. In both of his seasons, he played 37 games, shot 50% or better from three in 13 of them, and shot under 30% in 11 of them. Consistently inconsistent.

Poor physical tools: Norvell had the worst athletic testing of any guard at the combine this year, putting up results more in line with the 7 footers than the guards. While it’s not a death sentence (players such as Khris Middleton, Quinn Cook, and Delon Wright have put up similar numbers in the past), it’s not good.

In Conclusion

Norvell lacks the type of special skills or tools that would warrant a top 20 selection in the draft. Once you get outside that range though, you’re really just looking for a roleplayer who can provide NBA-level rotation minutes. Norvell fits that bill. While he will probably never be a starting quality player, there’s always room in the NBA for guys who can give you 15-20 good minutes off the bench.

Norvell will have to earn his way in the NBA. Like every young player entering the league, his game needs refinement. Unlike most young players, he doesn’t need to add anything to his game, which makes the refinement process easier. In the right situation, with good coaching, Norvell can be a valuable contributor.

Zach Norvell’s Fit with the 76ers

I know the common mantra that any shooter is a good fit for the Sixers, but as mentioned earlier, I always look for what a player does better than a G-Leaguer. With Norvell, I run into a real question: is Norvell any better than Shake Milton? I don’t know how to answer that. Spending a draft pick on a guy who is 100% analogous to a player you already have is not a good use of resources. Milton wasn’t particularly successful in his NBA time, so maybe Norvell will be better, but they’re very similar players.

As a result, I don’t think Norvell is a good fit as a first rounder. In the second round, you’re just looking for anybody who can contribute. Norvell projects as a potential contributor and he fits something the Sixers need, so he would be a fine if unspectacular pick in the second.

How do you feel about Zach Norvell Jr. on the Sixers? Let us know by leaving a comment below or reaching out on Twitter!

Here is PFO’s Ultimate Highlight Reel of Zach Norvell Jr. from last year. 

Adam Schorr

Adam Schorr (@BusterDucks) likes advanced stats, perhaps too much. We must go deeper!

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