Sleeper Deep Dives: Julian Strawther
The Gonzaga junior generated some buzz last season, but Julian Strawther will have more opportunities this season to prove himself as one of the best guard options in the loaded 2023 draft.
When Julian Strawther arrived at Gonzaga for his first season, he had plenty of roadblocks between him and significant playing time. He finished his high school career as the 58th-ranked player in the 2020 class, per RSCI, but he was not even close to being the top-ranked guard in his class at Gonzaga—that honor belonged to Jalen Suggs. In addition to Suggs standing in front of him in the pecking order, Strawther also had to tangle with Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, and Andrew Nembhard to earn playing time. Strawther certainly had a great learning environment on a spectacular Gonzaga team, but he averaged just 7.4 MPG as the eighth man in a very deep rotation.
Suggs, Kispert, and Ayayi departed for the NBA the next season, but their departures did not fully clear the runway for Strawther. For one, Nembhard was the next guard up to take the spotlight for Gonzaga. Furthermore, Gonzaga added three of the Top 30 recruits from the high school class of 2021—including two guards, Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis, who were more highly-touted recruits than Strawther and who would challenge him for playing time.
In spite of the potential playing time challenges, Strawther proved his worth in multiple areas last season, starting all but one of his 32 games and providing offensive juice from the backcourt for the Bulldogs behind Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme up front. While Strawther certainly had gathered some believers during his sophomore season—including our own Albert Ghim, who compared Strawther to an Avenger last season—he decided to return to Gonzaga for another year.
Strawther has had plenty of impediments between himself and playing time at Gonzaga, yet he has also had plenty of excellent mentors and players to learn and grow with during his time in college. Even so, he remains on the outside looking in at this point when it comes to being a first round draft pick—the latest $DRFT rankings from our own Corey Tulaba currently project Strawther to be the 31st overall pick.
Julian Strawther might not be top of mind for many at the moment as a potential first round pick, but he has the offensive skill set and defensive potential to have a breakout junior year at Gonzaga. By the time the 2023 NBA Draft rolls around, he will have every chance to emerge as the next man in a long line of recent Gonzaga Bulldogs who have heard Adam Silver calling their names on draft night. So…let’s dive deep!
Offense: Shooting and Finishing
The opening argument in the case for Julian Strawther is his exceptionally efficient offensive game. Strawther’s shooting splits from last season—50/37/71—are solid, but they don’t tell the full story of just how great he is on that end of the court.
Strawther’s True Shooting Percentage of 61.5% does a slightly better job of telling the tale—he put up more than half of his shot attempts last season from beyond the arc. He was proficient as a catch-and-shoot player and as an off-screen threat, moving well to get himself open off the ball and firing away once he got an inch of space. Strawther has a compact form and a quick release from deep; opponents who left him alone out there were often forced to pay for their transgressions:
Some other advanced numbers are even more revealing when it comes to Strawther’s staggering offensive efficiency. He ranked in the 97th percentile overall offensively last season, per Synergy Sports. He ranked in the 65th percentile or higher in every single offensive play type and in the 86th percentile or higher in all but two of them.
The most revealing number of all for Strawther, however, is one of the simplest. Julian Strawther converted a truly staggering 65.9% of his two-point attempts last season—a mark that would stand out among lob-finishing centers, let alone a 6’7” guard. Strawther is not a bad athlete by any means, but he’s no DeAndre Jordan. He is, however, an exceptionally crafty finisher who finds his way around and through any roadblocks in the paint:
Strawther’s finishing craft around the basket is complemented well by his handle. He doesn’t have the flashiest moves, but he has a good handle and a particularly devastating hesitation dribble that he uses to leave defenders in the dust. Once he gets his opponent off-guard for a moment, he doesn’t hesitate to attack:
The crown jewel in Strawther’s scoring package is his runner. He averaged a mind-blowing 1.324 points per possession on his runners on a healthy number of attempts, ranking in the 98th percentile on those shots. His runner is a perfect complement to his long-range shooting frequency and his at-rim efficiency. On the occasions when he is forced off the three-point line but can’t get all the way to the rim, Strawther has an answer for any defender foolish enough to give him just an inch of space:
Julian Strawther might not have the most eye-popping offensive numbers on the surface. If you dive a little deeper, though, he emerges as one of the most efficient offensive weapons in college basketball, capable of scoring in a variety of ways and capable of making defenses pay when they lose track of him. Strawther hasn’t been the first option for Gonzaga, and he won’t be the first option for his NBA team. Make the mistake of forgetting about him, though, and he will make you pay for it.
Defense: Size and Strength
While Julian Strawther is not as absurd on the defensive side of the ball as he is on offense, there is plenty to like about his defensive play as well. His size and mobility allow him to switch effectively on the perimeter, and he should be able to guard 1-3 relatively comfortably at the NBA level.
He does well when guarding on-ball, but his most encouraging defensive plays are usually off-ball. Strawther reads the game very well, and he knows the best angles to take to cut off opposing offenses.
Strawther isn’t much of a playmaker on the defensive end, but his relative lack of ability to generate turnovers isn’t as important as his play-to-play reliability. He’s a solid defender who very rarely makes mistakes and won’t put his team in trouble with stupid gambles.
The advanced defensive numbers were not as overwhelmingly positive as the offensive ones, but they do speak well of his abilities on that end of the floor and back up his defensive film. Strawther ranked in the 65th percentile defensively last season, per Synergy Sports.
Strawther’s defensive box score numbers don’t jump off the page for the most part, but he does occasionally stuff the stat sheet in one key area: rebounding. He finished 18th in the WCC in rebounds last season and 15th in defensive rebounds—even with Timme and Holmgren vacuuming up boards in the frontcourt. Strawther’s ability to see the game at a high level shines through in his rebounding; he reads the ball’s trajectory well, and he has a knack for finding his way to the right place to snag crucial boards. When he does crash the defensive glass, he is also adept at pushing the ball ahead in transition, generating easy looks for his teammates in addition to helping them out down low:
Julian Strawther is, in many ways, a prototypical 3-and-D prospect. His frame, flexibility, and understanding of the game make it easy to see him plugging into an NBA rotation as a spot-up threat and defensive irritant. While he might not generate as many turnovers as some other prospects, his solid reliability both on and off the ball makes him a stout defensive prospect overall. When you add in his contributions on the glass, it’s easy to see Strawther becoming an above-average defensive weapon at the NBA level sooner rather than later.
It is nearly impossible to draw any definitive conclusions from the first week, let alone the first game, of the college basketball season. However, one key takeaway from Julian Strawther’s first game is that he has the runway cleared for a breakout season. Strawther and Hickman helmed the two starting guard spots, while Sallis and transfer Malachi Smith came off the bench.
The first game might also be a sign that this year will be the Drew Timme show, even more than last year; Timme put up 19 shots, more than double the total of every other Bulldogs starter. Still, Strawther had a strong start to the season, putting up 16 points on just seven shots and adding in five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and a block in his 24 minutes against North Florida. Even if Timme continues to dominate the offense for Gonzaga, Strawther will have plenty of opportunities as a perimeter threat.
Julian Strawther could easily have faded into the background at Gonzaga, with future NBA players ahead of him in his first season and with highly-touted recruits at his position arriving during his sophomore season. Instead, Strawther has filled gaps for Gonzaga at both ends of the floor and has continued to build on his game and solidify his place. If he can maintain his stellar scoring inside the arc, defend with passion, and rain in shots from deep, he will certainly have some suitors in the latter portion of the first round of the 2023 NBA Draft—and maybe even earlier than that.