Who he is:
Sophomore; guard; 6-foot-4; 205 pounds; Kingston, N.Y.
Four points per game; 18.6 minutes; 2.5 rebounds; 1.2 assists; .375/.242/.787 shooting splits
The lone member of the class of 2017, Gaines saw action in all 32 games last season and started the final five contests of the year. His minutes shot up towards the end of the year because of injuries, but Gaines acquitted himself well. An athletic, slashing guard, Gaines consistently brought it on the defensive end, but he looked uncomfortable on offense for most of the year. He told InsideNU the speed of the college game initially made it hard for him to make reads.
Gaines roomed with Bryant McIntosh in hotels, and the outgoing point guard imparted some wisdom on the freshman when it came to handling the ball. The game slowed down for Gaines as the year progressed.
“Towards the end of the season, everything was a lot slower because I understood it more so it was easier to make those reads,” Gaines said.
He averaged 3.4 assists and only one turnover per game over the season’s final matchups.
Gaines may be the best athlete on the team. Like Vic Law, he’s very versatile defensively — quick enough to stay with guards but strong enough to handle a post-up. He rebounds very well for his size; last year Gaines’s rebounding rates were better than Aaron Falzon’s or Scottie Lindsey’s. Most of Gaines’s highlights last year came in the open court or above the rim. He’s an explosive leaper and he’s developing into a creative finisher.
While he improved by leaps and bounds last year, Gaines isn’t a threat offensively quite yet. He struggles to create his own shot, though he uses his strength to post up smaller guards at times last year. His 8-of-33 mark from three-point range leaves something to be desired, too. Gaines said he spent the offseason working primarily on his shot and his ball-handling, as the sophomore will be asked to bring the ball up the court more this year.
Gaines said he hopes to become more aggressive offensively and to discern “when and where to take my shots, and being able to make them.”
At the very least, Gaines is a disruptive, athletic defender who can switch onto nearly anyone on the court. That’s a very important role within Northwestern’s rotation. The Wildcats will be playing a lot of long lineups, and NU’s wings will need to be able to seamlessly pick up anyone on the court. The test for Gaines will be whether he can develop into an adequate ball-handler, playmaker, and complementary scorer. He won’t be asked to hunt for his own shot, but he will need to improve on his efficiency across the board. When he initiates the offense, Gaines will need to minimize his mistakes.
Gaines has a high floor as an excellent defensive player. His ceiling could be high as well if he makes good on his offensive aspirations.