The lone representative of the class of 2017, Anthony Gaines got plenty of burn on the court thanks to his exceptional athleticism and injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. The freshman impressed with his hustle and high-flying dunks, as well as a solid five-game stretch to close out the year. A propensity for turnovers and a poor jump shot limited Gaines’ contributions on the offensive end. Nonetheless, no Wildcat improved more over the course of the season than Gaines did, and the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder has already carved out a role in Chris Collins’ rotation and a likely starting spot in 2018-19.
Offensively, Gaines wasn’t particularly efficient thanks to a lot of missed jump shots. A 20.6 percent turnover rate didn’t help either. There were some glimmers on offense, however, including a 39 percent free throw rate (and a 80.5 percent clip from the line) and some hot shooting down the stretch. On the other end, Gaines rebounded well for his size, and his motor showed up with a 4.2 percent offensive rebounding rate that was tied for best among Wildcat wings and guards. A 1.8 steal rate demonstrated solid disruptive potential defensively as well.
Gaines’ role in the offense was limited— he took the lowest share of shots out of any Wildcat who played at least 40 percent of the time this season. Gaines wasn’t particularly efficient, as the freshman struggled mightily with his jump shot and was out of control on drives at times.
To his credit, Gaines stayed within himself and didn’t force up shots. After a six-game stretch where Gaines missed all nine threes he took, the freshman only took four in the next six games. He heated up at the end of the season, nailing five of his final 12 threes, a positive sign for next season.
His 39 percent free throw rate was second-best on the team behind Dererk Pardon, and Gaines was money from the line, at 80.5 percent. Gaines also found some success in the post, where he used his strength to back down smaller guards. His shooting percentage inside the arc could use some improvement, but a nascent post-up game is definitely there.
Gaines’ athleticism and motor got him early playing time this season, and as he gained more experienced, a more robust skill set began to flourish. He showed an early ability to play above the rim and keep plays alive with his exceptional leaping ability and strength. Chris Collins loved Gaines’ effort on the defensive end, and the freshman had six multi-steal games this season while bothering ball-handlers and shooters with his length and quickness.
Moreover, Gaines garnered five consecutive starts to close out the season when injuries hit the ‘Cats, and the freshman looked like a veteran. He averaged 7.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.4 assists in 34.8 minutes per game to close out the season. Gaines attacked the glass, found his three-point shot, and developed some play-making ability, all great signs for the wing’s development.
Adjusting to college defenders was clearly an issue for Gaines early on. He turned the ball over three times in each of his first two games and struggled to make an impact on the offensive end for the first third of the season. Dribbling under control was a challenge at times, and Gaines sometimes tossed up impossible shots as he drove to the rim. Gaines’ jump shot looked broken at times early on, but credit him for improving throughout the season and knocking down some huge threes late in the year.
Gaines is one of two holdover “guards” on the roster. No one is expecting him to assume primary ball-handling responsibilities, but Gaines will be a starter next year and he will need to be able to dribble in and out of traffic. Next season, Gaines needs to cut down the turnovers and become more comfortable with the ball in his hands.
And I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but the jump shot needs to improve. Gaines’ touch developed nicely towards the end of the season, which bodes well. Getting his three-point percentage to the 30-32 percent range would be a modest, yet critical development.
The Bottom Line:
If Gaines produces like he did in his final five games in 2017-18, Northwestern fans should be ecstatic. Gaines projects as a bloodhound on defense, guarding the opponent’s best perimeter scorer to ostensibly save Vic Law some energy he can then exert on the offensive end. Gaines has the physical tools to be a great defender— if he can develop the intuition to take the next step, he is poised to take the mantel from Law as Northwestern’s stopper. With enough credibility as a shooter and ball-handler, there’s no reason Gaines can’t be a rotational cog over the next three seasons.