With the departure of three of Northwestern’s mainstay players in Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey and Gavin Skelly, Anthony Gaines was asked to do a lot more this year. You can read his review from last year and track his progression since then. Gaines was the only sophomore on the team this year, and with a flurry of graduation and transfers, he and A.J. Turner will be the only upperclassmen who received significant playing time that will return next season.
The Kingston, N.Y., native consistently showed he was one of the best athletes on the court at any given time, with his improved finishing ability and desire to drive the basket and get to the foul line on display. Although his numbers might not jump as high as he can, Gaines’ ability to be a reliable defender and offensive option should please Northwestern fans.
It’s evident just how much larger Gaines’ role was this year compared to last year. Playing less than half of games in his freshman season, the sophomore played over two-thirds of the team’s minutes, approximately a 50 percent increase. In conference games and games against top 100 competition he played nearly three quarters of games. As a result, his offensive production increased. His improved ability and comfort to drive to the basket resulted in more free throw opportunities, and although his percentage from the line crept down, it is still a respectable 76.9 percent. Primarily known for his defense, his effort on that end didn’t waver much either. Playing alongside quality defenders and rebound hunters Dererk Pardon and Vic Law, Gaines still managed a 16.4 defensive rebound percentage in Big Ten play. According to NUSports.com, his field goal percentage dropped two percent, but his increased usage and fatigue can be attributed to that small drop. Notably, he averaged 6.9 points per game, nearly a three-point jump from last season.
These stats per Hoop-math.com
These stats tell the story of distance from the basket. The fourth and fifth stats are Gaines’ shots and makes around the rim. He converted about fifty-five percent (46-84) of those shots, which is tied with Vic Law for second among players with more than 40 attempts around the rim. That’s all well and good, but the jumper numbers are not eye candy: the sophomore took 42 two-point jumpers and made just four of those — that’s under ten percent. For as many solid things Gaines did this season and has improved upon his game, the jump shot is one thing on which Collins should focus this offseason in Gaines’ development.
Gaines’ development over his first two years in Evanston have been positive. He improved noticeably and he consistently plays good defense. He got more aggressive this year, handled the ball more and was rewarded with more baskets and more playing time. Collins generally knew what he was getting while Gaines was on the floor, and that was mostly a good thing.
See, jump shots.
I wrote in the end-of-season roundtable that this team is Anthony Gaines’ next year. He and A.J. Turner will be the only upperclassmen who will have played significant minutes, and Gaines will be the longest tenured (projected) starter. With that comes a bigger role than this year, and with a bigger role comes the need for more offensive development. He needs to work on his jump shot to become a versatile offensively and use his athleticism to keep defenders guessing if he’ll pull up or drive to the rack.
With Law and Pardon now gone, Collins will likely put Gaines on the opponent’s best player on defense. Gaines is by far the best returning defender, and it may be weird to think that this lead-by-example-type player will likely step into a leadership role his junior year, but that’s the way the chips have fallen.
The Bottom Line
If you haven’t caught on already, Gaines is going to be a big part of the next two years. He, Turner and Kopp are the three returning players who are expected to play significant roles based on this past year. His offensive development encourages excitement, but he still has ways to go on that end of the floor. This year was disappointing for Northwestern, and amid all of the negatives were few positives; one of those positives was Gaines. He scored in double figures six times — five of those in conference play — and that represents solid development. If Collins emphasizes the jumper more and the rising junior continues improving his comfort driving to the basket, we could see an Anthony Gaines who averages double-figure scoring next year.