The State of Mizzou Basketball: Flipadelphia

Joe Robbins

We start the look at next year's roster by discussing the most polarizing, important player on the court.

Phil Pressey dominates a game. I mean that in both good and bad ways. He has the ball in his hands for a majority of a given possession, and that possession is relatively likely to end with either a Pressey shot, a Pressey pass (that leads to a shot), or a Pressey turnover. He was, at any given point in the 2012-13 season, either the best or worst thing Mizzou had going for it.

Search through Missouri's basketball history, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a player with more pressure on his shoulders than Pressey had this past season. While Mike Dixon's suspension and eventual transfer took away Missouri's best shooting guard (and potentially its go-to, late-game guy), it also took away the backup point guard. Pressey was left as the only point on the roster; Frank Haith tried Negus Webster-Chan in the backup role early and Keion Bell late, and while Bell had his moments, it was clear that he was a shooting guard playing point.

On multiple occasions this year, Pressey carried his team through a tough challenge away from home, only to falter in the final minutes (usually right around the moment he hit the 35-minute mark). He was brilliant against UCLA -- 19 points, 19 assists, two steals, five turnovers -- but a couple of sloppy, late possessions were all people could discuss afterward. He had 25 points, five assists, and four steals against LSU, but once again a couple of faulty late possessions dominated the story line. He had 27 points, 10 assists and four steals against Kentucky, but ... you see where this is going. Pressey had some of the most impressive stat lines you'll ever see this season, but when you're the quarterback of what is perceived to be an underachieving team, you shoulder most of the blame.

To be sure, Pressey did struggle at times in the final minutes of games. And to be sure, his defense, his invariable "slip under a screen and allow a 3-pointer that inevitably goes in" routine, can be maddening. But Missouri might not have made any postseason tournament if Pressey hadn't been on the roster in 2012-13. And his stay-or-go decision will determine quite a bit of the expectations moving forward.

Before we look at his stats, I'll share where I am right now regarding Flip's stay-or-go decision: I am almost 100% sure that he will test the draft waters and "declare" without signing an agent. I would honestly be shocked if this didn't happen. But I'm also about 80% sure that he'll return to school once he receives his evaluation. He will probably be told he is a mid-second round pick at best, and that he needs to drastically work on his shot and his defense if he is going to end up in the first round at "5'11, 175" (in quotes because I'd be shocked if he's more than 5'9, 165). There's a chance he says "To heck with it, I'm probably not in the first round next year either, and I'd prefer to start the journey now," but by no account is his family hurting for money, so I would assume that probably helps.

So yeah, the most likely scenario is that he tests the waters and returns, just like Marcus Denmon and Kim English did a couple of years ago. What can we expect if he does return? To answer that, let us (of course) dive into the numbers.

Player MPG PPG RPG APG TOPG SPG BCI BPG PFPG
Phil Pressey (2010-11) 22.0 6.5 2.3 3.9 2.2 2.0 2.74 0.0 2.1
Phil Pressey (2011-12) 32.1 10.4 3.3 6.4 2.4 2.1 3.49 0.1 2.0
Phil Pressey (2012-13) 34.1 11.9 3.3 7.1 3.5 1.8 2.51 0.1 1.9
Player TS% 2PT% 3PT% FT% FTA/FGA 3PA/FGA
Phil Pressey (2010-11) 51.8% 41.2% 36.1% 76.1% 0.27 0.49
Phil Pressey (2011-12) 56.2% 47.0% 36.5% 77.5% 0.44 0.39
Phil Pressey (2012-13) 48.0% 40.8% 32.4% 73.5% 0.27 0.38
Player Usage% Floor% %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
Phil Pressey (2010-11) 18% 38% 72% 18% 4% 7%
Phil Pressey (2011-12) 19% 44% 74% 15% 6% 5%
Phil Pressey (2012-13) 23% 39% 71% 19% 4% 6%

As one should have probably expected, Pressey's usage rate -- his domination of possessions, basically -- went up following the departures of Marcus Denmon, Kim English, and Mike Dixon. With a supporting cast in the backcourt that included three transfers (Keion Bell, Earnest Ross, Jabari Brown, the latter two of whom were seemingly quite streaky) and an overwhelmed freshman (Negus Webster-Chan), it should have gone without saying that Pressey would be taking more shots and forcing the issue a bit.

It probably should have also been assumed that Pressey's effectiveness might drop a bit. That's what happens when you are exposed to more possessions. But Pressey's effectiveness dropped a decent amount, especially in the areas in bold above. While we noticed his iffy 3-point shooting quite a bit, his 3-point percentage didn't end up too far away from his career averages -- he basically missed one extra 3-pointer for every 25 he took. But he stopped getting to the line, and his 2-point percentage fell by over six percentage points. The teardrop runner of his stopped falling in, and he stopped getting free points at the line.

This was perhaps the single biggest difference in his game. Flip has always been a streaky 3-point shooter, one whose low percentage is boosted by a couple of hot streaks (he was 13-for-27 to start the year and 6-for-12 to end it, and he shot 26 percent in between). He's always had the capability of taking over games (or trying) with his shot when he feels his team needs it. He's always been good at the steals and bad at the other parts of defense (I do find it funny that, if he returns, he'll end up Missouri's career steals leader despite everybody -- myself included -- abhorring his defense). But his mid-range game abandoned him, and even more than the 3-point droughts, it allowed defenders to sag off of him and protect the passing lanes. While he was shooting 6-for-12 on 3-pointers to finish the season, he was also shooting just 6-for-23 on 2-pointers, which dropped his season percentage about a point and a half.

I'm open to suggestion regarding why Flip's 2-point regression might have occurred. I know the SEC has quite a few long, athletic point guards (of varying degrees of talent), and I also know that guys just miss shots sometimes. From December 4 to December 28, a span of five games, Flip made just 13 of 45 2's (29%); take out that stretch and his final two games, and he's at 46%. So perhaps he just hit a couple of unexplainable funks. Perhaps he tried to force the issue too much as he took on more leadership (I could certainly believe this). Perhaps he found himself left with some awkward runners in the absence of Ricardo Ratliffe, whom I've referred to as Flip's "pick-and-roll muse" on multiple occasions.

Whatever the case, next year's roster could be an interesting one if Flip is still on the team. Pressey will find quite a bit of help on the perimeter -- Brown, Ross and NWC return, while freshman Wes Clark and Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson will enter the mix -- and quite a bit less help on the interior. Even though he didn't have Ratliffe this year, he did have Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi. Next year's big men could be lacking from a pick-and-roll perspective. Tony Criswell could turn into a nice shooter (he showed signs, though he also trusted his shot a bit too much at times), but Ryan Rosburg is a bit of a blank slate offensively, and early indications are that JUCO transfer Keanau Post is more of a defense-and-rebounding guy. Unless Johnathan Williams III can thrive from Day 1, or unless Stefan Jankovic raises his game from a reliability (and defense) standpoint, the ball could get stuck on the perimeter quite a bit.

(This will be the case with or without Pressey, obviously.)

All I know for sure is, my expectations for Missouri are much higher in 2013-14 with Phil Pressey than without him. Sure there could be some Ewing Theory potential here -- perhaps without Flip around, players like Clarkson, Brown, NWC, and maybe Wes Clark would be forced to show more of their game, and perhaps they would thrive -- but are you willing to make that bet? We'll have to rely on that to get us through the offseason if he does choose to go pro (and to be sure, a no-Flip team would be better on defense ... and likely quite a bit worse on offense), but my money is on Flip being a Missouri Tiger for one more year, and I'm of the opinion that would be a good thing.

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