The State of Mizzou Basketball: The Backcourt

USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, we looked at Phil Pressey and his potential impact next season. Now let's look at Pressey's potential backcourt mates.

Two years ago, Missouri's lineup was dominated by guards, to the point where the Tigers put four of them on the court for a vast majority of the time. This past season, a lot of the emphasis shifted more toward the frontcourt, where Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers were potentially Mizzou's two best players. In 2013-14, we should again see more emphasis on the guards. Jabari Brown won't be playing power forward anytime soon, but Mizzou's fate will be tied to how well, and how consistently, its long, athletic guards, can dictate offensive production.

Jabari Brown (6'5, 205, Jr.)

With a five-star designation, Jabari Brown ensured that expectations would likely be far too high for him when he donned the black and gold, and while his offense was a little on the hot-and-cold side, and his defense left something to be desired, his debut season was, all told, pretty good.

Stats in italics came from his time at a different school.

Player MPG PPG RPG APG TOPG SPG BCI BPG PFPG
Jabari Brown (2011-12) 23.8 9.5 4.5 1.8 4.8 1.0 0.58 0.5 1.5
Jabari Brown (2012-13) 32.7 13.7 3.4 1.4 1.7 0.7 1.21 0.0 2.0
Player TS% 2PT% 3PT% FT% FTA/FGA 3PA/FGA OR% DR%
Jabari Brown (2011-12) 40.3% 39.1% 9.1% 56.7% 0.88 0.32 5% 12%
Jabari Brown (2012-13) 57.6% 46.4% 36.6% 78.5% 0.43 0.61 2% 9%
Player Usage% Floor% %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
Jabari Brown (2011-12) 31% 26% 37% 31% 14% 17%
Jabari Brown (2012-13) 21% 37% 35% 42% 16% 7%

There were plenty of ups and downs. In just his second game, against Illinois, Brown scored 18 points on 5-for-10 shooting (3-for-7 on 3-pointers), with seven defensive rebounds. In his fourth game, against Bucknell, he scored three points on 1-for-9 shooting. In the end, though, the small impression he left at Oregon last year (in four games, including two exhibitions) was, as we hoped, inaccurate. At Oregon, he was a high-volume shooter who turned the ball over a lot and dominated possessions. This season, he blended into the flow of the offense; when his shot was falling, he took over, and when it wasn't, he blended into the scenery a bit. His usage rate was 25 percent when he was scoring 17 points and saving Mizzou from a lackluster effort against South Carolina, and it was 44 percent when he couldn't miss in the South Carolina rematch (23 points on 8-for-10 shooting, nine free throws and five assists).

Without Oriakhi and Bowers inside, Brown will likely be forced into more of a marquee role next season. That could be good -- this team will need as much leadership as possible from Brown and Earnest Ross -- and it could be bad (if his shot isn't falling, he's going to have to figure out how to generate points regardless).

Honestly, the biggest hole in Brown's game right now might be purely instinctive. As a catch-and-shoot shooting guard, he is already quite good. But when he raises his effort level to match the moment, it seems his level of play regressed. His defensive footwork abandoned him quite a bit -- the harder he tried, the more likely he was to get crossed-over at times -- and when he tried to force the action on offense, a turnover quite often followed. This would make sense to some degree, as he was still a really green player. With a year of experience under his belt, Brown should expect to improve a decent amount next winter.

Earnest Ross (6'5, 222, Sr.)

With his occasionally dominating play, both in last year's Black and Gold game and in last September's trip to Europe, Earnest Ross entered the 2012-13 season looking like a candidate to lead Missouri in scoring. It didn't happen -- his hot-and-cold streaks were like Brown's on steroids -- but for the season as a whole, he was a decent, complementary piece. He also showed some late-game guts, making big shots against both Bucknell and South Carolina at home after struggling with his shot for most of both of those games.

Player MPG PPG RPG APG TOPG SPG BCI BPG PFPG
Earnest Ross (2010-11) 31.8 13.1 6.6 2.1 2.3 1.4 1.52 0.3 2.5
Earnest Ross (2012-13) 25.3 10.3 5.0 1.1 1.9 1.2 1.27 0.2 1.9
Player TS% 2PT% 3PT% FT% FTA/FGA 3PA/FGA OR% DR%
Earnest Ross (2010-11) 53.1% 43.3% 33.3% 79.3% 0.42 0.44 7% 18%
Earnest Ross (2012-13) 53.5% 44.3% 37.7% 70.8% 0.31 0.45 8% 14%
Player Usage% Floor% %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
Earnest Ross (2010-11) 24% 36% 42% 35% 14% 8%
Earnest Ross (2012-13) 23% 35% 35% 44% 12% 10%

Ross is as impressive an athletic specimen as you're ever going to see on the basketball court, and like Alex Oriakhi, he's got a bit of an emotional side that can both help and hurt his play. His offensive rating was all over the place from November through mid-January (59 against SIUE, 22 against Tennessee State, 62 against Bucknell, 35 at Ole Miss ... and 162 against Alcorn State, 176 against S.C. State, 143 against Alabama and 143 against Georgia), but he leveled out as a decent bench player in the season's home stretch.

A likely starter at small forward next year, Ross should be able to bring decent defense and 12-13 points per game to the table. And honestly, I wouldn't mind if he ended up getting some looks late in games. Again, the sample was small, but when called upon in tense moments, he acquitted himself reasonably well. Like Brown, though, he needs to figure out how to bring a steadier level of play to the table. When Brown and Ross were both on this year, Mizzou was nearly untouchable. But when they were off, they were ice cold, and they gave Phil Pressey nearly no support (offensively or defensively) in the backcourt. That led to Pressey pressing the action.

In Brown's case, he might also be counted on to do a little more banging on the boards. He was a pretty nice presence on the defensive glass alongside Bowers and Oriakhi, but his defensive rebounding rate was a bit lower overall than it was in his last year at Auburn. (That could simply be because he wasn't needed as much.) With his strength inside and ability on the perimeter, he is an interesting weapon, one Mizzou will absolutely be counting on more in 2013-14 than it did (or could) in 2012-13.

Negus Webster-Chan (6'7, 200, So.)

In his first official collegiate game, Negus Webster-han scored 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting, dished four assists, nabbed three steals, and pulled down a pair of defensive rebounds. In his second game, he shot just 1-for-8 from the field, but he pulled down 11 rebounds and managed another three steals. He scored another 12 points in 36 minutes versus VCU ... and then he would score just 26 points over the next two months. He began the season shooting 9-for-26 (35%) on 3-pointers, then went just 7-for-33 (21%) the rest of the way. He grabbed eight defensive boards against Tennessee state, pulled down another four against S.C. State, then grabbed just 13 in the final three months of the season.

Player MPG PPG RPG APG TOPG SPG BCI BPG PFPG
Negus Webster-Chan (2012-13) 15.0 2.5 2.0 0.8 0.7 0.4 1.71 0.0 0.9
Player TS% 2PT% 3PT% FT% FTA/FGA 3PA/FGA OR% DR%
Negus Webster-Chan (2012-13) 42.7% 39.3% 27.1% 66.7% 0.17 0.68 4% 10%
Player Usage% Floor% %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
Negus Webster-Chan (2012-13) 11% 29% 54% 33% 5% 8%

NWC is one of the more confusing players I can remember. Missouri coaches envisioned him envisioned him playing the backup point guard role at one point, suggesting his ability to handle the ball and run an offense were decent in practice. But in the final 23 games of the season, he had just nine assists to 10 turnovers. His personality stats (%Pass, %Shoot, etc.) suggest a PG-SG tweener ... but he's 6'7 and had better rebounding numbers than passing or shooting. He never looked overwhelmed on the court, and he always looked pretty confident shooting the ball, but those shots rarely went in, and in the box score he was nearly invisible. He lets the game come to him like Marcus Denmon ... but the game never really came to him against real opponents (other than VCU).

It probably goes without saying that I have absolutely no idea what to expect from NWC moving forward. It could just be that he was undergoing a Rickey Paulding-esque freshman shooting slump, and when the game slows down for him, he becomes a semi-reliable scorer. He showed decent cut-to-the-basket ability in a couple of opportunities against Colorado State, and if he can bring eight points, a couple of assists, and 2-4 rebounds to the table ... that's a useful piece. Or, he'll never find his shot against a real team, and he'll end up always being a "nearly invisible" player. No idea whatsoever.

Dominique Bull (6'4, 220, So.)

It's never a good sign when a walk-on gets more minutes than you. Corey Haith's 18 minutes exceeded Dominique Bull's 14, and it probably also says a lot that a team in need of one more guard, one more decent defensive presence on the perimeter, didn't ever play a guy who came to Columbia with a reputation as a decent, physical, defensive guy.

Player MPG PPG RPG APG TOPG SPG BCI BPG PFPG
Dominique Bull (2012-13) 1.6 0.1 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.0 1.00 0.0 0.0
Player TS% 2PT% 3PT% FT% FTA/FGA 3PA/FGA OR% DR%
Dominique Bull (2012-13) 26.6% 0% N/A 50.0% 2.00 0.00 8% 15%
Player Usage% Floor% %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
Dominique Bull (2012-13) 24% 24% 61% 10% 18% 10%

I don't think it's going to surprise anybody if Dominique Bull ends up transferring (voluntarily or less-than-voluntarily) from Missouri this offseason, but if he does stay, what type of player might he become? Hard to say, obviously, but he's Earnest Ross's size, and he showed decent driving-and-dishing numbers in minimal minutes. It would probably be best to assume nothing from Bull moving forward, but he's physically impressive, and a lot of decent senior contributors were non-factors their freshman year.

Newcomers

Whether or not Phil Pressey stays at Mizzou for his senior season, the returnees listed above won't see their roles change very much. The newcomers below, however, could move from complementary to vital in Flip's absence.

Jordan Clarkson (6'5, 180, Jr.)

A Tulsa transfer, Clarkson is both intriguing and not quite the player people seem to assume he is.

Player MPG PPG RPG APG TOPG SPG BCI BPG PFPG
Jordan Clarkson (2010-11) 24.9 11.5 2.1 1.9 2.9 0.7 0.90 0.1 2.3
Jordan Clarkson (2011-12) 33.9 16.5 3.9 2.5 2.7 0.9 1.26 0.5 2.4
Player TS% 2PT% 3PT% FT% FTA/FGA 3PA/FGA OR% DR%
Jordan Clarkson (2010-11) 55.9% 48.7% 30.3% 79.3% 0.54 0.29 2% 8%
Jordan Clarkson (2011-12) 55.6% 46.1% 37.4% 78.4% 0.45 0.30 4% 10%
Player Usage% Floor% %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
Jordan Clarkson (2010-11) 28% 37% 43% 31% 15% 11%
Jordan Clarkson (2011-12) 28% 39% 43% 36% 14% 8%

Jordan Clarkson, like Keion Bell this season, has not proven to be much of a point guard. His %Pass-%Shoot numbers suggest more of a Jimmy McKinney type (McKinney's distribution his senior season: 45% pass, 36% shoot, 11% fouled, 8% turnover), capable of running the point at times but more comfortable as a complementary ball-handler. If Pressey is gone, however, Clarkson might not have much of a choice but to run point at times, especially if Wes Clark isn't quite ready to be a primetime contributor (and freshmen often aren't).

(For more on Clarkson, check out his Mizzou Network interview here.)

Wes Clark (6'0, 175, Fr.)

Here's a little bit of background on the player who will either become the backup point guard Mizzou didn't have this year ... or a point guard thrown quickly into the fire.

From ESPN Insider:

Strengths:

Clark is a tough and competitive lead guard that posesses a great motor. He is a good leader and has a very good basketball IQ. Clark can run the team and is the extension of the coach on the floor. He attacks on both ends of the floor and plays to exhaustion. He pushes the ball on the pass or dribble and uses his court vision to deliver drive, draw and kick passes on time and on target. Clark can get to the rim and finish, stop and pop or hit the floater with touch and body control in addition to knocking down open threes off the catch that he can step into. He pressures the ball and is alert in the passing lanes on defense.

Weaknesses:

Clark will need to add strength and continue, not allow the defense to speed him up at times and continue to work to make his jump shot from behind the arc a consistent weapon.

And from the Detroit Free-Press on Clark's starring role in his high school's recent state title run.

Clark, who signed with Missouri, scored 10 of his 12 points in the third quarter as the Eagles got a 61-49 victory Saturday to claim the elusive state title.

He left the locker room and began the third quarter by hitting a three-point shot.

With Southeastern within nine points, Clark drove through the heart of the defense for a lay-in. Not long after he drove to the basket, drew the contact and scored again before he hit the ground and added a free throw.

He had one more breathtaking drive left in the quarter before he passed to E.C. Matthews for a three-point shot, giving Romulus a 19-point lead entering the fourth quarter. All that was left to do was start engraving the trophy.

The Admiral injured his ankle in the state tournament, evidently, and played relatively poorly in the semifinals and the first half of the finals. But he brought the thunder in the third quarter of the state finals, and that was that.

Here's some film.

Honestly? He looks like the prototypical high school star point guard. He's quick, active, confident, shows a decent shooting touch, and is apparently pretty decent and active on defense. That's very exciting. And until we see him on the court with actual college basketball players, we have no idea whether he'll be an immediate-impact guy or someone who takes a while to get up to speed when others are as quick as he is (and stronger).

There is a solid amount of potential here. If Flip Pressey returns, he'll have not only Brown and Ross to lean on, but also Clarkson and, in theory, a more mature NWC. Plus, he'll have a backup, meaning he might not need to play more than 32-34 minutes per game (and he might have better legs in the final minutes). And if Pressey does go pro, Mizzou might have enough weapons to bring an interesting offense to the table anyway. (Defense, meanwhile, will always be a bit of an issue with a Pressey-Brown backcourt. But we've already discussed that.)

Of course, there will be a lot of pressure on both Pressey and the other guards to bring a consistent level of offense to the table, as there's a good possibility they won't get much from their post players.

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