Welcome to part three in our five part position primer to get your ready for the 2015 - 2016 Missouri basketball season. To refresh yourself, you can check out our piece on the Point Guards from Monday here and our piece on the Combo Guards from yesterday here.
Today we turn our attention to the guys on the outside, those on the Wing. You'll notice from our rundown yesterday in the combo guard preview that there are some individuals who would fit nicely in that position as well as on the outside, and vice versa. But for today's preview we decided to focus on D'Angelo Allen, Cullen VanLeer, KJ Walton and Namon Wright.
Oh joy, we get to talk about discipline problems! Namon Wright and D'Angelo Allen are the returners here, and they are both going to be important parts of the team. Buuut, both were suspended for the exhibition vs. Missouri Western. Both players had times when they looked good and times when they looked not so good last season. Wright's barrage of threes in a completely inexplicable win that turned out to be Billy Donovan's last game vs. Mizzou might have been the high point of the season. The talent is obviously there, we're just waiting on consistency from these guys. In their absence, KJ Walton moved into the starting lineup and had himself a little coming-out party. Definitely promising, but probably not enough to get him over Wright and Allen in the pecking order here, with no more Missouri Westerns on the schedule. Cullen VanLeer is a bit of an enigma. Great in high school, but the competition is going to take a definite step up in the SEC. He will probably come in and shoot a few threes each game, but this is likely to be a developmental year for him. As for the starter, I'm going with Namon Wright here. We know he can pile up the points, it's just a matter of finding that form more often. I wouldn't be surprised to see D'Angelo Allen play a lot at the 4 in a smaller lineup as well as spelling Namon here.
It feels that this position is loaded in the good way, and with that amount of talent available Mizzou should have options to throw out different lineups dependent on how fast or how slow he wants to push the pace. While two of our options here were suspended on Friday for a violation of rules I still think Namon Wright is the starter, if only for defensive purposes. In the second half of the season last year something seemed to click with him on how to play within himself and how to keep the game in front of him in a way that didn't seem to occur with the other freshmen on the team. That and his ability to hit from outside. Walton's got loads of potential and his eagerness to go to the basket and create contact is something that this team desperately needs, and he's got a sweet shot that when falling should force defenses to have extend themselves out, leaving the middle of the floor open for a potential slash to the basket or an entry pass to a streaking teammate. D'Angelo is another fun player, but I think we see him more in the Combo Forward role (coming tomorrow!), though when he was taking shots from the outside, think the South Carolina game, he looked very good and fluid out on the wing, and he seemed more at ease than having to bang with the big boys down low. Finally I don't know much about VanLeer, but he feels like an odd man out to me a little bit right now, hopefully Anderson can get him some minutes because it sounds like the coaches are very high on his shooting ability, the biggest problem with last year's team.
That all being said, I think we see Namon starting the season on the wing and Walton the first off the bench as his replacement. Though running a four small one big line up sounds like a lot of fun, put out Phillips, Clark, Wright, Walton and then Gant or Woods, and well I start feeling some kind of way...
I'll start by saying that Namon and D'Angelo didn't play in the exhibition, and so my expectations for them are based on last year's performance. I expect Namon to start at the wing (and Anderson's comments in the postgame support that), and I wouldn't be surprised if he's the team's leading scorer. His offensive game made big strides down the stretch last year, and having other guys in the backcourt that can create offense will be a huge help for him if he holds on to last year's improvements. I expect Allen to play sort of a swing role between the 3 and 4 spots, primarily as an energy guy. He brought that some last year, but his limitations athletically and offensively limited his contributions. If he's worked on his jump shot and spent time in the weight room, he should be to this team what Ben Zobrist was to the Royals - flexibility. Having a guy on the court who can defend and score against guys both bigger and smaller than him is a real asset, and Allen could be that guy.
As to the new guys, Walton looked damn impressive against MO Western. His jump shot is better than expected - although I'm guessing he'll be streaky with it this year, because he's a freshman - and, on last year's team, would have been the second best guy on the team at driving the paint and getting to the line. He's a guy who clearly knows how to finish through contact. Whether that holds up at the same level in the Thunderdome-style combat basketball that they play in the SEC remains to be seen, but Walton's going to be a good ballplayer for the Tigers this year. As for VanLeer, I've been joking all offseason that Cullen might finally be the annoying white guy that our opponents always seem to have - Tyrady Morningreed, Brady Heslip, etc. - and Mizzou has lacked since Jason Sutherland graduated. First: yes, VanLeer can flat shoot the basketball. He's got a pretty, consistent stroke, and a soft touch, even on a nice stepback bank shot in traffic. He's also perfectly happy to throw himself all over the court, even if he didn't take a header over the sideline tables like Phillips did. Mark my words, in a year or two, people will be saying "Oh damn it, hasn't that VanLeer kid graduated already?"
Namon starts at the 3 spot when he comes off suspension, but Walton and VanLeer are going to demand time, and if Allen's worked on his jump shot, he could push for minutes here, too. This is going to be a position to watch this year. My guess is that playing time will go Wright, Walton, and VanLeer, Allen, with Allen getting some minutes at the 4 and Walton playing some at the 2.
I'm not that positive that Namon starts, KA said he would have ‘factored in', but I think that was more he may have started. I still think it's a competition for the starting position with Wright and K.J. Walton. With the performance that Walton had in the exhibition game, it's easy to see why he could even be the favorite at this point. He's physical around the basket, which is something that Wright struggled with a season ago. Walton also shot the ball well, which is the one thing we know Wright can do. If anything, having two players at that position who can positively affect the offense is going to help the balance this season. I'm not sure at this point how much VanLeer plays into it, mainly because of the numbers. I also don't think D'Angelo Allen seems that much time as a true wing, but likely plays more at the combo forward spot, just extending out to the three-point line.
So as I said yesterday, it will be interesting to see if minutes are created on the wing by creeping in on the combo guard position by playing KJ or Namon more at the "2" than at the "3".
LOVE TO TALK ABOUT MORE SUSPENSIONS. D'Angelo Allen and Namon Wright didn't play in the exhibition game. At this point we should expect a suspension every few weeks. The starter is a very close battle but I'll give it to Wright for now, with Allen coming off the bench (and maybe getting some minutes at the four as well). Wright was a huge part in snapping Mizzou's losing streak with that huge performance against Florida, and with ‘Teki gone, don't be surprised if Namon leads the team in scoring. With both Allen/Wright out last week, KJ Walton had himself a nice little debut (16 pts, 6/6 FG), so I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up getting some major minutes as well. VanLeer is straight from HS, so he's still a bit raw in his adjustment to the college level. If he adjusts quicker than expected, he'll find some time off the bench.
That'll take care of the wings, come back tomorrow as we look at the combo forwards, the big men but not the BIG MEN.