Welcome to day four in our five part series of position breakdowns and previews. Today we focus on the combo forwards, the guys that are big, but not huge. To catch up on what's come before you can read about the point guards here, the combo guards here and the wings here.
As noted above today our focus is on the combo forwards, the guys that you could see both under the basket fighting for rebounds or moving out onto the wing to throw up a shot, should the mood strike. Falling into this category we've got D'Angelo Allen, Jakeenan Gant and Kevin Puryear. Back with more thoughts and opinions on these Tigers are Sam Snelling, Chris Turner, Belegcam, Jaeger and of course myself.
Jakeenan Gant was Mr. Excitement for Mizzou last year, the source of most of what few highlights there were. Unfortunately, as was the case with most of the roster, those moments came and went, seemingly at random. To repeat what I said yesterday, this year is going to be about finding more consistency. He seems to be the obvious choice to start here. He's got an ability to electrify a crowd with a thunderous dunk or a tremendous block. Here's hoping we see that a lot more often this season.
I talked about D'Angelo Allen yesterday, so go there for my thoughts. He is likely to get some minutes playing here in smaller lineups, looking to exploit mismatches. Finally, Kevin Puryear rounds out this year's intriguing crew of freshmen. From all accounts, he's seemed to fit right in, and has looked solid from what I've seen. He looks to be a solid contributor from Day 1, which is always a plus.
Barring something weird happening this year I think we all know that this spot, is the land of Jakeenan, it's his unless someone can take it from him. Jakeenan, like the other freshmen on the team would have games where he would seem to fade into the background and others where he would take full control. Like the other guys his size, foul trouble and an inability to keep the game in front of him was his biggest issue. But, an offseason of eating 9 meals a day and working out have made Gant look stronger and ready to take a more prominent role in the starting lineup. D'Angelo is a fun player that appears to be trapped between two worlds. Not big enough to bang but potentially not mobile enough to play on the wing. We saw flashes of a sweet shooting touch last year, so hopefully D'Angelo has worked on his shot and moving with the ball towards the basket. Also, no one was a better cheerleader on the bench when the team did something good and fun. And every team needs the excited guy on the bench who waves a towel, locks arms and just exemplifies a fans joy on the sideline. Finally, Kevin Puryear, a freshman that looks to be in a position to take some minutes from someone in this spot. Everything we've heard is that Puryear has a nice shot, and that with his size he's able to get after the ball in the paint. As I said at the top, either way, this is the land of Jakeenan, and he's starting, everyone else is playing for minutes behind him.
At the exhibition, Gant started at the 5 spot and looked a little bit lost. Frankly, I doubt he sticks there, even if we go with a smaller lineup. My expectation is that he'll settle in as the starter at the 4, backed up by Puryear, and that Allen will shuttle between the 3 and 4 spots as needed. As with the last post, Allen didn't play, but I'm guessing that he'll play basically as a hybrid 3/4 that makes his bones being stronger than guards and by being more comfortable on the perimeter than big guys.
Jakeenan this year looks like a more confident version of his freshman self. He's still long, lanky, and outrageously bouncy, but he's obviously stronger and has a much better understanding of his role in the offense. He's also refined his jump shot in the offseason, which could be a real asset for a team that's going to be forced to play small against a lot of bigger teams this year. Force traditional big men to cover a guy like Gant out on the perimeter, and good things are going to happen. I still have some concerns that he's gonna get pushed around in the interior, though; 212 pounds on a 6'8" frame is...not huge. But he's got so much athleticism that he may be able to work around it.
Puryear was a pleasant surprise. Based on his high school profile, I expected him to be basically a more offensively skilled version of D'Angelo Allen, but that's not how he looked at all against MO Western. He's significantly more muscular than Allen was as a freshman, and is perhaps the only 4 guard who looks like the kind of guy who can bang around in SEC frontcourts comfortably. For a slightly shorter guy, he's stronger than you'd expect, and he does have some decent offensive game. He's probably not going to get any reps at the 3 spot, though - his offensive game is much more post up and rebound than it is jump shots. My expectation is that most of his offense will come off putbacks.
Gant is the starter here, unless he continues starting at the 5 spot (which I doubt, but we'll get to that). Puryear is probably his primary backup, although he's strong enough to play some at the 5 as well, and probably will.
Mizzou needs Jakeenan Gant to have a good year. He's the best athlete on the team, when it's clicking he has a feathery jumpshot and can extend out to 3-point range. He's probably the biggest key to Mizzou's success this year, mainly because of the overall lack of depth inside. I think he likely gets about 22-25 mpg, which should be enough for a sophomore forward. D'Angelo Allen is a really interesting case, mainly because he's kind of a classic tweener. He's not quite big or physical enough to play on the interior, but he's also not really skilled enough to play on the wing consistently. He's a great little things guy who can make the small plays to get others involved, but there's also not a lot of minutes floating around on the wing for him. So he's almost relegated to playing inside. Puryear has been making a lot of progress and is a much more physical player than I thought we were getting. He's going to see minutes in the post, but is a very good three point shooter which could cause matchup problems on the offensive side of the court.
Gant is one of the better athletes on Mizzou's roster, and he can make a lot of noise playing either of the four, or the five. He'll more than likely get a good chunk of minutes at the combo forward. He has the ability to be the leading scorer here as well. Like Sam said, Allen is in sort of No-Mans-Land between being combo guard/forward, with solid minutes coming at either position. So, if he were to play here, I think he would be flexed out to the arc a bit for some opportunities for threes. Puryear, like Philips/VanLeer ,is fresh out of high school but should garner so solid minutes off the bench.
There are your combo forwards, your almost bigs! Come back tomorrow for our final piece as we look into the bigs, the men who will be hanging in the post all season.