Welcome back to the Mizzou Basketball Position Preview and Primer as we move towards Mizzou’s 2016-2017 basketball season officially tipping off Friday night against Central Missouri in their lone exhibition game.
Today, we’ll look at the guys in the combo forward role, guys expected to rebound, score and potentially stretch the defense with some sneaky outside shooting.
Like the point guard position, Mizzou lost a good amount of its depth at this position in the offseason with the departure of D’Angelo Allen who seemed to refuse to accept the fact he wasn’t a stretch three and Jakeenan Gant who never achieved the potential that Mizzou fans had for him when he stepped on the court for the first time 9 games into his freshman season. In their stead Mizzou returns an SEC All Freshman Team Player, a freshman with potential and another freshman that’s a mystery…
We were all impressed by the immediate impact Kevin Puryear had on the team a year ago. Having a guy who could consistently make baskets was such a novel concept after the previous season of offensive struggles that many anointed Puryear the next guy. Don’t get me wrong, I think Kevin will play a big role in restoring the roar at Mizzou arena but I think his skill set is best suited to be a supporting cast member. Puryear’s strengths are well known, he’s a plus shooter from distance and is very solid around the block and finishing in the lane. Kevin’s deficiencies aren’t talked about as much, but the coaches pressed upon him how he needed to be a much better rebounder in space this year. He’ll also need to improve his defense both on the ball and off. An offseason of strength training and the year of experience I expect KP to be better in both of those areas and to take a step forward in leading the team this year.
Where things get interesting with this position is with Willie Jackson. Jackson is the prototypical swing forward. He’s a bit small to play the post but Jackson is a horse on the glass and isn’t quite skilled enough to play on the wing. Those skills will come, and I think he projects on the outside, but for now he’s going to find his minutes inside and hunting for garbage points on offense. Jordan Barnett can play the same role, though he’s a little more of the skilled fluid athlete you want on the wing, but Barnett does have enough size he can handle some post minutes. I also think Missouri fans got themselves excited about Jakoby Kemp but I’d frankly be surprised to see him play much. I think his skill level is good enough he could turn into a decent player but at this point he still needs to add strength and a lot of work on his jumper.
Last, I wouldn’t be completely shocked to see Adam Wolfe get a few minutes here and there. He’s certainly skilled and shoots well, thought of to be limited athletically he’s not a bad athlete, he more lacks for the size and explosiveness he’d need at his size to compete for more time.
Kevin Puryear: As a freshman, Puryear exceeded most people’s expectations by leading the team in scoring 11.5 points ppg. Due to his offensive prowess, most fans turned a blind eye to the major deficiencies. The biggest deficiency being his inability to consistently rebound at a high level. Puryear failed to exceed four rebounds in 13 games last season, which the coaching staff has brought to his attention. Another area of concern is Puryear’s defense. Last season, he often seemed a step behind. While playing off-ball defense, he seemed lost at times. But with all of that being said, I do like Kevin Puryear’s game. Some of his deficiencies could be blamed on him being a freshman but even if that’s the case, the fact remains that he must improve.
Willie Jackson: Jackson is a junkyard dog. Based on high school film and his performance in practice/scrimmages I can see him playing the same role that Draymond Green does for the Warriors. By that I mean he’ll give you everything that he has every night. He is going to crash the boards like crazy, has the ability to guard most positions effectively, and can also hit you a couple threes if he’s open.
But similarly to Green, Jackson is undersized so finding the proper position for him to play is a bit of a dilemma. His muscular build and grit and grind playing style scream frontcourt. But Jackson’s height points to more of a small forward or guard position. Currently, Jackson doesn’t have the skill offensively to play guard or small forward but I think that over time he will develop there. Until then, I don’t expect Jackson to be more than the second or third guy off of the bench, which is fine at this point in his career. He will quickly become a fan favorite.
Adam Wolf: I’m well aware of the fact that Wolf is a walk-on, but I expect him to see five to seven minutes per game. Wolf is a hard worker and he played well when he was given a little playing time versus Alabama. Wolf is deceptively athletic, which was on full display when he participated in Missouri’s dunk contest. Wolf also shoots well which could help Mizzou down the stretch.
Of all the things that went wrong last season, there were two bright spots, Terrence Phillips (discussed last week) and Kevin Puryear who in his rookie season earned a spot on the SEC All Freshman Team at year’s end. From game one Puryear put everyone on notice that he would be a contributor to last year’s squad putting up 20 against Wofford in his first collegiate action. He ended the season averaging in double figures and grabbing about five boards a game, not too shabby for his first season in the SEC.
Puryear did have the typical up and downs of a freshman however, at times going invisible against some of the bigger name teams and just plain bigger teams on Mizzou’s schedule.
Once Ryan Rosburg became serviceable (the day after the Arkansas massacre) Puryear was able to float a bit more around the outside and show off a decent touch from deep that if he can expand his game to include, could make him a bigger force than he was in his freshman season.
The question however is, how much can Puryear grow in year two and subsequently? Is this what we should expect going forward, or does he have the potential to become more of a reliable rebounder and a banger with more of an inside game than he showed last year? Either way, Mizzou is in good hands with Puryear and should he continue to grow into his role, he has the ability to be a program altering player.
Joining Puryear on the outside is freshman Willie Jackson. Jackson, buddy of Frankie Hughes, is from Cleveland and has the potential to be a contributor at least on the defensive end of things this coming season. Mizzou has lacked the ability to really stop teams from scoring the past few years, so bringing in a guy like Jackson who will be asked mostly to focus on that side of the court can be a good thing. I am not going to compare him to Zaire Taylor or JT Tiller in that regard (on top of playing a different position, he just isn’t them) at this point but this is what he is being tabbed to do by the current staff. In the interim he’s got the list all freshman have: put on weight, get up a bunch of shots in between practices, work on ball control when trusted with the ball, not get hurt and try to be a little less handsy than you were in highschool. Jackson could get a lot of early playing time if he can be active around the rim as well. Mizzou had an inability to get boards from people other than TP, Namon Wright and Rosburg last year, so if Jackson can step in and pick up some of Wright’s slack, expect to see him on the floor quite a bit, regardless of his scoring.
Finally, rounding out the position we have Kedric Jakoby Kemp. Kemp is a project that was lightly recruited out of Utah, potentially because he didn’t play much AAU ball, but he’s raw. He’s shown he can hit shots from the outside and score in transition but he’s going to have to put on some weight. In his freshman season, any expectations should be tempered, remembering he’s a work in progress, and that expecting too much of him this year is setting yourself for disappointment. Kemp, could provide insight into whether this coaching staff can develop players, how he looks on Friday, versus how he looks in March will give us an idea of what Kim Anderson’s guys can do in a year’s time.
Coming tomorrow we finish out our roster preview by taking a look at the big fellas down low where someone is going to have to fill Ryan Rosburg’s big shoes…