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Looking into the (possibly immediate?) additions of Mark and Dru Smith

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We’re just a few weeks away from the season, but an extra bit of intrigue should hold us over until November 6.

Twitter: @MizzouHoops

I had a fun little lede typed out, but I scrapped it because who cares? HELLO, FOLKS, WE’RE DEALING WITH BREAKING NEWS HERE

At SEC Basketball Tipoff yesterday, Cuonzo Martin addressed some circulating rumors that he’d be looking to get Dru and Mark Smith declared eligible for the upcoming year. The news maybe isn’t a shock — a lot of programs seek similar waivers for their transfer players — but it is a little last minute considering Mizzou fans had already chalked up the two guards’ ETAs as 2019.

This news causes the mind to reel! Two guards! Both good to very good! ELIGIBLE NOW?! What good fortune smiles upon our heads!

[gathers composure]

Maybe we shouldn’t get too excited, yet. After all, who knows how (or when) the NCAA will respond... even if Dru has a pretty good case to play immediately and Mark may or may not have been essentially ushered out the door in Champaign.

Still, though, the additions would be a wonderful pre-holiday-season gift for the program and its followers. So we got together the basketball brain trust to ask what kind of impact adding these two would have on the season.

Mark and Dru Smith technically play the same position, but they’re incredibly different players. How does the team’s outlook change if one becomes available?

Sam Snelling, Site Manager: I think having Dru Smith eligible helps the team a little more because he’s traditionally been a primary ball handler, and that would take a fair amount of pressure off of Jordan Geist and Xavier Pinson at lead guard.

Having Mark Smith eligible would improve the Tigers shooting, even if it was evident in his freshman year at Illinois that he was still putting a lot of things together. Having Mark would still help bolster and steady the back court. But Dru is much more of the answer for what ails the Tigers right now. He’s got a great assist rate and he’s efficient from the floor, plus a steady ball handler? Yes, please.

Josh Matejka, Editor: Dru would probably be the addition with more immediate impact. He shot 48 percent from three, had an assist rate upwards of 36 percent and he notched a true shooting percentage of 70.6 (!!!!). Plus, he frees Jordan Geist up to be a little bit more of a combo guard — making him more of an offensive threat — while giving Xavier Pinson a little more breathing room to develop.

However, I don’t think anyone would say no to adding Mark, either. We saw in his high school recruitment that he was a dynamic scorer with the ability to put it in from three levels, which would help make up some of the points the Tigers will lose from Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson. He’s also a good athlete with the potential to be a fantastic two-way player. He may not be the ball-handler Mizzou is looking for at the moment, but having more talent is never a bad thing.

Chris Bohkay, Featured Writer: For me, it would depend on who becomes available. If it’s Dru, I think Mizzou’s ceiling rises, as you would now have a bonafide three point shooter. It would be somewhat similar to what bringing Kassius to the team last year did in terms of filling a need. I’m not saying he would/will equal Kasius’ contributions, but a need would be filled, allowing Cuonzo’s offense to feature a more balanced inside-out offense, no longer allowing opposing teams to focus on the bigs down low

If it’s Mark, it’s the addition of a player with high upside coming into his sophomore year that had a typical freshman season — if not a bit disjointed due to his role never being solid at Illinois. The impact would not be as great as with Dru, but you do have another talented player with high major experience on a talented (but young) roster.

Matthew Harris, Basketball Editor: Adding the Evansville point guard lends Missouri another veteran ballhandler in a system that leans on sound judgment in high ball screens. For all the flack Jordan Geist received, he posted 1.083 points per possession in high pick-and-rolls, a number that tracked closely to what Smith (1.073 PPP) provided the Purple Aces as a distributor. Having Dru Smith, though, lends MU a better finisher — his runner and floater are refined — in these situations (1.161 PPP) and a threat to knock in catch-and-shoot jumpers (68.3 eFG%) if he’s playing off the ball. Defensively, Smith rates out well, too – an essential to see the floor if you’re on a roster constructed by coach Cuonzo Martin. While his athleticism won’t blow you away, he’s got the size – 6-foot-3, 190 pounds – and basketball IQ to thrive as a lead guard at this level, especially in an offense that won’t clear out a side on the floor and demand he create in isolation situations. Finally, it would grant Martin the flexibility to slap a redshirt on Xavier Pinson, allowing the freshman to make up the ground he lost by missing strength and conditioning work over the summer.

As for Mark Smith, his future home is playing off the ball. At Illinois, he only spent 42 possessions as a passer, and he told me this spring that he needed to improve making reads in pick-and-rolls. A stellar senior season at Edwardsville (Ill.) vaulted Smith up recruiting rankings, but he’s still raw. In high school, his sturdy frame and strength gave him an edge finishing through contact, and he canned enough 3-pointers to offset a tendency to launch questionable jumpers early in possessions. No matter where Smith went, he was still a baseball player transitioning to basketball full-time. Bumps were inevitable. In Champaign, the scheme didn’t fit and Smith felt he packed on too much mass in the weight room, leaving him with dead legs. Slimming down and finding a system that exploits ball screens and dribble handoffs to help him turn the corner might unlock his potential a slasher. Meanwhile, improving on a wretched 24.4-percent clip from behind the arc would set him up to attack closeouts — a role MU might need him to play if injuries continue to dog K.J. Santos.

If forced to choose which Smith to press into action, I’d opt for Dru. I spew as many numbers as a TI-86, but when you watch Dru, it’s evident he’s developed an advanced floor game. He understands how to take his defenders into screens, change speeds and use angles — whether it’s to hit a roll-on with a dump off or get into a floater. He knows his foot speed isn’t an equalizer, so he’s acutely aware of how to handle ball screens and uses sound man-to-man principles — ball-you-man — to create deflections. On a youth-laden roster, having a player who can do all those things gets magnified, and that’s before you digest reams of data telling you how hyper-efficient Dru is at executing in the half court.

Best case scenario: how do your expectations change if both Mark and Dru are declared eligible?

Sam Snelling: I think with both guys available you can add at least one or two more conference wins to the team and assure an NCAA bid. I believe efficient shooting from the outside is the one thing that can make Mizzou into a top-30 team compared to a top-50 squad. Having Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon on the inside, along with the interior versatility of Kevin Puryear, makes Mizzou one of the more dangerous inside. Give them steady ball handling and shooting and take pressure off some of the younger guys on the perimeter, and I think Mizzou can make that jump.

Josh Matejka: At that point, you have to think Mizzou gets to “solid tournament team” territory. Not that they aren’t a bubble team right now, but the additions of Dru and Mark would make them deep both in the front and back court — and depth will be very important in this grueling SEC slate. Perhaps most importantly, though, they draw a lot of attention from the bigs. Opposing teams will have to at least respect Mizzou from the outside with the threat of two extra shooters lurking. That will give Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon enough room to create down low or kick it out, making Mizzou a threat from everywhere on the floor.

Chris Bohkay: I have oddly higher expectations I think than most — I see Mizzou as a top half SEC team and playing for an NCAA berth all season — so if they’re both available my feeling is that Mizzou stays in that top half but an NCAA berth seems like a reasonable expectation.

Matthew Harris: The jigsaw that had been the pecking order in the backcourt gets some order. Alongside Geist, the Smiths would give MU a trio of players to toggle between point and combo guard. On the wing, you could pencil in Torrence Watson and K.J. Santos, interchanging the UIC transfer and Kevin Puryear at combo forward in some small-ball lineups. When you survey the SEC, a distinguishing trait among teams projected to finish near the top of the conference – Auburn, Mississippi State, Florida, LSU, and Alabama — is depth and experience on the perimeter. It also carves out time for Pinson, Javon Pickett and Christian Guess – all of whom are developmental targets – to scale a longer learning curve.

Folding in Dru Smith and Mark Smith would also diversify Missouri’s offense. The duo could force opposing defenses to confront the notion of a ball handler attacking the rim instead of simply pitching the ball out to a spot-up shooter, unlocking more facets of the Tigers’ transition and secondary break offense. It would be fun to see elements like handoffs, drag screens and pitch backs. At the same time, the Smiths’ potential shotmaking still lets you incorporate fun tweaks like inverting Jontay Porter to the slot and letting him get involved in actions premised on split cuts. Point being, the Tigers’ spacing and movement could become more nuanced and opposing scouting reports trickier to assemble.

Right now, MU projects as a bubble team when March arrives. Adding the Smiths could move the Tigers into the same territory they reached last spring as a team fighting for an eight or nine seed in the NCAA tournament.