During the latest episode of Dive Cuts, Sam and Matt tried to make sense of Missouri’s expectations without Jontay Porter. At one point, Sam talked about Missouri’s roster and how it stacks up with last year’s.
Now [Cuonzo Martin’s] got a team that’s probably equivalently talented — maybe slightly more talented, but younger — which we all know varies your outcome a little bit more.
If we know anything concrete about this year’s team compared to last year, it’s that it is younger. This is especially true at the guard and wing positions, where Xavier Pinson is currently serving as the backup point guard and Torrence Watson is filling the role of starting combo guard/wing. Behind him? Javon Pickett.
On Wednesday, we started our annual tradition of breaking down the Missouri roster, position by position, starting with the point guards. Today, we’re looking at the combo guards, where the depth chart consists of a 4-star recruit, a highly praised but unknown 3-star and a preferred walk-on.
That should cover things, right?
Junior: Ronnie Suggs
[Editor’s Note: The above tweet comes from the middle of the ‘17-’18 season.]
Freshman: Torrence Watson
Torrence Watson is one of Cuonzo Martin’s biggest recruiting wins since he got to Columbia, and expectations are high. What should we be expecting from the former Whitfield star this year?
Matt Harris, Basketball Editor: In May, I hastily assembled a chart detailing the production of freshman wings in the SEC last season and had one takeaway: if Watson averages 10.5 points per game and shot better than 35 percent from deep, he’s likely landing on the SEC’s All-Freshmen team. A reasonable comp, at least statistically, is Alabama’s John Petty, who hoisted up roughly six 3-pointers a night and sported a 19.9 percentage usage rate, figures that reflect 41.1 percent of shots were catch-and-shoot jumpers.
(Note: MU fans hope Watson doesn’t mimic Petty’s hellacious home-road split when it comes to accuracy.)
I’m not pigeonholing the Whitfield product, who I think can grow into a three-level scorer. Starting out as a reliable threat from long range is merely the natural entry point. First, it lifts the onus on Watson to create his own shot, relying instead on Missouri’s spacing to generate uncontested spot-ups — efficient possessions that instill confidence to offset every freshman’s humbling foray into defending at the college level. Next, the nature of MU’s system also makes the role essential, which can generate buy-in on Watson’s part — not that I expect motivation to be a big problem.
On the defensive end, the expectations are modest. Watson’s entry into the SEC comes as the league is packed to the gills with veteran wings such as Petty, Jalen Hudson, Bryce Brown, Quinndary Weatherspoon and Terrence Davis — a glut of talent that will not only test him physically but mentally. Yet Watson has the size, strength and agility to grow into a stout on-ball defender. It’ll be interesting to track his efficiency as a defender on spot-up shooters, which hint at staying sound in rotations, and defending ball screens, an indicator of understanding some coverages and downloading scouting reports.
Josh Matejka, Editor: I’ve got a piece coming soon on what we should expect from the star freshman (BOOM, future plug), so I’ll refrain from going too in-depth. But here’s a snippet:
I too expect Watson to play a major role in the coming season. It’s not that bold of a take: Watson is the Tigers’ most touted freshman recruit; he’s Missouri’s reigning Gatorade Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year, developing a reputation as a tenacious scorer at Whitfield School in St. Louis. With Kassius Robertson and Jordan Barnett graduating — and Jontay Porter lost for the year — scoring help will be much-needed. Even if he goes through freshman struggles, it’s probably safe to assume Watson will get a good share of minutes.
I go further into just how many minutes and points we can expect from Watson based on past recruits of the same standing. Look out for it next week.
Jack Parodi, Basketball Analyst: Expect Watson to score in bunches this year. It may not be pretty at first as he gets adjusted to playing ball at the collegiate level, but Jontay Porter’s injury leaves a void in Missouri’s offensive production — a void that Watson and Jeremiah Tilmon will have to fill. It’s impossible for Watson to do everything Porter does offensively, but he can surely step up with his shooting ability and knack for getting to the basket. Watson is getting put right into the thick of things with Porter’s injury, but that’s sports. People get hurt and others have to step up in their place. I think Watson will remind Missouri fans just how good he is this year, cementing himself as the Tigers’ primary scorer within a few games.
Javon Pickett wasn’t the most touted recruit when he signed on, but he has impressed his teammates and coaches since coming to campus. Is it fair to expect him to be even a minor contributor as a frosh?
Matt Harris: The knock on Pickett was that he just didn’t have the kind of athleticism for his game to translate at the high-major level. Suiting up for Belleville (Ill.) East, Pickett was a bonafide bucket-getter, relying on changing speeds, an understanding of angles and deft finishing to pile up points as a slasher. The impetus behind taking a post-grad year at Sunrise Christian Academy was to fill out his frame and use the school’s touted strength program to improve his explosiveness. When I spoke to Sunrise coach Achoki Moikubu last year, he lauded Pickett’s instincts and body control. Assuming the guard could close the physical gap with other high-major wings, MU would have a sleeper. Then his progress was derailed by a shoulder injury last November. Since then, we haven’t seen how he’s progressed, but Cuonzo Martin and his staff have lauded Pickett’s work ethic.
To me, Martin’s appraisal is a definite hint — much like the plaudits he doled out to Geist ahead of last season — that the staff sees a use for Pickett. What would that look like, though? In our position preview for point guards, I pitched Pickett as a possible option, especially if he’s matured enough physically to pose a threat as a driver in ball screens set in the middle of the floor. Assuming his jumper is consistent, his scorer’s mentality is a handy tool attacking closeouts, especially if his floater and runner translate to the college level. Right now, only Martin and his staff know what Pickett can offer, and I’m intrigued to see the potential role they’ve crafted for him.
Josh Matejka: By way of need, I think we’ll see Javon Pickett get notable — if not altogether significant — minutes. The knock on Pickett coming to Division I was that he wasn’t quite athletic enough to compete against D-I talent. To me, skill is skill, and Pickett’s will eventually play in the SEC. However, it’s probably not fair to expect too much until he learns how to adapt to the speed of the game. Maybe a handful of buckets in just enough minutes to spell Watson.
Jack Parodi: This depends on whether or not Dru and Mark Smith are eligible for this season. If they are, don’t be surprised if Pickett becomes Adam Wolf’s bench-buddy this year. But if not, it’s very plausible to think the freshman could make an impact. Missouri’s backcourt isn’t very deep, and clearly he’s surpassed expectations everyone in the program may have had for him coming into summer workouts. Cuonzo Martin rewards players that work their tail off, and it seems like Pickett could be that kind of guy this year.
Ronnie Suggs came to Mizzou as a walk-on, but his pedigree suggests he might be something a little more than that. What does he need to do to cement a regular place in the rotation?
Matt Harris: I don’t want to disparage Suggs, but if he’s seeing reserve minutes, then the roster situation has grown bleak. When he fled Bradley, Suggs toted an 82.3 offensive rating and 23.6-percent clip from 3-point range for his career along with him. I keep returning those numbers whenever I hear someone put his name forward as a sleeper candidate for minutes, because they ground us in reality: Suggs couldn’t break through on a mediocre Missouri Valley Conference roster. While I recognize growth isn’t linear, I’m just skeptical Suggs has quantum leap in store. A viable path would involve showcasing consistency as a perimeter shooter, a commodity that’s been in low supply over Suggs career. Stretching defenses could allow Suggs to show his value. Just don’t count me as optimistic that it takes place.
Josh Matejka: Not to sound drab, but there’s a pretty low bar to clear if Suggs wants to be a regular contributor. Watson will eat up the majority of minutes, but Suggs could see some time if he’s able to simply put the ball in the bucket. He wasn’t much of a shooter at Bradley, and that will need to change if he wants significant playing time. But if he can be an energy guy off the bench and not get killed on defense, he might be able to finagle some bench minutes.
Jack Parodi: Suggs knows how to win. He’s showed that at every level he’s played at thus far, leading Washington High School to consecutive district championships and his college-prep school in Vermont to its first NEPSAC championship game in school history. In the biggest game of Suggs’ career — a freshman year matchup with then-No. 10 Arizona — he dropped a career-high 17 points. Suggs will need to prove himself to Martin as a reliable big-game player with the experience and poise to play consistently at a high level. Don’t be surprised if the Bradley transfer finds himself in the middle of Missouri’s backcourt rotation