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One final thought: Kassius Robertson is Missouri’s alpha

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The Tigers’ go-to guy was playing in the MAAC last year.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

When I saw Ole Miss guard Markel Crawford’s head dip, I knew.

Kassius Robertson’s high-arcing flare of a jumper, launched over the top of Crawford and Breein Tyree, splashed down. Now, Mizzou still clung to a 3-point lead with a little under three minutes remaining — plenty of time for a game played in the SEC’s second-toughest gym to get sideways.

Yet in that moment, the guy who was playing in the MAAC last season sapped a little bit of the Rebels’ will during a 75-69 victory on Tuesday at The Pavilion.

On Tuesday, his 27 points — 18 after halftime — dragged a scuffling offense along as the rest of the Tigers’ eight-man skeleton crew mustered just 17 points on 4 of 15 shooting from the floor. A guy whose ceiling we expected to be “stationary target for Michael Porter Jr. kick-outs” is this team’s alpha. And if that doesn’t encapsulate the strange turns this season has taken, I don’t know what else does.

By now, the narrative of Robertson’s ascetic lifestyle — I like to imagine he’s pitched a tent and a strung up a clothesline in the corner of Mizzou Arena’s practice gym — has taken root.

More than once this season, Martin has pulled up to work at 6 a.m. to find Robertson walking out, workout complete.

The coach has started reminding Robertson to find time to eat. That’s a joke between the two, but Martin wasn’t kidding when he shared he has to make sure Robertson, perhaps more than any of the players he’s coached, doesn’t come down too hard on himself after a loss.

Against Tennessee, Robertson’s stroke was scattershot, but he made a crucial late-game steal to sew up what remains the strongest win on the Tigers’ resume. Like the rest of the rotation he muddled through in College Station, but, ironically enough, the Tigers’ three-game skid was the start of a five-game span that’s only highlighted just how critical Robertson is to a team whose roster grants it little in the way of rotational or schematic flexibility.

Anointing Robertson as this team’s cog is obvious, but I thought it would be handy to take a look at how that’s unfolded in the past couple of weeks.

Let’s turn to the statistical splits:

  • First 19 games: 13.7 ppg (39.6 FG%, 40.9 3FG% and 81.9 FT%), 2.3 rpg, 1.9 apg
  • Last five games: 21.2 ppg (49.2 FG%, 42.5 3FG% and 90.0 FT%), 3.0 rpg, 3.2 apg

There’s also this handy chart that shows Robertson’s production against Auburn, Mississippi State, Alabama and Kentucky.

Synergy Sports Tech

I don’t know if Robertson will keep stringing together 20-point outings. Slippage seems inevitable. What you hope, though, is his shooting percentages hold steady. When Mizzou’s offense has started to choke and sputter, Robertson’s ability to knock in a jumper has served as a much-needed primer.

How he gets his shots has also changed over the past five games. Forced to play with the ball in his hands more often, we’ve seen Robertson get into his shot on hand-offs, ball-screens and weave actions. He’s shown an ability to attack downhill, play with pace, and make smart reads when he warps the shell of a defense off the bounce.

Kassius Robertson’s Diverse Game

Play Type % Time Poss Points PPP Rank Rating FGm FGM FGA FG% aFG% %TO %FT %SF %Score
Play Type % Time Poss Points PPP Rank Rating FGm FGM FGA FG% aFG% %TO %FT %SF %Score
Spot Up 34.50% 128 154 1.203 90% Excellent 63 52 115 45.20% 63% 6.30% 4.70% 3.90% 44.50%
P&R Ball Handler 24.80% 92 82 0.891 76% Very Good 39 27 66 40.90% 48.50% 17.40% 12% 9.80% 40.20%
Transition 18.60% 69 68 0.986 41% Average 32 22 54 40.70% 54.60% 14.50% 7.20% 5.80% 39.10%
Off Screen 4.60% 17 11 0.647 20% Below Average 11 3 14 21.40% 32.10% 11.80% 5.90% 0% 23.50%
Hand Off 4.30% 16 21 1.312 93% Excellent 4 6 10 60% 75% 18.80% 18.80% 6.30% 56.30%
Isolation 3.80% 14 13 0.929 71% Very Good 4 1 5 20% 20% 21.40% 42.90% 35.70% 50%
Offensive Rebounds (put backs) 1.10% 4 4 1 - - 1 1 2 50% 50% 25% 25% 25% 50%
Cut 0.80% 3 3 1 - - 1 0 1 0% 0% 0% 66.70% 66.70% 66.70%
P&R Roll Man 0.30% 1 2 2 - - 0 1 1 100% 100% 0% 0% 0% 100%
Post-Up - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Miscellaneous 7.30% 27 20 0.741 78% Very Good 0 0 0 - - 51.90% 48.10% 0% 40.70%
Synergy Sports Tech

The trickle-down effects are also clear. After Mizzou lost to Texas A&M, I pleaded for the now-suspended Terrence Phillips to lend Jordan Geist some relief as the Tigers’ primary ball-handler. Instead, Robertson has loaded some more weight on his back. No, the players’ respective turnover rates haven’t dipped dramatically, but their assist rates have ticked up ever so slightly. And getting 7.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists with an 18.3 turnover rate and solid perimeter defense from Geist during this five-game span counts as a win.

Another effect of Robertson’s leadership: we might not carp (as often) when Jordan Barnett (zero points, five rebounds, one assist) goes wandering off for 10-minute stretches.

For Mizzou to succeed, it needs three members of the Robertson, Barnett, Jontay Porter, and Jeremiah Tilmon quartet to be productive. Baking in steady production from Kassius makes watching a thin roster slightly less fraught. And as we saw in Oxford, it allows Missouri to pull out a win that can help point it toward a potential bye in the SEC tournament.

I’m only sorry it took me so long to acknowledge Kassius’ status.

The only event that could change it is the return of a certain player sitting on Mizzou’s bench and — based on Snapchat posts — occasionally putting up toe-raise jumpers at ZouRec. We can save the debate about what impact Porter might have on the structure of Mizzou’s offense for a later date. You know, if takes he part in segments of actual practice. But if Porter is back working with MU’s strength and conditioning staff, it suggests a player who, for all his considerable skills, may need some to acclimatize back to game speed.

At the very least, Robertson’s spot-up shooting, which ranks among the best in the SEC, is a useful buffer during that process.

THE SEC’S BEST SPOT-UP SHOOTERS

Player Team GP % Time Poss Points PPP FGm FGM FGA FG% aFG% %TO %FT %SF %Score
Player Team GP % Time Poss Points PPP FGm FGM FGA FG% aFG% %TO %FT %SF %Score
Jalen Hudson Florida Gators 23 25.50% 84 122 1.452 32 39 71 54.90% 76.10% 6% 11.90% 11.90% 56%
Bryce Brown Auburn Tigers 23 28.30% 102 141 1.382 46 45 91 49.50% 70.30% 4.90% 8.80% 6.90% 50%
Riley LaChance Vanderbilt Commodores 23 33.80% 89 120 1.348 37 42 79 53.20% 70.30% 7.90% 6.70% 5.60% 50.60%
Frank Booker South Carolina Gamecocks 24 36.90% 89 112 1.258 43 36 79 45.60% 65.80% 5.60% 5.60% 5.60% 46.10%
Kassius Robertson Missouri Tigers 24 34.50% 128 154 1.203 63 52 115 45.20% 63% 6.30% 4.70% 3.90% 44.50%

The diversity of his game, one shaped by late nights in the practice gym, would still be a boon, too. For example, Jordan Barnett doesn’t look any closer to adding a slashing component to his game. While Robertson won’t break ankles, he’s shown a knack for making plays at all three levels of the defense, attacking creases on hard closeouts and pulling up at the elbow for mid-range jumpers after getting a ball screen at the top of the key. His turnover rate hovers around 20 percent, but he’s shown an improved feel for playing with a big like Jeremiah Tilmon in the pick-and-roll.

All of which alleviates pressure on Porter to immediately put up numbers in the same territory as other phenoms like Marvin Bagley III or Deandre Ayton.

For all the metrics I toss out, there’s an ineffable quality to Robertson’s game. The Tigers may not have entirely downloaded his persona, but there’s a sense of resiliency and adaptability that’s emerged each time they’ve confronted some adversity.