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Mizzou struck grad-transfer gold last season. Could the Tigers do it again?

Cuonzo Martin needs 3-point shooting and a dash of ball-handling. Veterans from Maine and Evansville could do the trick.

NCAA Basketball: Maine at Georgetown
Maine combo guard Aaron Calixte could be a possible graduate-transfer option for Missouri.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Whether we’re emotionally prepared to accept it, Kassius Robertson is departing.

So is Jordan Barnett.

Oh, I can’t leave out Michael Porter Jr., either.

All of a sudden, Mizzou finds itself confronting the same conundrum as it did a year ago: Who is going make outside shots? Keeping that critical pillar from eroding hasn’t induced as much anxiety as finding a point guard, but it’s no less pressing as coach Cuonzo Martin embarks on his second year at the helm.

Reflexively, you might say incoming wing Torrence Watson, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, is the heir apparent. But dominating Class 3 schools doesn’t equate to filling the void left by Robertson or Barnett.

As for K.J. Santos, who took a rare redshirt year at Tallahassee Community College after leaving UIC, it seems optimistic to expect immediate returns after what will be a 20-month layoff from live action.

What about Javon Pickett? He’s recovering from shoulder surgery, an injury that derailed a prep year at Sunrise Christian Academy, and wasn’t expected to contribute immediately anyway.

A year ago, Martin and his staff found a suitable option on the market for graduate transfers, and it only makes sense to turn there once again. Since the season wrapped up, the pool started filling up, too. Here are some of their options:

  • Aaron Calixte, PG, Maine
  • Joseph Chartouny, PG, Fordham
  • Don Coleman, CG, Cal
  • Justin Coleman, PG, Samford
  • Mike Cunningham, PG, South Carolina-Upstate
  • Nat Dixon, Wing, Chattanooga
  • Cheddi Mosley, PG, Boston University
  • Miles Reynolds, Wing, Pacific
  • Ryan Taylor, Wing, Evansville
  • Keyshawn Woods, CG, Wake Forest

While it’s still early, Missouri’s explored several of these options. They’ve stayed in regular contact with Calixte, who told Rock M Nation he’s “definitely” interested in learning more about the Tigers and a potential fit in Columbia. That being said, the staff hasn’t arranged an in-person visit to the East Coast. Other programs, though, have worked faster. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger and DePaul head man Dave Leitao conducted in-home visits over the past two weeks, while Wichita State, Gonzaga, and Florida State have entered the fray.

Taylor is another option. He reportedly heard from MU’s staff the day after the Tigers were bounced from the NCAA tournament. But he’s also getting bombarded with calls and texts, which makes sense given that he led the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring last season.

On paper, veterans such as Dixon and Woods also make sense, mixing steady 3-point shooting with experience as a secondary ball-handler. They could plug in as intriguing options at combo guard in MU’s system, but both said MU hasn’t expressed interest in them at this juncture.

Martin’s pursuit of Webster Groves point guard Courtney Ramey, the clearest solution to the Tigers’ ball-handling woes, has cornered the market on ink and pixels. And the intrigue its spawned — What happens with Xavier Pinson? Could Missouri reel in Illinois transfer Mark Smith? — blots out questions about who will supply shooting.

There’s also the question of experience. Kevin Puryear and Jordan Geist will likely remain rotational pieces, while Cullen VanLeer’s torn ACL could keep him sidelined until the middle of the season. Junior forward Reed Nikko is also likely to see spot minutes again. For the fifth consecutive season, MU will rely on a youth movement. Adding a piece such as Calixte, Taylor or Woods would add a stabilizing neutron to that nucleus.

As Sam Snelling pointed out Monday, we also appear to be on track to for a destination where Jontay Porter tosses his name into the NBA draft hopper. What impact that might have on Martin’s shopping list isn’t entirely clear. The Tigers offered Sunrise Christian Academy product Blake Hinson last week, but the younger Porter’s plans would likely force the staff to expand its search. Until that moment arrives, I’ll hold off assessing possible graduate-transfer options at combo forward.

Naturally, more names will pop up as the weeks pass by, but now seems like an appropriate time to initially handicap what Calixte and Taylor could bring to the fold next season.

Aaron Calixte

Dru Smith, Evansville, PG, 6-3, 190 pounds

PPG RPG APG %Min ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate FTM-FTA Pct 2PM-2PA Pct 3PM-3PA Pct
PPG RPG APG %Min ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate FTM-FTA Pct 2PM-2PA Pct 3PM-3PA Pct
13.7 3.5 4.6 53.1 115.5 24.4 20.5 66.4 71.3 1.6 11.7 37.5 26 2.1 4 3.6 4.9 50.6 74-85 0.871 71-113 0.628 27-55 0.491

After Robertson’s, success, who can blame Mizzou and Martin for going back to dip their bucket is a small, Northeastern conference?

In their early conversations with Calixte, Martin prominently mentioned Robertson, the one-time Canisius wing turned All-SEC pick. Conference affiliation, though, is where any comparison ends.

When you cue up his highlight reel, you see that Calixte operates as Maine’s primary ball-handler, probing gaps on side pick-and-rolls, handoffs or high ball-screens. And that distinction matters.

One trait you notice, even in the small sample size embedded here, is how Calixte doesn’t barrel off screens. Instead, he turns, gears down and waits for a beat and lets his roll man clear the scene, using peripheral vision to gauge whether to push deeper into the gap or lay the ball.

Watch how many pocket passes Calixte pulls off. Sure, there’s selection bias. (He finished last season with a 24.4 turnover percentage.) But his 23.1 assist rate was sound, and he led the America East in efficiency (1.2 points per possession) out of high pick-and-rolls.

When he attacks the rim, he’s not reliant on drawing contact against bigger bodies, either. Similar to LSU’s Tremont Waters, Calixte’s refined his ability to get off floaters and use angles off the glass, all of which helped him shoot 56.5 percent at the rim — not bad for a smaller lead guard. And in transition, he’s great at leading the attack without a high turnover rate (19.5 percent).

Notice, too, he can stroke the ball from the perimeter. In fact, he touts a 41.9-percent clip from 3-point range versus KenPom top-100 teams. This past year, he didn’t get as many catch-and-shoot opportunities — only two per game — and still knocked in almost 37 percent of his attempts behind the arc. You can play him off the ball and potentially retain some supplemental perimeter shooting.

There are facets to Missouri’s offense where, ideally, a point guard’s floor game — the ability to control tempo and dictate flow — is vital. Last season, Maine, which finished 6-26 and 323rd in KenPom, finished 41st for adjusted pace. Calixte told us he’s specifically looking for an offense that flows out of a secondary break into pick-and-rolls and ball-screens, which explains why he was glad to have an in-person visit with Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger over the weekend.

Now, that might not rule out MU, even if the Tigers were among the slowest teams in the nation last year. Injuries, transfers, and Terrence Phillips’ dismissal forced Martin to grind the pace, while also using early post entries instead of pick-and-rolls to get a defense move. Assuming he has a healthy roster and the right personnel, Martin could go ahead with his supposed commitment to pace-and-space, finding room for Calixte in the process.

Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor, Evansville, Wing, 6-6, 195 pounds

PPG RPG APG %Min ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate FTM-FTA Pct 2PM-2PA Pct 3PM-3PA Pct
PPG RPG APG %Min ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate FTM-FTA Pct 2PM-2PA Pct 3PM-3PA Pct
21.2 2.8 1.1 73 98.8 31.2 40.7 49.9 53.3 1.8 11.3 9.6 12.6 0.9 1.4 2.6 4.6 19.2 76-88 0.864 128-300 0.427 67-158 0.424

On paper, landing the leading scorer out of the Missouri Valley Conference, one who hits at 42 percent from the 3-point arc, would be deemed a coup.

Without question, Taylor’s one of the best options on the market right now, but we need to acknowledge a couple of facets of his game. First, his scoring touch relies more on volume than efficiency. Last season, he put 40.7 percent of UE’s shots when he was on the floor, leading the country, according to KenPom data. Averaging 21 points per night is impressive. Doing it on 18 shots? A little less so.

When you take a cursory look at the 20 most-used players in the Valley last season, Taylor ranked 12th in efficiency (0.94 PPP) and 14th in effective-field-goal percentage. Next, look at his zones chart, which is below and visualizes a key portion of his Synergy data. Often, Taylor’s at his best coming straight off screens and pulling, especially from the left wing (right on your screen) and below average when asked to finish attack the rim, averaging 0.868 PPP — 10th lowest among the 94 players tracked in Synergy's database.

Am I trying to run Taylor down? No. Just making the point that how he generates offense is probably more one-dimensional than some realize. For example, half of Taylor’s shots are no-dribble jumpers off screens or spotting up on the perimeter. In fact, almost a quarter of his shots are on screens set to release him on the left side of the floor. And when he does attack a closeout, he’s hunting a for a mid-range pull-up—the least efficient shot in the modern game.

If you’re looking to slot Taylor into a hypothetical lineup, it’s probably somewhat more akin to Barnett’s role: a longer-bodied wing who fires catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and can switch multiple positions defensively.

However, we saw last season how the lack of a slashing presence made MU’s offense prone to fits of volatility. Sure, Robertson improved in ball-screen situations and Barnett could attack the baseline as a cutter for side pick-and-rolls, but the roster lacked a wing who could, catch, rip and go. Now, maybe the urgency to acquire a player with that skill set diminishes if Ramey’s running the point.

That being said, an optimist can look at Taylor’s KenPom profile and find a favorable comp: Canyon Barry, a mid-major sniper for College of Charleston who became one of the SEC’s most efficient wings during his grad-transfer season at Florida. In Gainesville, Barry sported a 119.7 offensive rating during SEC play, hit 38.3 percent of 3-pointers and was among the league’s best at getting to the free-throw line.

That being said, Florida plugged Barry into a backcourt rotation with Chris Chiozza and Kevaughn Allen. The 11.4 points Barry plugged in over 21 minutes were supplemental as the Gators’ fourth option. In Columbia, Taylor would likely draw more attention from SEC defenses and be expected to produce more. Could he do so? And do it efficiently?

As for Taylor’s track record defensively, it’s a mixed bag. He struggled to guard spot-ups, especially catch-and-shoots (1.43 PPP and 71% EFG). Given Taylor’s size and length, you’d hope those numbers would be lower. But he offsets those issues with sound pick-and-roll defense, often forcing contested pull-up jumpers.

Still, compared with Calixte, you’d be getting a bigger-bodied wing whose shown an ability to make perimeter shots and is at least an average defender.