When Cuonzo Martin took over the Missouri program, the players Kim Anderson left behind were in a bit of flux, as is usually the situation when it comes to coaching changes. That uncertainty no doubt grew with the addition of several prized recruits, meaning players used to getting regular minutes would likely see their roles reduced. We’ve talked about it in some detail in regards to Kevin Puryear and Jordan Geist. But perhaps no player his role slashed than Cullen VanLeer.
#33 Cullen VanLeer
6'4" 208 lbs
CVL has been a frustrating player to watch over the years, the promise of a sharpshooting, dependable scorer never quite materializing. Instead, he’s filled the role of minutes eater, a role that left him overexposed in his first two seasons as a Tiger.
Without beating a dead horse too much, that all changed this year. VanLeer saw his minutes cut by almost 50 percent and - a few starts notwithstanding - was relegated to a regular depth piece.
Cullen VanLeer wasn’t asked to play a lot of minutes, but his experience was valuable on a guard-thin roster. How did he acquit himself to a team lacking backcourt depth?
Sam Snelling: At this point, I think it can be said Cullen knows who he is and what he’s capable of. And perhaps that is all he needs to be to find a role on future teams. Because not everyone who plays minutes is going to be a primary scorer. What Cullen has been asked to do is be a steadying force and good defender when he’s on the floor. The shame was in his injury because it shows you how valuable reliable depth - even when limited- can truly be.
I’m sure if CVL were healthy going into next season, he would have been among the contenders to get minutes again.
Matthew Harris: VanLeer managed to do what we should expect of him at this point in his career: moved the ball, communicated on defense, chased down the occasional rebound and only took wide-open 3-pointers. And when necessity dictated, he did an admirable job holding the fort over the season’s final 10 games for a threadbare rotation.
It’s a shame VanLeer will always be linked with outsized expectations he had no hand in setting. Once Anderson’s staff declared CVL the best shooter they saw on the grassroots circuit, the die was cast. But this season, the amount (and volume) of scorn heaped on VanLeer became more muted. He kept his head down, did the job asked of him, and there’s dignity in that role
It’s also what makes CVL’s knee injury disappointing, too. While VanLeer’s absence in the NCAA tournament didn’t generate the same headlines as Jordan Barnett’s DUI-related suspension, subtracting nearly 18 minutes a game from a roster at the breaking point was a contributing factor to Mizzou’s end.
Tashan Reed: Even with all the adversity faced by Missouri this year, I don’t think many of us expected Cullen VanLeer to start nearly a third of the Tigers’ games. You can count on him to provide solid defense and avoid making boneheaded mistakes on offense, but that’s about it. He averaged 2.4 points, 1 assist and 1.4 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game. VanLeer is essentially a spot-up shooter who doesn’t shoot it very well, hitting only 29.7 percent of his 3-pointers. He attempted just 10 two-point shots all year (he made eight of them) and seven free throws (he missed all of them). And while he had to get his minutes, I just don’t think it was necessary to start him. He could stay in front of his man -- look at how he defended Kevin Knox in the first game against Kentucky, for example, -- but you were essentially playing 4-on-5 on the other end.
With all of that said, I don’t blame VanLeer for any of it. He gave his all every minute that he was on the floor this year, and it was tough to see him go down with a torn ACL in the final game of the regular season. He definitely deserved to play in the tourney for the first time in his career, even if he didn’t produce much in the box score.
Josh Matejka: VanLeer was a pretty benign player on this roster seeing as he only got reserve minutes and didn’t kill the Tigers on either end. His turnover percentage was appalling for a guy who didn’t do a lot with the ball, and his shooting has never materialized quite like Kim Anderson promised it would. But with about 10 minutes shaved off his playing time per game, VanLeer actually improved as a rebounder and a distributor - most likely because he wasn’t being asked to be a scoring threat. Still, VanLeer’s three pointers attempted rate went up and his actual percentage went down, making him a below average offensive player for the year.
Where he did provide some good depth was on the defensive end. He’s not an incredible athlete, but CVL has always been a sneaky defender, never posting a below average defensive rating. And even though this year’s 104.8 was the lowest of his career, one could argue his reduced playing time didn’t give him enough time to show off his defensive... prowess/ability/effort?
I digress. Ultimately, CVL was a bench body who did a decent job spelling Robertson and Geist when they needed air. He’d have been an above average substitute if he made his threes, but his defense was good enough to pass.
Chris Bohkay: As has been mentioned in this space countless times, CVL is the epitome of the Kim Anderson era: overwhelmed and under-prepared. But that’s not his fault. Like we all weren’t asked to be born, CVL was not asked to be given a scholarship offer. However, CVL played well enough this season, and when the team started eroding due to transfer, injury and dismissal, he stepped up and provided valuable minutes to a team that desperately needed them. His three point shooting is still not great for a guy who’s supposed to be a sniper from the outside, but perhaps he can pull a “Party Starter” and spend his time away from the court working on his jump shot from a chair so that when he does come back he can be the best CVL he can be. Also, possibly spend some time working on his defense, because too often he seemed to get exposed and blown by leaving those on the block to cover for him.
Anything CVL can bring his senior year (whether it be this year or next) should just be icing on the cake as major minutes for him should not be something anyone should expect. Rest well, heal up and see you in 2019ish...
Catch up on the rest of our postseason player analysis pieces: