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Missouri Hoops Player Review: Xavier Pinson

The freshman out of Chicago struggled with turnovers, but flashed high-end potential with his highlight reel passing.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the dead season, folks.

It’s no secret that springtime, especially in Missouri, is kind of a dead time for college sports. The NCAA Tournament is wrapping up (thrillingly, I might add), spring football has lost its luster, and diamond sports are dominating. Not that there’s anything wrong with those sports — we do our best to cover the two programs — but it’s not exactly a secret that they don’t generate the same interest as the two marquee sports in the fall and winter.

So while we navigate this terrain — and as the official college basketball season nears its end — we’re going to start wrapping up the 2018-2019 basketball season for the Missouri Tigers. Every year we do player evaluations, breaking down stats, expectations and future potential to sum up how each scholarship player (with the occasional walk-on exception) performed over the course of the season. We’ll be posting these daily over the next few weeks.

Today, we’re starting with the Tiger freshmen, specifically one young guard who flashed moments of brilliance amongst an otherwise turbulent first year in Columbia.

Xavier Pinson - Regular Stats

31 18.4 6.6 2.6 2.3 42.0 40.0 77.9

Xavier Pinson - Advanced Stats*

%MIN ORTG Adj GMSC POSS% Lineup O +/- Lineup D +/- eFG% TS%
%MIN ORTG Adj GMSC POSS% Lineup O +/- Lineup D +/- eFG% TS%
44.2 95.9 6.1 25.0 1.01 (-.01) 1.01 (-.02) 49.7 55.3

Xavier Pinson ended the year strong after undergoing some typical freshman struggles. What does Pinson bring to the table that allows him to have games like his last few?

Sam Snelling, Site Manager: One of the things which makes Xavier a good player is his feel for the basket and body control when attacking the rim. Pinson has a natural ability to absorb contact and get the separation he needs to get the shot off and leave it soft enough to give it a chance to go in. For a guy who’s 170 pounds, that’s an excellent trait to build upon. It’s usually a sign of a guy raised on pickup basketball. He also shows virtually no fear in the face of pressure. There’s little flinch to his game, even if he would get a turnover happy at times it was usually from over-confidence in his ability to make the play rather than the fear of pressure. It’s one of the main reasons why I think he can be a fixture in the lineup for the next three years (assuming he figures out the actual plays you can and can’t make).

Matt Harris, Basketball Editor: The homestretch of the season epitomized Pinson’s year: inconsistency with turnovers, lapses defending off the ball defense and shakily piloting Missouri’s half-court offense — all sandwiched around a couple of decent outings against Ole Miss and Georgia. I’m sure some people might think Sam and I constantly dump buckets of cold water on Pinson’s play. I don’t see it that way. During a transition year, it’s natural to latch on and clutch positive performances tightly and use them to create outsized expectations. (The arc of Kevin Puryear’s career is a good case study.)

What I do like about Pinson is the raw components are there for a solid rotational lead guard. His vision and instincts, especially on the break, are preternatural. Facing pressure, he attacks and gives MU opportunities to capitalize against a defense scrambling to match up. He doesn’t hoist up a ton of jumpers, but Pinson knocked down 40.7 percent of 3-point attempts. Finally, his efficiency as a passer in high ball-screens (0.921 PPP) hints at his room for growth.

Josh Matejka, Editor: Pinson’s wiry athleticism, advanced vision and ability to create and score around the basket are intangibles that quickly endeared him to the fanbase. His propensity for making eye-popping passes that fill up a highlight reel don’t hurt, either. However, as Sam and Matt have discussed ad nauseam, Pinson still struggles to work within the flow of the offense, often relying on his playmaking ability to bail him out. So while his tape may pass the eye test, he still grades out poorly on both ends of the floor.

Still, you can’t ignore his natural gifts. He’s confident and crafty around the basket, which will be beneficial when the offense genuinely breaks down around him in the future. He’s still too focused on making defenders look foolish with his passing, but when he learns to control his worse impulses, he’ll certainly be a spark plug point guard that can offer you a different look behind Dru Smith.

What would you like to see Pinson work on during the offseason?

Sam Snelling: The obvious to me is Pinson has to get better running the offense. We know he’s a capable passer and playmaker, but too often it came outside the framework of the offense as he struggled in setting up his ball screens. Pinson seemed more than comfortable when the offense broke down and he had to go make a play. Like I spoke about above, he can attack the rim and convert, but he really needs to improve his ability to do those things within the offense. He was also prone to being a sticking point in the flow of the offense, a common problem for freshmen guards.

I wasn’t a huge fan of his defense this past year either. He doesn’t move his feet enough and gets lost on rotations frequently, but more importantly he struggled defending ball screens and fighting through the screen. I attribute the ball screen weaknesses to be a matter of him gaining strength this offseason, and that should improve.

Matt Harris: What we’ve seen is the path to minutes in the Martin administration is clear: steady defense and sound decision-making. Last year, Pinson’s turnover rate (27.1 percent) was simply too high. While he can leave your jaw slack with a no-look or pocket pass, he coughed the ball 29 percent of the time when leading the break and 28.6 percent of the time when operating in pick-and-rolls. In a way, Pinson’s persona is a counter-intuitive choice for an offense that’s reliant more on spacing and ball movement than its lead guard splitting a defense open like a coconut.

You can see the working theory of the staff, too. If Pinson cleans up the turnovers, they have a guard who can operate the offense and create in late-clock situations or when a set breaks down. Or at worst, MU can flatten out along the baseline, send Tilmon to screen at the top of the circle and work a two-man game. While that worked at times this season, MU’s offense isn’t isolation heavy. This means becoming more adept at reads out of ball screens, moving the ball effectively and understanding when it’s time to freelance.

Defensively, Pinson actually held up better in ball screens than I expected. (Still, he needs to add a little bulk and strength.) But man, he was not good closing down on spot-up shooters, allowing 1.3 points per possession and a 64.7 effective field-goal percentage. Almost half of the 3-point shots he gave up were unguarded, too. Missouri’s scheme isn’t fancy. It relies on precise execution and understanding the scouting report to direct opponents to shoot from certain spots. If Pinson’s fighting for time with Dru Smith, sloppy defense undercuts his case.

Josh Matejka: Get up in that gym and work on your fitness.

*Advanced Stats explainer:

%MIN — The number of minutes played in comparison to the total number of minutes available to be played. E.g. 30 minutes played in a 40 minute game would be 75%

ORtg — Individual offensive rating or points scored based upon a player accounting for the ending of 100 possessions (through shot attempts not offensive rebounded, assists, turnovers). This number comes from KenPom and it weighted to adjust for pace and opponent.

Adj GmSc — Adjusted GameScore, from Study Hall the accumulation of the players game score throughout the season

Poss% — Also referred to as Usage, it’s the number of possessions a player ends (via shot attempts not offensive rebounded, assists, turnovers) while on the court.

Lineup O/D +/- — This is the offensive and defensive points per possession when the player is on the court, the parenthesis reflects if lineups were better or worse with them on the floor (+ is if lineups were better with them on the floor, - is if lineups were worse)

eFG% — Effective Field Goal Percentage Adjusts shooting percentage for three point attempts. The formula is FGM + (.5 x 3PM) / FGA

TS% — True Shooting Percentage adjusts for both shooting percentage divided by total points scored. Traditionally the formula is (Points / 2 x (FGA + (0.44 x FTA)) x 100. We used KenPomeroy’s FT modifier of 0.475 instead of the NBA modifier of 0.44.