We’re continuing our postseason player evaluations today, focusing on the three-man freshman class from the 2018-2019 season. We started this quest on Monday, covering freshman point guard Xavier Pinson.
Today we’re focusing on Javon Pickett, one of the least talked-about parts of the 2019 class, who ended up carving out a formative role for the Tigers early in the season.
Javon Pickett - Regular Stats
Javon Pickett - Advanced Stats*
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Javon Pickett earned a starting spot and was often the steadiest of three freshmen. What did he provide that helped him earn Cuonzo Martin’s trust?
Sam Snelling, Site Manager: For one he’s older and being a year more advanced than the others means his mind is more seasoned and prepared for what he needs accomplish in his preparation. He was far more mentally prepared for the day-to-day grind, and in being prepared he was able to do fill in and do the little things needed to play the kind of minutes he was asked to play. It’s also the same reason why Xavier Pinson and Torrence Watson were able to play more minutes down the stretch. The mental side of the game takes its toll and Pickett was just ready.
Other than that, he was better offensively than I think most people expected, and he’s a very competitive rebounder. Pickett does so many little things to make his team more competitive — that gets him on the floor. I’m not sure what his ceiling is, but even if he’s at or near it he’ll carve out a role on better teams because of his competitiveness.
Matt Harris, Basketball Editor: In late October, our questions about Pickett were rooted in whether he could hold his own athletically at the high-major level. Would he be explosive enough to get to the rim in two dribbles? Would his elevation and shot mechanics be a hindrance? Would he be able to lock and trail shooters? Watching him as a prep star in the Metro East, he overcame those questions with an intuitive sense of using angles as a scorer and tenacity on the defensive end. Translating those traits in the SEC was another matter.
Clearly, Pickett’s play showed he wasn’t out of his depth. Wired to score during his prep career, he transitioned into a role that made him a tertiary option. Left alone on a kickout or ball reversal, he canned jumpers a 41 percent clip. If a defender closed out, he could slither right get off a mid-range floater. Pickett’s non-stop movement also paid dividends when he’d back cut — often along the baseline — if the wing tracking him was caught ball-watching. At worst, he’d crash the glass, corral a miss and put it back.
Defensively, Pickett was reliable guarding off the ball, giving up just 24 unguarded jumpers and only allowing 28.6 percent shooting on spot-ups. Toss in the fact he was an active presence on the defensive glass, and you can see why he earned Martin’s trust. Pickett’s a grinder in the best sense of the word. He doesn’t press the action offensively, is usually in the proper place defensively and doesn’t let his effort ebb.
Josh Matejka, Editor: Maybe it’s time we start listening to the coaching staff. For the second straight season (it was Jordan Geist last year), we heard rumors that the staff had glommed onto a previously dismissed player as a key cog to the success of the season. Pickett was probably the least celebrated of the three freshmen, but quickly showed he was the most ready to play.
Pickett excelled — and yes, at moments that was the most accurate way to describe him — mostly out of his not trying to do too much. Pickett proved early on that he was a capable defender, chipping in offense where he was able. For a team lacking experienced depth, that’ll earn you a spot right away. He might not be the most athletically gifted player on the roster, but Pickett’s coachability and his penchant for scoring (which showed up inconsistently as the year went on), gave Missouri a reliable two-way option while Torrence Watson and Xavier Pinson were still figuring themselves out.
What would you like to see Pickett work on this offseason?
Sam Snelling: Well his 52.8% from the free throw line isn’t great, and neither is 31.4% from three. I trust Pickett to remain competitive, but he needs to shoot better. He’s shown a proclivity towards getting in the gym and working, but I do worry some of the mechanical issues with his shot might make it difficult for him to improve rapidly.
Matt Harris: If Javon Pickett wants to be a student of hardwood history, he might be wise to start with his coach. Look closely enough, and you can draw see why the Belleville East native is a player after Cuonzo Martin’s own heart. Suiting up as a redshirt freshman at Purdue, Martin carved out a role by picking his spots offensively, clamping down defensively and cleaning the glass. Sure, his jumper needed work, but Gene Keady never questioned his work ethic.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
In a way, Pickett took his own redshirt — an injury-shortened gap year at Sunrise Christian — and earned Martin’s trust by pouring out sweat equity in Mizzou Arena’s practice gym. The question moving forward is whether Pickett can trace a similar arc, potentially becoming a 3-and-D wing who’s an indispensable veteran on a national contender. Or: how close is Pickett to touching his game’s ceiling?
As a slasher, Pickett improved his efficiency at finishing drives around the rim as the season churned along. Still, he converted just 45.1 percent of those attempts and rarely earned his way to the line, drawing fouls on only 1.4 percent of those possessions. Was that a function of his balky back getting the best of him? Or is the book out on him among SEC staffs? Projecting his growth as a shooter may also come with skepticism, starting with unorthodox mechanics and colored by poor shooting percentages behind the arc (31.4%) and at the line (52.8%) for MU. If he can’t lift those numbers, defenders will be prone to sag, stay in front and rely on help rotating over to help challenge Pickett’s crafty floaters.
Success as a defender could hinge on an encyclopedic knowledge of the scouting report and a savvy basketball IQ to keep an edge. This season, opponents exploited Pickett by running him through a maze of screens. They also isolated him in pick-and-rolls, where he allowed 1.154 points per possession. This season, MU could hide Pickett at times on an opponent’s weakest perimeter threat. But with Torrence Watson’s improvement and Mark Smith’s incumbent status as a stopper, Martin might not have to make that compromise.
Pickett’s guile, grit and effort already proved us wrong once. We know he’s going to live in the gym and attack his flaws. It’s an open about question what kind of returns we’ll see.
Josh Matejka: There are a few things Pickett could improve on, but here’s to hoping he works most on his shot. Pickett clearly has a nose for the basket, which should stick as Pickett continues to learn the ins and outs of the college game. However, Pickett only hit 31 percent of his three-pointers and — I hope you’re sitting down — 53 percent of his free throws. Pickett will never be depended upon as a main threat, but if he can get into the mid-to-upper thirties long-range and the seventies at the line, Pickett could be good for double digit points per outing.