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Mizzou’s wings are experienced, but how much room is there for growth?

Mizzou has a trio of experienced players on the perimeter, but all carry question marks headed into the 2020-2021 season.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

After the out-of-nowhere success* of the 2017 Mizzou Hoops recruiting class, the 2018 class was, understandably, a bit of a letdown. No matter what he did, Cuonzo Martin wasn’t going to sign two five-stars and three four-stars for a second consecutive year.

The 2018 class, however, is now entering their third year on campus and, arguably, has far surpassed the amount of on-court production of its predecessor. Consider that only one player from 2017 played more than one season at Mizzou (Jeremiah Tilmon), while the entirety of the next class (save Christian Guess — we know ye little) is still on the roster.

We already talked about Xavier Pinson and where he fits into the picture this season. Today, we’re getting into the other two-thirds of that trio — Javon Pickett and Torrence Watson. Pickett appeared fully formed in his freshman year and has continued a steady level of play since. Watson, on the other hand, tore through the final quarter of his freshman year only to follow it up with the very picture of a sophomore slump.

Also forcing his way into the wing picture is Kobe Brown, the lone survivor of the 2019 recruiting class. Brown immediately surpassed his higher-rated brethren in terms of minutes played, and ended up compiling some impressive freshman year numbers. They weren’t All-Freshman level, but how many newcomers’ stats are?

Together, Pickett, Watson, and Brown form a trio of wings that gives Missouri a wealth of experience... but not a whole lot in terms of guaranteed production. Is there another step for Pickett to take? Is Watson actually as bad as he played last year? Where does Kobe Brown’s growth take him? Let’s find out, shall we?

*Success here refers to the final ranking by recruiting services rather than on-court production.

The Players

2019-2020 Statistical Profile

Players Javon Pickett (Jr.) Torrence Watson (Jr.) Kobe Brown (So.)
Players Javon Pickett (Jr.) Torrence Watson (Jr.) Kobe Brown (So.)
Minutes % 66.8 41.5 43.4
Effective FG % 42.5 39.6 46.2
True Shooting % 44.6 43.2 49.6
Off. Reb. % 5.8 1.4 6.6
Def. Reb. % 11.2 8.1 21.7
Assist Rate 11.1 4 6.6
Turnover Rate 18.4 22.1 21.7
Steal % 1.2 0.9 2.6
Fouls Created/40 min. 3.5 3.1 4.3
Fouls Drawn/40 min. 2.6 2.5 3.2

The Preview

He might have been the least celebrated member of the 2019 recruiting class, but Kobe Brown was easily the most productive (and longest-lasting) of the three. He’s been listed as a potential surprise player by at least one college basketball pundit — do you believe there’s a breakout coming for Kobe?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: As always, “breaking out” is relative, but I think we’ll certainly have a clear picture of Kobe Brown’s ceiling by the end of 2021. We saw enough in his freshman year to know that he’s an exciting defensive prospect with at least some potential on the offensive end. The question then, especially under Cuonzo Martin’s guidance, is how much offensive promise Brown can achieve.

Later on in this piece, Kortay comps Brown with DeMarre Carroll, and that’s actually a pretty good call. Brown had several stats — rebounding, blocks and steals — that compare favorably to Carroll’s senior year. The main difference between the two is their efficiency on offense (along with Brown’s modern day propensity to shoot more threes). Carroll may have been a little more post-driven than Brown will ever be, but there’s reason to think Brown can put his own spin on that type of game. Brown took 52 percent of his shots from two-point range last year, and I’d love to see him increase that to at least 60 percent. Brown’s jump-shooting should be a complement to his game, not the feature. If he can spend more time worrying about getting to the paint, he’ll become a major factor in the rotation late into games.

Jacob Giancola, Lead Basketball Beat Writer: I’m not huge on Kobe Brown having a breakout year, but that’s not to say he can’t contribute in a notable way. The good news is Kobe’s only a sophomore, so there’s still plenty of time for him to develop into a dominant threat from the wing. Similar to how Watson sort of fell off his sophomore season, I could see Kobe having difficulty finding his game this year.

Kortay Vincent, Basketball Beat Writer: I think it depends on how you define breaking out. Kobe will probably take another step forward and be a solid contributor in all facets of the game. Maybe his junior year he can step into a bigger role, but this year, I think he will just continue the gradual growth that we saw throughout his freshman season.

Pickett and Watson were productive freshmen, but didn’t quite make the sophomore leap we wanted to see — and in Watson’s case, slumped hard. How do the two fit into the rotation as they become upperclassmen?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka: I remember early on in Javon Pickett’s freshman season hearing Sam and Matt talk about him on Dive Cuts. They pegged him as a guy who was probably maximizing his growth early on, and his sophomore year confirmed that reading. Pickett wasn’t noticeably worse or better in any areas of his game — he simply was. He’s a good enough defender that I think he’ll never fully lose a rotation spot, but there has to be a point where someone steps up and forces him into a more productive role. When Pickett is coming off the bench, he’s a high buy-in guy who’s going to be solid on defense and near average on offense. When he’s starting, Pickett is forced into a role of overexposure. Ideally, Mizzou is able to find a rotation where Pickett’s minutes decrease slightly so the coaching staff can better deploy him.

Now, Torrence Watson... is it cheating for me to throw my hands in the air and say, “I don’t know?” I can’t for the life of me believe that Watson is as bad as his sophomore year showed. His shooting obviously cratered, but if you look at his free throw numbers (small though they may be), he still shot 87.5 percent. The guy can obviously shoot; whether or not he can overcome whatever mental block is there is an entirely different question. Aside from his shooting, though, there’s not really any reason to think he’ll make any major leaps. He’s a useful and enthusiastic defender, but he doesn’t really generate anything from that end. And he’s been pretty one-dimensional on offense despite his high school tape promising a strong, attacking wing. Perhaps the best approach with Watson is to just wait and see... though what we’ve seen so far has been discouraging.

Jacob Giancola: If I were Cuonzo Martin, I’d be straight up with Watson and Pickett from the get-go. I’d tell them they have to sort out whatever problems they were facing last year, or enjoy the majority of this season riding the bench. It’s not what every player wants to hear but the good ones always respond well and bounce back. Hopefully as upperclassmen they’re able to learn from their slumps and improve. I see both Pickett and Watson getting the call early on and then being reevaluated based on their performances. (editor’s note: wow)

Kortay Vincent: Neither Watson or Pickett were all that effective last year, and I don’t know if either bounces back. They both will get a shot in the rotation to show that they have improved from their sophomore slumps, but right now, I’m going to need to see it to believe it. For both of them the key is to shoot the ball at a more efficient clip. If both continue their shooting struggles it doesn’t bode well for them considering the number of wing players on the roster.

We like to be reasonable and analytical here at Rock M Nation, but we don’t want to get too cautious because, hey, where’s the fun in that? Give us one bold prediction for each of the Tiger wings in the 2020-2021 season.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka: Starting with the juniors: Torrence Watson will become a key 3-and-D cog off the Missouri bench. Part of me still wants to believe Watson can make the leap as a double-digit scorer, but I’m trying to be bold based on what we’ve seen of him so far. Watson will improve upon his miserable shooting numbers from last year and settle in somewhere between 34 and 37 percent while providing reliable defense on the perimeter.

Javon Pickett will make at least three game-winning plays this season. When I mean, “game-winning,” I mean stuff like buzzer beaters, blocked last-second shots, steals on crucial late game possessions, etc. Pickett isn’t a guy that opponents will always key on, but he has a knack for showing up when games are tight. The fact that the coaching staff trusts him means Pickett will have plenty of opportunities for late game heroics — and he’ll cash in on them.

Kobe Brown will lead the Tigers in rebounding. This, my friends, may seem too bold at first glance. But consider this: Brown had the third best defensive rebounding rate on the team last year, behind only Tray Jackson (who has transferred) and Mitchell Smith (who will likely play fewer minutes with a healthy Jeremiah Tilmon ready to go.) Brown’s offensive rebounding rate was also the highest on the team outside of post players in 2019-2020, and we know the sophomore will be getting more minutes. With some extra muscle from his first full offseason, Kobe will become a pest on the glass... and likely run up his scoring totals as a result.

Jacob Giancola: Out of this selection of position players I have to go with Kobe Brown having the best season. Brown offers the most potential on both sides of the ball and is a hard working player who lives for the minutes he gets. Now a year older, I see Brown making major contributions to this team, and even if he isn’t a regular starter, I’ll predict Kobe Brown shocks us all and leads the team in defensive playmaking. That means he’ll be the guy with the most charges, the biggest steals, and a surplus of rebounds every game.

As far as Watson and Pickett go, I think I have to play it safe and predict that they’ll both find their game once more from beyond the arc. If Watson gets hot like he has in the past, he could easily lead the team in three-point shooting percentage.

Kortay Vincent: My bold prediction for Kobe Brown this year is that he might not be the flashiest player, but he will be the most important player for the team. His ability to do it all will be comparable to DeMarre Carroll. He’ll impact both sides of the court and not all of it will show up on the stat sheet, but he will be Mizzou’s most valuable player this year.

I’m a lot less confident in my bold predictions for Pickett and Watson, but here we go. Watson can finally find his shooting stroke and be the guy he was heralded to be out of high school. A consistent scoring presence from Torrence will firmly implant him in the rotation as a key that could hit some big shots to win close games for the Tigers. For Pickett, shooting is the key, too. I think his production might not come in the form of bunches of points, but rather just shooting more efficiently.