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Mizzou’s combo forwards may play sparingly, but they can have a big impact

Parker Braun was a spot player last year, and Ed Chang is a mystery. Can one or both of them surprise us in 2020-2021?

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It’s probably safe to say that last year was a bit of a letdown for most Mizzou Hoops fans. While national expectations surrounding the program weren’t incredibly high, internal expectations were much higher. This internal feeling trickled down to the fanbase, who were fully expecting the Tigers to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid.

That didn’t come to pass for a variety of reasons, but there were flashes of excitement for fans to hold onto throughout the season. One of those came from sparsely used Parker Braun, who quickly acquitted himself to the fanbase with a propensity for big dunks and athletic plays on the defensive end.

Braun is entering his third year with the program as a redshirt sophomore and headlines a duo of combo forwards who carry a lot of question marks into the season. Braun has shown high upside, but was a defensive liability and struggled with turning the ball over when he received chunks of playing time. Joining him at the position is Ed Chang, a surprise commit from the offseason who played sparing minutes at Salt Lake Community College after starting his career at San Diego State. Chang is a bit of a mystery, but carries a three-point jumper that hit at above 40 percent, a tantilizing number for a shooting-starved team.

How much run the combo forwards will get this season is an enigma — will they factor in heavily above a front court that averages seven feet in height? Will they produce enough to provide small ball lineups with a bit more length? Those are questions we wanted to tackle in our continuing series of position previews. The season kicks of next week and we have no time to waste... so let’s get to it.

The Players

2019-2020 Statistical Profile

Players Parker Braun (R-So.) Ed Chang (Jr.)
Players Parker Braun (R-So.) Ed Chang (Jr.)
Minutes % 11.3 -
Effective FG % 75 -
True Shooting % 69.3 -
Off. Reb. % 5.8 -
Def. Reb. % 14.4 -
Assist Rate 9.4 -
Turnover Rate 27.7 -
Steal % 1.7 -
Block % 11.7 -
Fouls Created/40 min. 5.7 -
Fouls Drawn/40 min. 2.5 -

The Preview

Parker Braun was a fan favorite in 2019-2020, injecting energy through his monster dunks and propensity for forceful blocks. Does he see more of a pronounced role in his third year as a Tiger?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: If we accept that most players’ development will plateau a bit after their sophomore season (at least at the college level), we can look at Parker Braun in one of two ways. So I’ll offer up two takes here, one for the optimists and one for the cynics.

First Take: He’s been with the program for two years, which might mean that his first season seeing playing time is probably what we’re going to get from Braun on a wider scale. He may sand out around the edges, but I digress.

On offense, Braun was highly efficient, if not overly depended upon. Most of his buckets came on clean-ups, put-backs or dump-offs (look at all those hyphenated words!), and he couldn’t truly be trusted to post up or not turn the ball over if he held it for too long. Braun’s real value, in my opinion, came as a spot defender. He struggled mightily against more traditional bigs, but offers Cuonzo Martin some switch potential and has sneaky athleticism that makes him a better-than-expected rim protector at 6’8”.

Second Take: Braun is only entering his second season getting actual playing time as a Tiger, and has yet to realize his biggest gains at the college level, and I speak of “gains” literally. On offense, a stronger Braun could become a matchup problem for smaller bigs, especially if Braun can show off some improved range on the jumper. On defense, more strength would mitigate some of the struggles he had against real bruisers, while his athleticism would allow him to keep up with more perimeter-oriented forwards. Suddenly, Cuonzo Martin has a reliable combo forward for when Mizzou wants to go smaller and and is struggling to set up a perimeter game.

Jacob Giancola, Lead Basketball Beat Writer: I’ve said it before and I say it again, if Parker Braun puts on 15 pounds of muscle he’s going to be starting nearly every game and a very big problem for opposing defenses. That’s a lot to ask of a 21-year-old in one offseason, but at the University of Missouri, the wins are never handed out. I like Braun a lot and think he’ll see a lot more playing time this year. Even if he didn’t have a massive transformation this offseason, Braun still provides an incredible spark off of the bench on both sides of the ball.

Kortay Vincent, Basketball Beat Writer: I like Braun, and I’d love to see him step into a more pronounced role. He has been with the program for two years now, and having now seen some real SEC game time, I think he is primed to take a step forward, and I think he will be a more pronounced role player. I also think for him to accomplish this, he needs to improve as a shooter.

Ed Chang was a surprise addition to the roster in the offseason, but presents a unique threat from the combo forward position. What sort of impact does he make in his first season in black-and-gold?

Twitter: @MizzouHoops

Josh Matejka: It’s pretty cut and dry if he answers one question — can he hit shots? If so, he’ll contribute. Outside of Mark Smith, Mizzou doesn’t have any reliable threats from deep, especially from the wing/forward position. Chang introduces a wrinkle to the offensive formula, especially if a player like Jeremiah Tilmon can stay on the floor and hold the fort down low. If the offense runs through the point guards and Chang is a reliable shooter, he automatically softens the lane for players like Pinson and Dru Smith, while simultaneously offering an outlet from deep. Defensively he’s still a question mark, but Chang’s value to the offense is clear if he shoots well.

Jacob Giancola: You know what they say: he who puts the ball in the basket will receive playing time. Mark Smith is a good shooter no question, but he alone cannot carry this team beyond the three-point line. If Chang’s ability to shoot the deep ball translates from his career in junior college, there’s some real excitement in his playmaking abilities. I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen a minute of this guy on the hardwood, and I have no idea if he’s a defensive liability or not. If he can shoot the ball and not make a fool out of himself playing defense, I expect him to contribute.

Kortay Vincent: Chang shot over 40 percent from deep in junior college last year, and if he can bring some shooting to the team, he will do a great job at spreading the floor allowing guards to attack the rim. I think his playing time is very dependent on how he starts the season. If he can hit some shots to start the year and provide spacing, I think you’ll see Chang contributing quite a bit to the team.

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 Tigers’ combo forwards in the 2020-2021 season.

Twitter: @MizzouHoops

Josh Matejka: Parker Braun will end the season with a 75 percent or better two-point field goal percentage. This may not seem bold considering he ended the season at 78.9 percent last year. But I also believe Braun will get more minutes this year, especially against SEC competition. If we double the amount of shots he took last season, we arrive at 38, meaning Braun would have to make 29 of those to reach 75 percent. He can do if if he’s not being asked to do too much.

Ed Chang will have at least one game of 15+ points for the Tigers. To be honest, I’m not sure where Chang’s minutes come from if we assume the health of Mizzou’s bigs (which maybe we shouldn’t?). But I’ve watched Chang’s tape, and I think the shot is legit. He’ll play sparingly, but he’ll operate as a shooter when he does, and that gives him more potential to explode than many of his counterparts. Maybe it’ll be in garbage time, but I think Chang notches a few threes and has at least one game where everyone on the beat will be forced to write a thinkpiece on him.

Jacob Giancola: My prediction for both combo forwards are the same, and that is that both of these players will steal Missouri a game at some point in the season. I don’t exactly know how or when, but I predict each player will have one spectacular night where they put up 20+ points in a close matchup. Neither Braun or Chang are likely to ever be starters on this year’s roster barring any sort of injury (editor’s note: fingers crossed), but I still believe both are going to see an increase in minutes as the season progresses.

Kortay Vincent: My bold prediction for Parker Braun is that he’ll see big time improvement as a shooter. In high school, he was a decent jump shooter, and I think he’ll add that to his game at the college level this year. Now that he has some experience with game speed, his comfort level will increase and he’ll feel more free to develop as a jump shooter.

My bold prediction for Ed Chang is that he will steal some minutes from guys like Javon Picket and Torrence Watson, and by the end of the season, will be playing just as much as, if not more than, both of them.