By year’s end, Kobe Brown seemed to be the freshman who had earned Cuonzo Martin’s trust the most. What about Brown got him the lion’s share of freshman minutes?
Sam Snelling, Site Manager: I tend to refrain from speculating why some guys get minutes and others don’t because that often comes down to practice. Coaches don’t usually get into the habit of playing guys who don’t win in practice, so I can only surmise that Kobe Brown was the superior practice guy. Externally, he’s a better overall player than I expected. I’m not sure I’m as high on his ceiling as Coach Martin is, since he’s referred to Brown as a potential All-SEC guy, but he’s got an intriguing skill set and seems to buy in on the glass and on the boards, which is always a good way to get on the floor when you play for Martin.
Matt Harris, Lead Basketball Writer: I don’t get to be a fly on the wall in practice, either. But that’s where you earn minutes, and presumably, Brown’s case was stronger. Martin’s also shown he’ll dole out minutes to players who are consistent on the defensive end, go to the glass and can find ways to manufacture offense. To that end, Brown was solid enough closing down shooters and finished 13th in the SEC for defensive rebound rate. And when he’s not settling for jumpers, he’s shown promise as cutter and tracking down misses for putbacks.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: Did you watch any of the 2018-2019 Mizzou basketball season? Remember how we talked a lot about Javon Pickett getting most of the minutes despite being less of an exciting prospect than Watson or Pinson? Rinse and repeat for 2019-2020. Brown may not have been highly touted like Tray Jackson or Mario McKinney Jr., but he came into the program with a college-ready frame and a desire to play hard on defense. Was he perfect? Nope. Was he serviceable? Of course. Martin will always prefer guys who bust their butts on the defensive end. Look no further than that.
Ryan Herrera, Lead Basketball Beat Writer: Though he wasn’t the crown jewel of last year’s recruiting class, Brown stood out as a player with an intriguing skill set who was willing to stay consistent defensively, something Cuonzo Martin really likes to see out of his young guys. He had his share of rookie mistakes, but he kept those relatively low and seemed comfortable in the offensive system as it adapted to life without Jeremiah Tilmon and Mark Smith (though his numbers did fall a bit to end the year). Will he be an All-SEC player like Martin has said in the past? Possibly, but I’m willing to think it’s the work ethic he showed off the court that earned him Martin’s trust from the jump.
Brown played a lot, but his numbers suggest a lot of room for growth. Which area of Brown’s game do you think needs the most work this offseason?
Sam Snelling: Shooting. Brown has the mechanics to be a solid floor spacer, and he’s certainly not shy about letting it fly, but he’s got to become a more reliable shooter from distance to have the kind of impact Missouri needs at the position. Brown does a lot of things well; shooting wasn’t one of them this past year. I don’t think he needs to be a sniper (though I wouldn’t turn that down) but you can’t have multiple guys out there who are at the “don’t bother guarding from 20 feet out” if you’re trying to create space and driving lanes.
Matt Harris: If Brown’s going to launch jumpers, he needs to become proficient at knocking them down. And for a guy whose handle was touted as a strength by Martin, you rarely saw him get going toward the rim off the dribble. At times, both those traits led him to settle instead of attacking a crease.
Defensively, Brown struggled on the ball. He allowed 1.29 points per possession when guarding pick-and-rolls and isolations, per Synergy. Ideally, Brown would grow into a reliable switch defender, but his freshman season was bumpy in that respect. The result: Martin would have to substitute offense (Brown) for defense (Mitchell Smith) instead of having one player anchor the position. With Tray Jackson moving on, it puts more impetus on Brown to grow in that area of his game.
Josh Matejka: One of Brown’s desirable attributes was the fact that he seemingly brought guard skills with a power forward’s size. However, his numbers suggested that he was far more adept at playing inside than out. He shot only 25 percent from deep, while hitting almost 54 from two-point range. While the development of his jump shot will certainly take place, I’d love to see Brown focus more of his efforts on getting to the rim. At the very least, he’ll be able to take advantage of the fact that he’s already a very good free throw shooter.
Ryan Herrera: For a guy Martin has said can play all five positions, he’s got to be more reliable shooting when he’s out on the wing. He wasn’t shy about taking shots from deep (almost 50% of his field goal attempts came from 3), but his 25.3% mark isn’t where you want it to be. Of course, that was a problem for Missouri as a whole. Without reliable shooters, it became harder for them to space the floor to open up lanes. Brown doesn’t have to be a 3-point marksman per se, but a guy whose shooting forces opponents to guard him on the perimeter would do wonders for this offense.
As the Tigers head into 2020-2021, Brown represents a player in flux between guards and extremely tall big men. Where does Brown best fit in this roster?
Sam Snelling: Brown probably is going to work best by not really having a defined space. This past year I thought he worked better on the wing than the combo forward spot, but his body type should fit well long term at the four spot. He should be able to add some muscle and transform his body the more he works with Nicodemus Christopher as well. And finding guards is always easier than skilled big men, so I think you try to formulate a plan at the five, and let Brown and others man the 4 spot. Ultimately, I think he’s a guy who’ll move up and down the lineup consistently.
Matt Harris: Brown’s development took place on the perimeter, and once his reshapes his body, his future is as a wing. Sculpting his frame and improving his agility will help him hang with ball-handlers in space. Offensively, he profiles as a floor-spacer who can exploit some switches on down screens burying a guard on the block or driving on bigs off the wing. He also showed promise as a roll man and cutter. He’ll play the wing or combo forward based on what matchups tilt in MU’s favor.
Josh Matejka: I made it clear above that I’d love to see Brown bust his men on the inside more often. But that doesn’t mean he should be played as anything like a traditional big. On the contrary, Brown’s size and skill combination make him an ideal fit for small ball and bully ball lineups. His brand of ball screams, “combo forward,” if I’ve ever seen one, and that’s good. Missouri will desperately need some skill from that position, especially if they can’t land a go-to scorer on the wing.
Ryan Herrera: I like Brown as a combo forward. he’s got both the size and the athleticism that’ll allow him to move seamlessly from the wing to the post to pretty much wherever Martin wants him to be. With basketball increasingly moving toward a position-less sport, Brown is the kind of guy that has potential to thrive. He isn’t a traditional big nor should he be used like one, because he has the ability to hold down the fort on the perimeter. And to continue where I left off on the last question, if he can develop a more consistent 3-pointer, he’s going to be a key part of opening up any kind of offense for the Tigers.