Ed Chang committed to Missouri and head coach Cuonzo Martin last Thursday, becoming just the second addition to the roster since Jordan Wilmore committed in late September. Then not to be outdone by not one, but two football commitments over the weekend, the basketball Tigers added a second commitment Sunday with graduate transfer Drew Buggs.
Buggs fills out the final slot for Mizzou’s 13 scholarship allotment for the 2021 season, provided one giant caveat: three current Tigers testing the NBA waters all return to school.
Here’s the current scholarship breakdown:
This is a roster full of experience. So, it’s got that going for it.
The move to add Chang and Buggs instead of a freshman or sit-out player means the roster is dominated by 10 upperclassmen. That puts more pressure on the current recruiting cycle by having to replace six graduating seniors. However, if you’re looking for positives... experience can matter a lot when you get into the doldrums of the season.
For three years in a row, MU has suffered major injuries and adapted to fill lost minutes from important starters. Over two years, Michael Porter, Jr. and Jontay Porter missed 63 of a possible 98 games. Injuries robbed Mark Smith of 20 games in his two seasons with the Tigers. Finally, Jeremiah Tilmon, Jr. sat out 13 games last season.
It would be nice to have at least one season under Martin where injuries didn’t put an asterisk on the season.
So where do Chang and Buggs figure into the lineup?
It was pretty clear what Mizzou wanted this offseason when they were pursuing Justin Turner. Cuonzo Martin and his staff felt like they needed to add an impact wing who could score. When Turner opted to stay at Bowling Green, realistic options for that role thinned out in a hurry. So, Martin pivoted his focus and filled his final two spots with guys he thought could bolster some depth and add specific skill sets.
No one is going to confuse Drew Buggs with the type of scorer Turner would have been. However, Buggs potentially solves the problem of overworking Dru Smith, who logged a ton of minutes, initiated offense through pick-and-rolls, and tried to check the opponent’s best player. Having some relief could bolster Smith’s efficiency. Buggs is a pass-first player who needs to be better when he’s taking shots, but his passing is still a huge plus in his game and should translate to the SEC.
Similarly, adding Chang is another attempt to address a major issue: poor 3-point shooting. Only one MU player connected at better than 30 percent, meaning Chang’s accuracy (39.7%) while at Salt Lake Community College would have been tops on the roster. At 6-foot-8, Chang is more accustomed to hanging around the perimeter than the majority of Missouri’s roster. If he can provide floor spacing, even in limited minutes, it would be a boon to the offense.
Last season, players who were not running the point or named Mark Smith shot 27.5 percent (99 of 359) from long range. Even if Chang fills a reserve role, his presence could have an impact.
Trying to project the depth chart next season is basically figuring the team and what they looked like down the stretch, only with Chang and Buggs. But here’s how I think the rotation will work:
- The point guard position will come down to a consistent rotation with Buggs, Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson. One of Pinson’s issue last year was consistency, and that over-exposed Dru Smith to the point he wore down at times. With Buggs, you have a reliable point guard who can split time on the ball and lower Dru’s usage. If Pinson is able to finds consistency, you have a deeper and more robust guard rotation.
- The wing rotation might get complicated after Mark Smith, who needs to be healthy and shoot the ball consistently. Torrence Watson might want to find his scoring touch again. Javon Pickett will try to be a factor as well. And Kobe Brown and Ed Chang are going to be searching for minutes at the 3 as well.
- On the block, it’s all about what Jeremiah Tilmon provides. If Tilmon stays healthy and productive, he’s good enough to lift Missouri into NCAA tournament contention. Freshman Jordan Wilmore certainly has the size to make a difference, and Parker Braun saw spot minutes last year. In addition, Mitchell Smith actually played the third-most minutes on the team last year.
If it isn’t clear already, there’s no immediate help riding in to overhaul this roster. Instead, MU’s group remains mostly intact. But where optimism defined last offseason, skepticism has taken its place. That’s what happens when you make scoring look like crossing the Amazon using a pair of floaties. Sure it was possible, but it was always really difficult.
If the reasons for hope existed last year, it’s reasonable to think improvement around the margins can help this team get over the hump.
Will these move make them contenders for an SEC title? No. But it might be enough, with other development of players, and more consistency from the soon-to-be junior class, to contend for a bid to the NCAA tournament.