As we do every year, we’re wrapping up the Mizzou basketball season with Q&As on every one of Missouri’s major contributors. To catch up on our first few posts in this series, see the link below:
Today, we’re examining the sophomore season of Javon Pickett. The 2018 recruit has been a steady contributor since his arrival in Columbia. Did he see any major growth or regression in his second season as a Tiger?
Pickett was the most successful freshman of the 2018 recruiting class, but had an up and down sophomore campaign. What sort of steps (forward or back) did you see him take in his first offseason?
Sam Snelling, Site Manager: I don’t know if it’s so much about Pickett taking steps forward or back, but more of a question about ceiling. Pickett is effective in a fairly limited way. He’s a high effort player, with limited athleticism a lack of shot-making prowess. Where he’s made his living the last two years is mainly on basket cuts and second chance opportunities. I think the hope is Pickett can improve his spot up shooting to the point where you can get more reliable 3rd option scoring from him. I think he does enough defensively and on the glass to where if he can be more consistent spotting up you can count on him in the role he’s played so far. But his offense has been detrimental enough to cost Missouri possessions. Fix the spot up shooting and I think you can fix a lot with Pickett’s minutes.
Matt Harris, Basketball Editor: Statistically speaking, Pickett improved on the defensive end, but I chalk that up to him being healthy for an entire season. Offensively? He only improved by 1.7 points per 100 possessions, per Synergy data. None of this comes as a surprise, either. Pickett subsisted with timely cutting, sticking back misses, and knocking down the occasional unguarded 3-pointer. Yet he still struggled to convert around the rim and create offense on his own.
Whatever you think of Pickett, though, he’s a known entity. The question is how much room for growth remains. Knocking down more catch-and-shoot 3s is probably Pickett’s best path forward. Hitting at a 35 percent clip would start rounding him into a 3-and-D option off the bench and help MU avoid a precipitous drop when Mark Smith checks out.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: Steps forward and back probably have more to do with our expectations of Pickett rather than his actual play. Pickett made the biggest splash of all the 2018 recruits in his freshman campaign, but (as we stated at the time), he was probably the most ready-made Division I contributor at that point. What we saw from him in year two was more of the same — inconsistent scoring contributions, solid defensive play and high effort.
Ryan Herrera, Lead Basketball Beat Writer: As Sam stated above, it’s more about where Pickett’s ceiling is. Though he’s effective defending the wing, he’s limited in what he can do offensively. He’s not really a shot creator, so a lot of his scoring comes on cuts and second-chance points. He can knock down a 3-pointer, but not as consistently as this team would like from its starting wings. I think Missouri needs the defense and energy Pickett brings, but it would be even more acceptable if he can become a reliable option shooting from deep. That’s probably Pickett’s ceiling, but reaching it would be more than enough for this team.
While he’s prone to inconsistency, a popular narrative suggested that as Pickett went, so did the Tigers. Is there a cause and effect relationship there, or is something else at play?
Sam Snelling: I think it’s more cause/effect than anything. When Pickett made shots the offense found a 3rd (or maybe 4th) option. So was it Pickett or was it that an offense starved team found another outlet to give them points?
As I mentioned above when Pickett found his way around the rim and was more active, he’s able to give the offense a boost. Pickett made only 15 3s on the season, and converted a three in just 10 games. Mizzou was 6-4 in those games, which isn’t a real indicator of Pickett scoring equals success, but it proves the odds get a little better when shooting is better. So I really think that’s what they need more of from Pickett.
Matt Harris: In 18 games against top-100 KenPom opponents, Pickett averaged 6.1 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists, but MU was 4-1 when he cracked double figures. However, I don’t think that supports the idea that Pickett is the driver of MU’s success. Instead, it underscores what MU could be with reliable production on the wing. If MU had a guard on the roster posting 13.2 points and 3.3 rebounds — Pickett averages in those five outings —over the course of a season, Cuonzo Martin would have the balanced attack he envisions.
As Sam noted in his review of Mizzou’s losses, the backcourt was an abject mess half of the season. So, I think there’s a temptation to ascribe more importance to Pickett when, in reality, his better outings highlight the issue that MU is working to solve by shopping on the transfer market.
Josh Matejka: I mean, there was certainly a cause and effect in the sense that when Pickett provided a third scoring option, the Tigers were more likely to win. But you could say that about any player on the roster.
Not to be a copycat, but Matt nailed it above: “it underscores what MU could be with reliable production on the wing.”
Ryan Herrera: I’d say it’s probably a cause and effect. Obviously when he plays better, Missouri plays better. Because they don’t have a lot of true scoring options, when Pickett is getting points, the Tigers have that scoring balance they crave. It isn’t just Pickett, though, because Missouri was certainly better anytime a couple of guys stepped up to handle some of the scoring load. I think it’s really a matter of anyone filling in that reliable secondary scorer role than needing Pickett to be that consistently over the course of a season.
We talked a lot about Pickett’s ceiling vs. his floor in the past year. As he becomes an upperclassman — has Pickett topped out or is there still another level to discover?
Sam Snelling: Boy, that’s the question isn’t it? I think Pickett can take another step, but I certainly don’t think it’s a step towards SEC All Conference or anything like that. He just needs to be a plus player on a good team. Expecting Pickett to be any kind of star is setting the wrong expectations. More than that, Missouri doesn’t need him to be that guy. They just need him to be better and more consistent. I’d like to see him be a more reliable of a free throw shooter too.
Matt Harris: Pickett’s reliability is his allure. He executes the scouting report defensively, rebounds well for his position and isn’t a pillar MU leans on offensively. We assumed his minutes would gradually shift toward Torrence Watson, but the Whitfield product’s severe regression as a shooter made that impossible. Ideally, Pickett would be a reliable reserve, but Watson’s stunted growth has meant holding on to an expanded role. Keep this in mind, too: if MU was sold on Pickett as its answer on the wing, why are they doggedly pursuing Justin Turner?
Josh Matejka: What is a level but another step with more surface area? I don’t know that there’s a whole other dimension to Pickett’s game that we haven’t already seen, but there are definitely small steps he can take to shore up his game. First and of utmost importance? Jump shooting. Pickett is still a below average shooter across the board and slightly regressed from deep this year. If Pickett could become a respectable three-point shooter (34 to 35 percent) and get his free throw percentage to about 70 percent, I think that would be as close to another level as we’ll see.
Ryan Herrera: He’s probably a lot closer to his ceiling than not, but that doesn’t mean he can’t improve his game at all. He’s still going to be a solid defender that brings a lot of energy, something that Martin holds in high value. He won’t be a guy who can create his own shot, but he can still find some improvement offensively if he can knock down his shots with more consistency. If he can get that 28.8% percentage from deep up to the mid-30s, that’ll help open things up for Missouri more than any other improvement Pickett could make to his own game.