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Mizzou Hoops Position Preview: Point Guards

Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson are gone, meaning the point position will look different for the first time in many years.

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Ten days.

That’s how far we are from the return of Mizzou Hoops. It doesn’t seem real, especially with how tumultuous the offseason has been, but we’ll soon see the Tigers take the hardwood again... albeit a very different set of Tigers than we saw in March.

It’s an annual tradition here at Rock M Nation that we take the final two weeks of the offseason and get pretty granular with our preview material, examining the roster by positional breakdown. If you’re unfamiliar with how we group things as a staff, this chart should help.

mizzou basketball by position 5-5-21

Of course, fluidity is the name of the game in basketball nowadays, with seven footers bringing the ball up and stocky guards looking for mismatches in the post. So this positional breakdown won’t be perfect. But over the next 10 days, we’re going to ask how each position will fill out, and what we can expect from each scholarship player.

Today we’re starting with the point guards who, for the first time in two years, will not be Dru Smith or Xavier Pinson.

After several years of the Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith show, point guards are one of several positions that has seen a wholesale turnover. What will the Tigers miss from last season’s floor generals, and what do the new guys bring to the table?

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Matthew Harris, Basketball Editor: Losing an All-SEC player at lead guard inevitably leaves a void, and Dru Smith was a rare commodity—a genuine two-way player. As for Pinson, we’ve covered his game extensively. But, talented as he was, there was simply too much volatility, and his style was a bit too ball-dominant, his rim-finishing a little too inefficient, and his production far too reliant on whistles going his way. And Pinson always seemed a bit too moody for a guy who had an offense built to his skillset and getting almost 31 percent of touches when he was on the floor.

As for the personnel taking their place, it’s like so much of this team: wait and see.

In the case of Anton Brookshire, I’d set the bar for playing time around 16 minutes per game. That’s about the average for freshman point guards in the SEC since MU joined the league. And if the Kickapoo product is sopping up more time, history tells us it’s usually not a great sign for MU’s overall performance. When Brookshire’s on the ball, he’s more of a scorer than facilitator, making him a natural fit for Pinson’s vacancy. He’s polished enough to punish defenders who go under ball screens and has an underrated floater package to make plays in the paint.

At least early on, I’d want Coleman manning the point. The Ball State transfer’s a bigger-bodied combo guard and more reliant on pace than burst. In Muncie, he was part of an offense that used multiple ball-handlers and didn’t play point guard exclusively. Still, the Indianapolis native averaged 1.438 points per possession as a pick-and-roll passer last season, per Synergy Sports tracking data. Now, I’d expect that dip with a jump to the SEC, but if Coleman averaged 1.04 PPP on four PNR passes a night, he’d replicate what Pinson and Drew Buggs offered a year ago as facilitators in MU’s half-court system.

Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: The combined abilities of Smith and Pinson covered the ability scale, with Smith offering a high-floor, do-it-all attitude that allowed him to impact a game even when he wasn’t stuffing the stat sheet (though he did plenty of that toward the end), and Pinson acting as the spark plug that could ignite a rally or start a fire that the rest of his teammates had to put out. We’ve long focused on how the two affected this program, so this likely isn’t the space to re-litigate. All that’s to say, moving on will be difficult, though not every change will be a net negative.

Mizzou’s new floor generals, however, do offer us a glimpse at what Cuonzo Martin valued about the previous pair. Both Anton Brookshire and Jarron Coleman should offer above-average jump shooting and the play creation that Smith and Pinson excelled in. Neither of the two, however, have the same raw athleticism and speed that Pinson brought to the floor, signifying a preference for more fluid options taking the ball up the court.

Parker Gillam, Basketball Beat Writer: Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson each had up and down careers, but they were some of the rocks that this program leaned on. Pinson made tough shot after tough shot in the clutch, and Smith was a defensive stalwart who played with great passion. One of the first things this team will have to figure out as a whole is who will be the guy taking the late-game shots, because that was Pinson last year. I don’t worry as much about the loss of Smith because Cuonzo Martin has consistently raised scrappy defenders every year.

It does seem like this team will see an increase in offensive output from the point guard spot. Ball State transfer Jarron Coleman averaged 13 points per game to go along with 5 rebounds and 3 assists on 47% shooting, all solid numbers that imply that he is a well-rounded player that will give this team whatever they need. A high 3-star recruit out of Springfield, MO, Anton Brookshire should make an impact as well if he is ready to play a significant role on a collegiate team.

Cuonzo Martin has stated somewhat recently that Kobe Brown might be seeing some time at the point this season. What can Tigers’ fans read into these comments... and should they feel good about them?

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Matthew Harris: Context matters. How often is Brown initiating the offense? What’s the primary action? Who else is on the floor with him? What advantage is Martin trying to create. For example, Brown might be the last player to take a dribble hand-off and exploit a slower-footed post on the perimeter.

As far as facilitating, there’s nothing approaching a body of evidence. Last season, Brown ran one pick-and-roll where he made a pass – a kickout for a long 2-pointer. Meanwhile, his overall efficiency as a passer ranked in the 36th percentile nationally, according to Shot Quality. That’s not to say Brown can’t do it. We just don’t have a lot to go on.

Now’s the time to tinker with roles and rotations, and I can see some situational usage for Brown playing with the ball in his hands. But I’d be skeptical that Brown’s going to be at the wheel of the offense for long stretches.

Josh Matejka: We’ve seen glimpses of this type of preseason “surprise” before — remember when Jeremiah Tilmon had become a three-point shooter? — so this strikes me as something that should be taken with a shaker of salt. Still, we know that Brown has some guard skills that he picked up in high school and that he acts primarily as a combo forward with the ability to operate on the perimeter. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him get some possessions as the man who brings the ball up the floor, but if Brown becomes one of the primary ball handlers then this team is already in some serious trouble.

Parker Gillam: A lot of things are said over the offseason that never come to fruition, but hearing Kobe Brown get plenty of time at the point in Mizzou’s scrimmages against Oklahoma State and Creighton does suggest that Martin is at least going to give Brown a shot. Personally, I am not the biggest fan. Brown is a versatile player— yes, but he has the potential to be the star of this team (and probably needs to be if this season will be any sort of success). Kobe Brown is at his best in a slashing role where he can work down low or square up on the perimeter. He needs to have that freedom and not be burdened by having to set up the offense and bring the ball down the floor every possession. I would almost guarantee that his average points and rebounds would go down by at least 40% if he was in the point guard role as opposed to being the 3 or 4.

As Mizzou transitions to a faster-paced style, having a primary point guard may not be of chief importance, but let’s make a decision here: who ends up occupying most of the minutes as Mizzou’s starting point?

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Matthew Harris: The natural choice is Coleman, with Brookshire in reserve. To me, the question is what MU looks like with both of them on the floor. Why? Coleman might also be the Tigers’ best catch-and-shoot threat, and he’s comfortable serving as secondary creator. Pushing Coleman off the ball wouldn’t be unfamiliar for him, either. It’s just a matter of how soon Brookshire would be ready. As for the third guard, you could deploy Amari Davis as a mid-range scoring wrinkle. Or DaJuan Gordon could bring defensive tenacity, additional rebounding, and a slashing element to the mix. Finally, you could slide minutes to Javon Pickett, having serve as a cutter, ball-mover and offensive rebounder. Regardless, that flexibility hinges on Coleman translating his skillset — and quickly.

Josh Matejka: Between Cuonzo Martin’s comments on Brown and the ceiling of Brookshire, it feels like there are several options for fans to dream on. Still, Occam’s Razor probably applies here as Jarron Coleman is the most likely to see most of the minutes up top. Coleman has a similar skill set to the man who just led Missouri’s offense for each of the past two seasons and mirrors Dru Smith’s journey to Missouri in getting two seasons under his belt at a mid-major program. That’s not to say Coleman will make the All-SEC jump that Smith did, but it seems unlikely that the junior, a proven creative entity, will cede most the point minutes to a high three-star recruit or a combo forward with some advanced ball skills

Parker Gillam: It is a close competition, but I have to go with Jarron Coleman. I just can not fully believe that Kobe Brown would be handed the reigns to this offense in a role he has never really played much, and while Brookshire has plenty of potential, he is not a “freshman phenom” that you give starting minutes right away. Martin has had success with transfers in the past, and Coleman’s experience will be pivotal when the other top candidates have little playing the point guard spot in college. He doesn’t have to average 13-14 a game like he did at Ball State; he just has to manage this offense effectively. I would hope that the plan would be to bring Brookshire along in a complimentary role during non-conference play, in hopes that he would be ready for solid backup minutes when SEC play rolls around.