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Mizzou Hoops Position Preview: Combo Forwards

Led by Kobe Brown, Mizzou’s combo forwards epitomize the potential of Cuonzo Martin’s big, positionless roster.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Georgia vs Missouri Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

We’re now within five days (FIVE!) of Mizzou Hoops’ 2021-2022 season kicking off against Central Michigan. Sam is wrapping up his SEC previews, the Matts are starting to kick out the best analysis pieces you can find and me? Well, I’m still cranking out these position previews! We’ve got three under our belt as we stampede toward the finish line, all of which you can read here.

Today we’re looking at the combo forwards or, in this writer’s humble opinion, the most exciting position group on the roster. Led by Kobe Brown, it’s a tantalizing glimpse into the future of Mizzou Basketball, one full of long, athletic position-less players.

During the offseason, Kobe Brown has become the de facto “face of the program” for Mizzou as perhaps the returning contributor with the highest ceiling and most impact on last year’s NCAA Tournament team. What’s the next step of Brown’s evolution, and does he take it in his junior season?

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: I don’t know if there’s an “All-SEC” step in the Kobe Brown development stage, but I’ve always found his skillset extremely appealing — physical, good defender, strong on the boards and good around the basket. The only thing that’s missing to make him a perfect foundational piece is his ability to make shots. Brown has never been afraid to take his catch-and-shoot opportunities from the outside, but he’s never been able to knock them down at an efficient clip. If he could raise his true shooting percentage in his junior year, he’ll be primed for a strong finish to his Mizzou career.

Matthew Harris, Basketball Editor: It’s simple: make shots. Finishing in the paint isn’t an issue, and the junior does the nitty gritty work on the glass. I’m skeptical he occupies a major role on the ball, but he’s comfortable handling and could exploit some mismatches in space. But any great leap forward likely requires Brown to do better than making 29.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts and only hitting 54.4 percent of his freebies. For example, shooting 33 percent from 3-point range and 70 percent at the free-throw line would have ticked his scoring average up by one point per game.

But in a scrimmage against Creighton, he only averaged 0.78 points per possession and 0.83 points per shot, if the stat sheet is to be believed. We should always be cautious about reading too much into one data point, but Brown was also just 1 of 5 from behind the arc and 2 of 4 from the charity stripe. Those fit into the larger pattern we’ve witnessed through the first two years of his time in Columbia.

Matt Watkins, Guest Speaker: In continuing the theme, Brown’s next step is an understanding of what he excels at and continuing to do those things. And we began to see that from his transition from his freshman year to sophomore year. He has asserted himself as a potentially elite gatherer of rebounds. His versatility allows for him to handle duties guarding multiple positions on the defensive end. Brown’s offensive game blossomed inside the arc, posting an elite 60.2 fg% on two point shots. He has a variety of ways scoring from close range, be it posting smaller defenders, or driving larger defenders and touch shots in the paint. If that remains the focus and occupies a larger percentage of his possessions, success will likely follow. And if that means getting the ball in his hands as a “point guard,” and imploring him to be aggressive, that may work as well. However, if settling for long range catch and shoot jumpers becomes the theme, that may result in issues. That’s not to say never take those shots, but increasing efficiency on the attempts and a corresponding drop in volume could be the key that unlocks a revolutionary season.

Ronnie DeGray III was a late, somewhat quiet addition to the roster, but brings a surprising amount of contribution from his lone year at UMass. Can he make a leap in his sophomore year, or will the move to a high major school dampen his statistical output?

NCAA Basketball: Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka: Is there much of a statistical output to dampen? DeGray only played in 15 games during his freshman year at UMass, and it’s not as if his counting stats were anything to write home about. However, you can certainly view that from a glass half-full perspective by saying DeGray never got a chance to show his true capability. What I’m interested in, more than anything, is watching his percentages. RDIII boasted eFG% and TS% of 59.2 and 60.2 last season, with 2P% and 3P% of 61.2 and 37, respectively. Those are exciting numbers for a freshman, even in limited minutes. If DeGray can prevent those from falling too much in what should be regular minutes, he’ll be an exciting piece for this program.

Matthew Harris: Evaluators didn’t have a wide gap between Brown (0.8806) and DeGray (0.8678), at least based on the 247Sports’ composite index. To me, Brown might have bit more lateral agility and is more comfortable with the ball in his hands, but that’s offset by the fact DeGray’s shooting—albeit in a limited sample—is far superior at 46.2 percent in catch-and-shoot situations. It also offsets Brown’s slight edge in scoring around the rim.

And as I wrote in the spring, DeGray developed in systems where pace and positions blurred. I have more questions about how he acclimates defensively than I do on the offensive end of the floor, where he might be switched onto a higher-caliber of athlete on the perimeter. But if the expectation is to backstop Brown, that’s a reasonable bar.

Matt Watkins, Guest Speaker: The nice thing about transfers for amateur commentators like myself is: there’s a data sample to parse and analyze. Generally. Not so much the case with UMass and particularly, DeGray. Thanks to a host of non-basketball events, the Minutemen only played 15 games a season ago. Roughly half of a “normal” season. As a freshman, DeGray found himself in the starting rotation 14 times and played the third most minutes. His rate stats were superlative. However, of the regulars, he posted the lowest usage rate. As such, the sample size is simply not there to have a firm grasp on what to expect.

There’s little question that like the other newcomers, DeGray is built for a more up-tempo format. Look for him to be in the top 8 of the rotation and getting regular minutes. Early on I see him as a slightly bigger-bodied Javon Pickett. A guy that is crucial to winning games, even if he doesn’t jump out in the score box. Look for his counting stats to grow over time.

Cuonzo Martin secured the commitment of freshman Trevon Brazile just as the lanky forward was starting to catch the attention of other high major programs in his senior season. With a sky high ceiling and a lot of room to grow (literally), what should be the goal for Brazile in year one?

Josh Matejka: Just don’t overthink it, man. When Sam did his annual “choose your top 8,” I was one of the only votes for Brazile, but that doesn’t mean I’m expecting him to realize his vast potential right away. While he adds mass in the weight room, I just want to see the local product grow into his skills and get more comfortable in his own body. Show off your ability as a rim protector, clean up a few easy misses around the bucket and throw down the occasional rim-rattler. Then regroup in the offseason and prepare for the sophomore leap.

Matthew Harris: When Eric Bossi came on Dive Cuts in October, he talked about how Brazile makes plays on the floor that no one else can. Usually, it’s snagging a lob from an absurd angle or the kind of timing off the floor on his first and second jump to contest shots —even if he’s late rotating over. From having chatted with people involved in Brazile’s development, the question is just how quickly does he feel comfortable in a rapidly changing frame? It looks as if he’s added some mass, but that’s almost secondary to feeling completely at ease doing what your asked on the floor.

At Parkview and Kickapoo, Brazile’s best source of offense was frequently rolling to the rim or filling the dunker’s spot. Yet, his shooting mechanics are also quite clean—the byproduct of spending a couple of seasons as a 6-foot-3 guard. But when you’re surrounded by the likes of Anton Brookshire, Issac Haney and Cam Liggins, opportunities to showcase other facets of your game are hard to come by. When I see how fluidly Brazile moves, I let myself him imagine him attacking out pick-and-pops or making passing reads during short rolls.

In the near term, though, MU could really use a mobile forward to punish defenses of out high pick-and-rolls and a capable rim runner. Whenever Brazile’s ready for steady minutes, that’s a role I envision him fulfilling. That’s a solid foundation to build upon and could infuse Brazile with confidence to go alongside patience as he explores his tool kit.

Matt Watkins, Guest Speaker: Development and confidence. Mizzou may have struck gold in Brazile’s recruitment. A classic late bloomer physically who possesses extreme athleticism and length, Brazile is one that can immediately impact the game through those traits on day 1. As we all know, however, there’s more to the game of basketball. Getting Brazile time in practice and game reps, allowing him to find his strengths and “fit,” will pay dividends down the road. Knocking down a few open jumpers, redirecting opponent’s shots into the donor rows and a rim-rattling dunk can build that confidence to be an assertive, complete player. Seeing those developmental markers and confidence builders are the primary goals in my mind.