Two minutes into the second half against Alabama, Trevon Brazile slid over from the right block and bestowed a gift.
It’s a writer’s crutch to search for a moment that encapsulates a player’s essence — a vivid snippet you can use to start a piece. They’re also firmly imprinted in the hippocampus of every fan – a memory they can quickly call up from the codex. The idea we rationally weigh data in evaluations is wrong. Instead, our brains covet stories – preferably tidy ones.
And if nothing else, the freshmen supplies ample material. Case in point: spiking Jaden Shackleford’s ill-fated floater back toward the top of the key. A hot mic along the baseline added a fine ambient soundtrack for viewers at home.
“Gimme that shit,” a stray voice barked.
Was it Brazile? Does it matter? Over eight games, Brazile’s gone from a gangly freshman finding his bearings to a sinewy wraith lurking around the restricted area to deny ill-fated drivers. And in what looks like a reboot gone wrong, those split-seconds of competency take on added value.
In Brazile’s case, though, it also helps that data only reinforces his tantalizing potential. Had he not missed the start of the season with an undisclosed health issue, the Springfield Kickapoo product’s 15.0 block percentage would rank sixth nationally and second in the SEC. Meanwhile, his defensive rebound rate (20.0) checks in at 11th in the conference.
Since joining the fold, Brazile’s logged almost 51 percent of minutes and sports a modest 14.7 usage rate. Meanwhile, he owns a box plus-minus of 6.0. Using Bart Torvik’s site, we can look back to 2008 and tally up how many players have those metrics and possess similar rebounding and shot-blocking abilities. The answer: 10 players. Of that group, five are underclassmen, including the likes of Auburn’s Walker Kessler and Duke’s Mark Williams.
In Good Company | Trevon Brazile
Fleshing out an offensive role is a common challenge among this group and one currently confronting Brazile. But he differs from those other players listed in a pivotal way; he is not a traditional post player. Instead, Brazile’s blend of length, bounce, and mobility offer him a developmental path as a switchable four-man — one who can sit down to guard and recover quickly enough to blot out his mistakes or those of other Tigers.
If you haven’t noticed, those players are a coveted commodity in today’s game.
Will Brazile become a cornerstone for this program? One whose game pulls droves of NBA scouts to Mizzou Arena? It’s too soon to know. Keep in mind that Brazile’s still growing comfortable in his skin. Two years ago, he was a 6-foot-3 guard. Ever since, he’s had to retool a handle, shooting mechanics, and adapt to maneuvering his suddenly larger frame around the floor.
And that’s where those pops of potential obscure growing pains. The list includes adding just enough weight to a lithe frame, defenses that are increasingly hunting him in switches, and finishing through contact at the rim. Right now he’s a skinny four, but with the proper development, he could add size, length, and skill to lineups without needing a true center.
Doing so, however, requires patience and stability – both of which are dwindling as this season unfolds. Still, let’s take a deep dive into his game and what makes it potentially alluring.
In an era where positional lines blur, we still hold fast to a first principle: you are who you guard.
It’s also helpful in understanding aspects of Brazile’s defensive role. Let’s say you did nothing but watch Brazile on that end of the floor. You won’t spot him looming in the paint or moving block to block. And he’s rarely jostling with a big for position inside.
Instead, Brazile’s frequent assignment is an opposing combo forward. If an opponent goes small around a traditional post player — like Kansas or Illinois — he might find himself tracking a wing. Modern offenses use those stretch fours as spacers to hold a corner, spot up in a weak-side slot, or to have them hunt big-little switches onto guards.
Don’t believe me? More than a third of his defensive possessions are spent guarding spot-ups, per Synergy Sports. Almost 55 percent of the shots he’s dealt with have been jumpers and only dealt with three attempts resulting from post-ups.
Trevon Brazile | Defense | 2021-22
So, before anything else, ditch the idea that Brazile’s a five. He’s subject to the same debate confronting a guy like Auburn’s Jabari Smith as to whether he’ll eventually slide to the wing or keep evolving as a bigger four. There’s a world where he plays some five, but that may come after he gets a little sturdier, particularly his base.
For now, Brazile spends lots of possessions as an off-ball defender. It means doing all the things that don’t wind up in mixtapes: stunting into gaps, recovering to shooters, and shouting out ball-screen coverages. On top of that, Brazile’s drawn low-usage assignments: Illinois Da’Monte Williams, Utah’s Marco Anthony, Arkansas’ Kamani Johnson, Kentucky’s Keion Brooks, Jr. and Texas A&M’s Ethan Henderson.
In this world, his best skillset — thwarting rim attacks — becomes a matter of proximity. Where is Brazile’s man on the floor? How much ground will he have to cover? Ultimately, point of departure becomes a useful taxonomy for cataloging Brazile’s collection of rejections.
Low Man Wins
Brazile’s asked to do quite a bit on this play. For one, he’s guarding an undersized four in Aaron Cash, who’s only 6-foot-6. Early on, he’s tasked with playing drop coverage on dribble-handoff. Then he monitors Cash and prepares to help if Andre Gordon slithers by Amari Davis. Then, after Cash sprints to set another middle ball screen, Brazile winds up supplying more drop coverage against Tyrese Radford.
With the shot clock dwindling, Gordon gets into a gap and attacks. Notice where Cash is on this play: the short corner. This is a traditional scenario for a rim protector. All Brazile needs to do is come over and remember to play with verticality.
But Brazile doesn’t need to be on the weak side to influence the play.
Brazile diligently tracks Keion Brooks throughout this possession as he moves the ball and shuffles around through spacing cuts. Ultimately, though, Brooks winds up setting a down a screen to help Davion Mintz get isolated in the slot. On that drive, Brazile simply steps over and turns the floater away.
So, what if Brooks, who has only made 23 percent of his career 3-pointers, pops to the corner? Brazile’s ideally positioned to give help, and it prevents Kobe Brown from having to step over and give Mintz an easy dump-off to Oscar Tshiebwe for a dunk.
And on Tuesday, Brazile found himself in similar spots defensively in a matchup against Ole Miss’ Jaemyn Brakefield, who tried to operate at times in the short corner across the lane from Nysier Brooks. So, if you want a clue as to whether Brazile’s going to serve as a more traditional backline anchor, spend the first couple of possessions watching his matchup.
Against brawnier centers, MU opts for Kobe Brown and Ronnie DeGray III as a primary defender and sends help from elsewhere on the floor. Now, if Brazile’s matchup spends time near the paint, he can offer a steady supply.
But then there are opponents like Illinois or Kansas, which boast four perimeter players orbiting their big man. During Braggin’ Rights, Brazile guarded Williams or Coleman Hawkins, neither of whom spent a lot of time in the lane. Worse, Illinois started using Kofi Cockburn as a screener and having him dive to the lane to get a deep position while Brown helped in ball-screen coverage.
Able to get a deep seal, Cockburn feasted at times, while Illinois’ potent shooting made it risky for the MU’s guards to dig from the wing. But watch what happens on this play.
Set aside the weak ball pressure, Brazile’s on the top side of the play and can quickly drop down from the nail. Once Cockburn turns toward the rim – making it impossible to kick the ball back to Jacob Grandison – Brazile swoops in.
Midway through the second half, Brazile does it again. Again, Cockburn bluffs setting a screen, dives back to the lane, and ducks in. Coleman Hawkins’ height gives him a clear sightline for the high-low feed.
All the while, Brazile’s gauging his gamble. Cockburn’s a deft passer from the post, and committing to help might mean him pinging a pass to Grandison in the slot. But again, when Kofi turns and tries to play over his preferred shoulder, Brazile pounces. He pins the first shot against the glass, scrapes a second from Cockburn’s hands, and pops the third away like a balloon.
On the Trail
One way to counteract Brazile is to have him navigate a ball screen and switch onto a guard, especially in the middle of the floor. As we’ll see shortly, that’s an area where he’ll need to make some strides, but he’s not completely helpless.
Brazile’s already figuring out how much of a buffer he can give a driver once they turn the corner. Staying semi-attached to their hip and slightly behind allows him to use his chief asset to counteract straight-line drives: length. By my count, he’s notched five blocks from the trail position so far — usually ones starting from the lane-line extended — and forced guards to alter their finishing move at the rim on multiple occasions.
From the Wing Comes a Prayer
These are infrequent occurrences and usually hinge on Brazile guarding a non-shooter stationed on the wing.
Once Miles breezes by Kaleb Brown, there’s no big man to be found. Kobe Brown’s monitoring Keon Ellis in the corner, and Brazile’s nominally guarding Gary in the weak-side slot. No matter, though. He simply drifts down from the elbow to increase the degree of difficulty for Miles, whose layup rolls off the rim.
Listen, blocks are cool as hell, and rim deterrence has immense value – no matter who provides it. However, Brazile’s ceiling will be set based on how he operates as a switch defender. Can he move seamlessly between cat-quick guards, athletic wings, fellow face-up fours, and at least hang in for a bit against a true post?
The idea of getting down in a stance and moving laterally isn’t a foreign concept to Brazile. It wasn’t so long ago he did a lot at Springfield Parkview – before he sprouted and left to join a loaded roster at Kickapoo.
If he can pull it off at the high-major level, that will create immense value. But in the near term, we’re watching Brazile endure a learning curve when it comes to learning the nuance and subtleties of guarding a range of positions. Until he’s mastered them, you’re going to see opponents single him out for mismatches.
Hunting Him Down
Brazile is mobile, long and explosive off the floor. Yet he’s more of a glider when it comes to covering ground. His recovery is usually best when taking just one or two long steps. More than anything, he’s smooth. It helps him be in the right place at the right time as a recovery defender.
But then you look at the rest of his defensive portfolio. While the sample size is small, Brazile’s giving up 1.167 PPP on rim attempts that don’t result from a post-up, according to Synergy data. And that number spikes to 1.636 PPP when you combine possessions guarding isolations, hand-offs or pick-and-roll dribblers.
Trevon Brazile | Defense | Shot Types | 2021-22
It comes as little surprise that those opponents run action with one intent: to switch Brazile onto a guard in acres of space.
Take this possession, for example. The mechanics are simple. Alabama’s Noah Gurley sets a high ball screen. Jahvon Quinerly gets Brazile alone in the slot, blows by him, and uses the rim as a shield for a layup.
Notice Brazile’s body positioning — bent at the waist, narrow base, knees bent slightly. Basically, the opposite of a solid stance. Next, Brazile’s hips don’t always flip quickly, and his first slide often comes after the guard has already bolted and getting ready to put their first dribble down.
It was especially noticeable against Arkansas and Alabama, both of whom have coaches who won’t hesitate to beat a play-call to death if it’s working. The one below was one of three consecutive middle pick-and-rolls Eric Musselman ran in a row.
Sure, Brazile might blot out the occasional shot playing from behind a driver, but the math still makes it a worthwhile proposition. And heady guards like Quinerly and Arkansas’ Devo Davis know to use either a reverse or wait until they cross the front of the rim to ward Brazile off from that tactic.
There have also been instances where lapses or delayed reactivity have hampered Brazile getting to shooters in ball-screen situations. These aren’t uncommon for freshmen, and Brazile’s seem to unfold when he’s pulled into a dribble-hand-off like the one below.
Kansas’ DaJuan Harris doesn’t even make contact with Brazile on the flip to Ochai Agbaji. Brazile simply doesn’t close down space on a potent 3-point shooter. The Jayhawks’ best scorer is already releasing his shot when Brazile starts to contest it.
But the same thing would happen again in Braggin’ Rights when Illinois put him in early action. Cockburn simply pitches a pass back to Grandson, and Brazil wasn’t close enough to contest it.
No Ducking It
Conversely, questions crop up if you slide Brazile down the lineup and ask him to guard legitimate post players.
Half the battle of post defense is fought before the ball arrives, a dispute over fertile scoring territory. Can you force a player to set up far from the block? After that, do you try to three-quarter from them, creating a smaller target for an entry pass? Do you front and throw a pass over the top? Or do you play behind and prepare to use your length while walling up?
Look, I’m not trying to pick on Brazile or call him meek. That said, he needs to fill out his frame, especially its lower half, enough to win those skirmishes. Having him in solo coverage can be problematic without that mass or strength, particularly if the low-post player also has length.
Arkansas successfully got Johnson or Jaylin Williams into early-clock switches that produced high-low entry plays. Williams gets his spot and takes his time as Brazile plays from behind on this trip. Yet the Razorbacks sophomore moves Brazile easily and gets to an easy hook shot over his left shoulder.
Meanwhile, Missouri’s avoided doling out solo assignments for Cockburn, Tshiebwe, or David McCormack to Brazile. Even with a microscopic five possessions, Brazile’s allowed 1.2 PPP, per Synergy. Until he can physically hold his own, the logical move is to have more mature veterans do the work and tweak your help based on remaining personnel.
Working from the Outside In
When Brazile signed with Mizzou, it was easy to envision his role on this roster – a roller and cutter wreaking havoc on lobs to the rim.
Instead, he’s heavily perimeter-oriented on the offensive end, too. Roughly 35 percent of his possessions result in a spot-up, and 60.7 percent of shot attempts have been jumpers. Until Tuesday, he’d only attempted seven shots rolling or cutting to the rim and averaged just 0.857 PPP on those attempts, per Synergy.
So, arguably the bounciest Tiger is…a floor-spacer.
Trevon Brazile | Offense | 2021-22
A crucial caveat is also required: the profile relies on a minuscule sample size. Brazile’s 13.7 usage rate is low enough that you might consider him a non-factor when skimming MU’s page at KenPom. And when you sift through film, shots are almost something that happens to him instead of a designed outcome.
If there’s room in Brazile’s toolbox, it can be found on offense, and any assessment requires looking at the essential elements it already contains.
Getting His Best Shot
Let’s start with this: the essential elements of Brazile’s shot are better than you might expect.
For starters, the basic mechanics are in good working order. His shot pocket is a tad low but still around the sternum. The load-up and follow-through are fluid enough to resemble one motion. His release point is around the chin, but raising it won’t be arduous.
Brazile also does his work early. Look at his feet. They’re usually set, and his body is square to the target. His knees are bent slightly and hands up. Assuming a passer hits Brazile’s shot pocket, the finished product looks mostly the way you want.
That’s a win considering Brazile had to retool his shot to account for his growth spurt. When he came to Columbia, he and his trainers had him working comfortably from 15 feet out. Assuming he remains diligent, it’s not hard to envision him becoming a reliable shooter.
That’s already apparent if you leave him open to shoot off the catch. He’s 3 of 6 on those attempts this season and has been potent from the corner. More importantly, those attempts occasionally come when a traditional big is tracking Brazile, pulling them from the paint, and opening lanes.
There’s also the fact Brazile’s makes tend to be clean. Even if they aren’t tracing a perfect parabola, they’re not flat and rattling down. There’s also a hint of touch. For example, Brazile’s just 1 of 8 on contested attempts, but even under pressure from a closeout, his shots don’t thump off the rim and sail long. Instead, they roll off the iron.
He’s currently shooting 30.8 percent from deep, but the margins on just 13 attempts are fine. I understand the hesitancy to invest in growth for a program that hasn’t developed consistent shooters over the past five years, but at least Brazile’s shot won’t require a teardown.
How expansive that shooting will become, though, is unclear. Operating out of spot-ups appears to be a comfortable setting, but he’s only attempted two shots off the dribble — a two-bounce pull-up against Illinois and a one-dribble step-in after a pump fake against Texas A&M.
Earning A Driver’s License
If Brazile’s shot requires tightening some bolts, his handle requires a little bit more assembly before it’s functional.
Don’t get me wrong. Becoming a potent driver at Brazile’s size is a more demanding task. However, there’s a reason why those types of jumbo wings are so valued. They’re a rare commodity. As I mentioned earlier, Brazile’s not a burst guy with a first step that will leave a defender in the dust.
When you watch Brazile play off the bounce, you can see how shaky his dribble can be. It’s high and away from his body. Meanwhile, Brazile’s body doesn’t really get low as he turns into the gap, either. And maybe it’s a fluke, but drives out of the corner have been especially treacherous, resulting in four of Brazile’s eight turnovers.
There’s a school of thought that only two dribbles are required to reach the rim. But I agree with the rationale put forward by Memphis assistant and former G-League coach Cody Toppert: a driver needs to feel comfortable getting to their finishing package. Brazile swallows up ground off the bounce. If it takes an extra dribble to dip low, keep his handle tight, and transition to a finishing move, so be it.
For example, he looks more at ease catching, ripping through, and attacking out of the slot. Maybe that angle matters, turning it into a straight-line drive. On five possessions, he’s converted once and drawn fouls twice. Of his two turnovers, one was simply a poor passing decision.
Last season, few plays were as effective as Jeremiah Tilmon dive-bombing through the paint as a roller. And anyone who watched film of Brazile saw obvious parallels. On top of that, Anton Brookshire, his PNR pal at Kickapoo, was joining him in Columbia.
Well, that prediction hasn’t panned out.
While MU’s volume of passes to rollers is unchanged, those possessions are worth half (0.673 PPP) of what they were last season. Meanwhile, Brazile’s only been targeted five times in nine games, making the play below – run out of a base action — a precious commodity.
Instead, the baseline and short corner have become Brazile’s hunting ground. It makes sense, too. If he’s holding the weak-side corner, his defender might be the first to rotate and provide help. When that happens, the baseline gets vacated, and Brazile darts toward the rim.
Or, as we saw Tuesday in Oxford, Brazile’s presence in the corner helped stretch Ole Miss’ trapping 1-3-1 zone, a staple of coach Kermit Davis’ playbook.
Clearly, Brazile’s hops and timing make him a fantastic target while on the move. But MU isn’t calling sets to exploit those assets. There’s an obvious explanation: a glaring lack of ball-handling.
Let’s say a defense neglects to tag him as he wheels out and makes his way toward the rack. The Tigers’ best pick-and-roll distributor is Jarron Coleman at around 1.00 PPP — the median for Division I, per Synergy. Now consider that he lags well behind Xavier Pinson (1.444 PPP), Drew Buggs (1.118 PPP), and Dru Smith (1.05 PPP) in efficiency. And if Coleman isn’t on the floor, the drop-off with Amari Davis (0.692 PPP) or DaJuan Gordon (0.6 PPP) serving up passes is precipitous.
Until MU shores up that positional hole in the spring, using Brazile in those actions might lead to more turnovers than lobs.
The Path Ahead
Once Brazile received his medical clearance, we mused about how long it would take for him to acclimate to the college game.
Well, almost as soon as he checked in against Eastern Illinois, he sprinted down a channel, took off from a step beyond the right block, and nearly mashed down a missed layup in transition. Against Kansas, he canned a couple of corner 3s. And he notched nine of his 11 points against Illinois in garbage time.
You can already craft an attractive elevator for Brazile’s future: a reliable floor-spacer, potent cutter, steady help defender, and active rim protector.
The Tigers might just have something extraordinary if he can shore up on-ball defending and his handle. However, crossing those thresholds also means consistently impacting team performance. For example, MU’s net rating improves by four points per 100 possessions with Brazile sitting, per Hoop Lens. And even with his shot-blocking ability, MU still allows a problematic 1.03 points per possession.
Will we see Brazile take those next steps in the season’s closing stretch? Unclear. But we’re all curious whether these glittering shards start coalescing into a grander mosaic.