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Mizzou Hoops Player Preview: Ronnie DeGray III

The junior combo forward knows what he does well and brings value to his role, but can he break a logjam at his position on Mizzou’s roster?

Missouri v LSU Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Over 13 installments, this series will dive deep into the 12 known scholarship players that make up the 2022-2023 Missouri basketball roster. Some installments might be more in-depth than others, if only because of the data and film available. In addition, evaluating players with multiple years of experience is more straightforward than younger peers.

The pieces read like a birds-eye scouting report. They skew more toward the offensive end of the court for two reasons. First, a player’s offensive metrics are more reliable than defensive data and less team-dependent. Second, it’s considerably easier to describe a player’s qualities with more well-known offensive statistics. As always, we encourage interaction from our readers. Please drop us a comment or find me on Twitter @DataMizzou.

The Player

Ronnie DeGray III, who transferred in from UMass last season, represents a third of MU’s returning pieces. The Colorado native — his father played at Colorado after starting at a JUCO and played abroad as a professional — took a winding route to a high-major: three seasons at Chaparral High School, two seasons at Woodstock Academy, and a freshman season in the Atlantic 10.

While in Amherst, DeGray started 14 of 15 games in a pandemic-abridged season, but posted the third-highest percentage of minutes played on a team featuring Tre Mitchell and Noah Fernandes. Recruited by MU out of high school, former coach Cuonzo Martin moved quickly once DeGray entered the transfer portal. Once in Columbia, DeGray was an infrequent starter but firmly entrenched in the rotation, earning the fifth-highest share of minutes played. He has three years of eligibility remaining.

The Numbers

Ronnie DeGray III | Junior | Combo Forward | 6-6, 225 pounds

Year Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% OR% DR% Ast% TO% FTR% FT% 2PT% 3PT%
Year Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% OR% DR% Ast% TO% FTR% FT% 2PT% 3PT%
2022 MIZ 64.0% 110.8 17.5 50.5 8.6 12.3 8.3 14.7 39.4 76.2 54.8 29.1
2021 UMASS 67.0% 108.2 15.7 59.6 5.3 14.3 9.9 18.8 33.0 61.4 61.2 37.0

Over his first seasons, DeGray played between 25-26 minutes per game, while his usage rate increased to 17.5% as a sophomore. That’s roughly equivalent to a role-player and indicates a moderate level of creation. It’s not a bad thing, either. Instead, it suggests a player adept at using his possessions wisely.

His efficiency numbers back that up. As a freshman and a sophomore, DeGray finished above 50% for an effective-field-goal percentage. His assist rate, which hovered between 8% and 10%, is respectable, but DeGray also reduced his turnover rate when suiting up for MU.

Predictably, jumping to a power conference led to a dip in his shooting inside the arc as well as beyond it. However, DeGray was more adept at getting to the line and converting. Taken together, DeGray owes an improved offensive rating to better competition and a pretty attractive stat line. For example, he was especially impressive at creating second chances on the offensive glass.

As far as his strengths are concerned, DeGray has been a precious asset for an offense that tended to bog down in a half-court setting. His jumper can still prove erratic, but DeGray remains a valuable option out of spot-up opportunities due to his savvy ability to beat defenders off the bounce. Often guarded by frontcourt players, DeGray made the most of this opportunity. According to Synergy data, he was highly effective as a cutter, posting 1.295 points per possession. Despite lacking positional size, DeGray ranked 15th in the SEC for offensive rebound percentage and averaged an impressive 1.495 PPP when sticking them back. Simply put, DeGray understands what he does well and waits for those opportunities to arise. There’s very little in the way of forced offense in his game.

DeGray mostly avoids the areas where he’s posted lower efficiency ratings: pushing the ball in transition, initiating the offense, and rarely posting up on the low block. There’s something to be said for knowing your strengths and weaknesses. While the percentages say he struggled as a catch-and-shoot threat, it wasn’t for poor shot selection. Almost 60 percent of those jumpers were unguarded. DeGray simply struggled in converting. Whether it’s traditional spot-up opportunities or a pick-and-pop, DeGray could become a real weapon if his shot finds consistency.

It’ll be a common theme in our previews, but DeGray might be tasked with papering over defensive mismatches. MU lacks a proven interior presence, and the most likely options are smaller than you might expect on a high-major squad. So, it’s a matter of trading offensive efficiency for positional size on the other end. Finding where DeGray fits defensively, both in opposition matchups and in the scope of his team, will play a significant role in his future minutes.

Missouri v Alabama Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

The Role

DeGray’s positional group can generously be described as...crowded.

How coach Dennis Gates will use three veteran forwards who are effective weapons on offense but vulnerable to mismatches on defense will be a storyline to watch. DeGray, Kobe Brown, and Noah Carter all bear similarities. Will Mizzou play two and rotate the third? Will it play one and use two off the bench? And with Aidan Shaw able to slide down to four, how will that affect DeGray? Mohamed Diarra, who brings an impressive frame from Garden City Community College, can also play in space and will have a say in how minutes get allocated.

One of my biggest questions is how Gates and his staff sort out the situation on the interior. I suspect DeGray finds his way into the rotation, which I assume will go 10- or 11-deep. Where he gets slotted, though, is a valid - and open - question. DeGray does several things well and knows when to do them. There’s value in that. I believe the floor will be at least 8 to 10 minutes a night, with the potential for more. I also wager that his usage rate will remain in the 15% to 17% range. He’ll act as a complementary player on the offensive end—the very definition of a utility man. It’s difficult to predict his scoring output, but I won’t punt. I’ll estimate 3-5 points per outing on the safe side.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 13 SEC Conference Tournament - Missouri v Georgia Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There isn’t a great player comparison in my mind. So, rather than dig up a name from a decade ago — which you might not know — I’ll suggest the Kevin Puryear we saw during the early days of Cuonzo Martin’s years. During those seasons, Puryear played a small-ball big who saw approximately 22 to 25 minutes per game, which is a bit higher than I feel comfortably projecting for DeGray. However, Puryear’s usage was moderate (18.7% in both seasons), and he posted positive offensive ratings. Both players were solid on the glass and posted respectable eFG% tallies. While one could argue that Puryear’s freshman year was his best, statistically speaking, he was a valuable rotation piece as an upperclassman. Much like I suspect DeGray will be, he got his numbers in a workman-like effort and didn’t dominate the ball. Those are valuable traits.

The Film

What happens if DeGray has to guard a traditional five? Watch. DeGray’s giving up six inches to Auburn’s Walker Kessler, but what he does is work early. By fully fronting, he denies an easy entry pass and relies on low help behind him if Auburn tries a lob. And when Auburn drives middle, he helps over — not up — and plays with verticality.

DeGray once again showing his value as an off-ball defender.

DeGray needs to become more consistent as a spot-up shooter, and pick-and-pops might be a path to that goal. Last season, he shot 33.3% on those plays but only attempted 17 shots. Scale up that production, and the offense becomes incredibly difficult to defend.

DeGray is also an effective passer. In this clip, Mizzou is running a “modern” set in which both forwards are on the perimeter. When the defense covers DeGray’s pick and pop attempt, he looks to reverse. He executes a dribble at backdoor play. He steps towards Kobe’s defender and finds him on a beautiful cut.

We spoke about DeGray’s cutting abilities above. Here it is on display. Kobe attracts DeGray’s defender on the strong side. DeGray cuts to the rim on the weak side. DeGray shows an exceptional understanding of the offense and where to exploit weaknesses.

Min %: This is simply the percentage of minutes played by a given player.
Usage %: A measure of personal possessions used while player is on the court. This includes making a shot, missing a shot coupled with a defensive rebound and a turnover.
eFG%: Same as traditional FG% with the added bonus of 3-point shots given 50% more weight to account for additional point.
OR%: The percentage of possible offensive rebounds a player gets.
DR%: The percentage of possible defensive rebounds a player gets.
AST%: Assists divided by field goals made by player’s teammates while on the court.
TO%: The percentage of personal possessions a player uses on turnovers.
FTR%: A rate which measures a player’s ability to get to the free throw line.
FT%: Free Throw shooting percentage.
2PT%: 2-point field goal percentage.
3PT% 3-point field goal percentage.