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Mizzou Hoops Player Preview: Sean East II

One of the nation’s best JUCO prospects is comfortable making decisions at high speed and offers Tigers coach Dennis Gates a dynamic contrast at lead guard.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 31 Bradley at Indiana State Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via 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

If nothing else, Sean East II is well-traveled. The point guard arrives from John A. Logan College but spent a prep season at Combine Academy, his freshman season at UMass, and his sophomore season at Bradley. Now, he’ll suit up for Missouri, a coveted addition as the No. 2 JUCO product after putting up 20.9 points and 5.7 assists per game last season.

As we detailed after East committed, East is familiar with the Division-I level. At UMass, he started 20 games, carried the third-highest minute share on a 14-17 squad, and led the Minutemen in assists. After transferring to Bradley, coach Brian Wardle marked the 6-3, 185-pound guard as a likely starter, but East’s scoring ebbed and flowed. Still, he posted a solid assist rate (25.7%) and finished third in the Missouri Valley Conference for assists per game.

He found himself on the move after his sophomore season and landed at John A. Logan College, playing under current Mizzou assistant coach Kyle Smithpeters. He led the Vols to a 29-4 record and a Junior College Region Championship. What’s notable is how his scoring output exploded, helping him become the NJCAA Men’s Player of the Year. East has two years of eligibility remaining after the NCAA granted exceptions to players whose careers were interrupted by the pandemic.

The Numbers

Sean East II | Junior | Guard | 6-foot-3, 180 pounds

Year Team Games - - eFG% OR/G DR/G Ast/G TO/G STL/G FT% 2PT% 3PT%
Year Team Games - - eFG% OR/G DR/G Ast/G TO/G STL/G FT% 2PT% 3PT%
2022 J.A.L. 33 - - 59.1 0.7 3.5 5.7 2.0 1.6 88.7 58.2 41.0
Year Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% OR% DR% Ast% TO% FTR% FT% 2PT% 3PT%
2021 BRAD 59.7% 100.4 21.0 46.4 2.8 9.7 25.4 17.1 11.2 81.8 46.0 31.8
2020 UMASS 70.0% 95.6 23.6 44.7 2.8 7.7 36.0 23.2 24.1 78.1 43.2 32.1

With East, the sample size is large, but analyzing the data is tricky. For example, East played his first two seasons in comparable leagues, averaging 9.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists on 21 percent usage. The shooting numbers were pedestrian, but coaches didn’t ask East to fill up the scoring column. If anything, he was a distributor first, a notion backed up by a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. While his turnover rate was higher than expected the gap with his assist rate was healthy. In East’s role, turnovers happen, but they’re offset by the points generated.

What’s heartening is East’s distribution abilities held up at Logan College. Maybe the raw assist tally takes a dip in Columbia — the result of splitting time at lead guard — but Gates should feel confident that the ball will find the right people in the right place at the right time.

But here comes to murkier issue: does the scoring punch scale up? An optimist puts stock in the idea that East’s noticeable uptick in 3-point shooting sticks. In two seasons at mid-major programs, he knocked down 32 percent of his attempts, but that jumped to 41 percent at Logan.

No doubt, it’s promising to see East’s shooting percentages improve. But those shots didn’t power big scoring nights. The better indicator: free-throw attempts.

Last season, East posted a 0.445 free-throw rate, meaning he attempted a freebie for every two shots from the floor. But in six 30-point games, that rate almost doubled to 0.840. Strip out those games, and his rate slides to 0.347, which isn’t out of line for a high-usage guard like East. Give any player, muchness one who shot 88.5 percent from the line, that many chances and they’re going to rack up points.

It’s also why we should temper expectations. At UMass and Bradley, East’s free-throw rate was half (0.187) of what it was at Logan. So even if his minutes and usage remained steady, his scoring average would dip by three points. And with Isiaih Mosley, Kobe Brown, and Noah Carter around, it seems unlikely East’s usage mimics his time at Logan.

Still, there are several areas where I expect East to excel. For example, he’s potent in transition. As a scorer, he’s slightly below the DI median, but his efficiency (1.443 PPP) is exceptional when you factor in setting up teammates on the break.

Next, we don’t have to guess how he’ll perform in ball screens. East ran 585 pick-and-rolls over two D1 seasons and passed the ball on 60% of those possessions. East’s efficiency as a PNR passer improved at Bradley (0.976 PPP) from his time at UMass (0.878 PPP). East’s PNR usage alone is almost three times greater than the tally amassed by Jarron Coleman, Amari Davis, and Kobe Brown heading into last season.

Finally, East prefers to shoot off the bounce instead of the catch. Those attempts are less-efficient, but East was in the 80th percentile or better while in Division I.

Taken together, East is comfortable and effective in making decisions at high speed and competently creates for himself off the dribble. We should also note East is an adept pickpocket and creates plenty of deflections in passing lanes, triggering the fastbreaks he finishes.

We encounter some difficulties when examining the other side of the coin. Advanced statistics are available for East’s first two seasons at D-I schools but not for his time at Logan. Even if we had them, the difference in opponent quality between Division I and junior college would make any direct comparison difficult. Caveats aside, East’s performance in his first two seasons in the half-court was less than stellar. Was that a function of Wardle preferring a controlled pace with games played in the half-court?

At a minimum, East has shown us he can facilitate. That always has value. But to live up to the buzz around his recruitment, we’ll need to see the jump-shooting pan out. If it doesn’t, Gates will have a guard reliant on mid-range jumpers and an average rim finisher.


The Role

It’s easy to see a battle for the lead guard as a contrast of styles. East’s game is a tad more dynamic and ball-dominant. He wants to push on the break, make reads in ball screens, and hunt for mid-range opportunities as a scorer. But, in Honor, you have a steady hand. He can initiate a set, move the ball where it needs to go, and spaces the floor as a shooter.

Either way, Dennis Gates is in an enviable spot.

Theoretically, you could move East off the ball as a combo guard. Still, he’d bump into D’Moi Hodge and Tre Gomillion. And there are not many openings at the wing.

I suspect the starter will be logging around 24-26 minutes a game, while the backup is in the 15-17 minute range. It’ll be interesting to see how much Gates experiments with lineups keeping both on the floor. At this point, I’d lean toward Honor as the starter, his high-major experience proving the difference. Meanwhile, East could bring some scoring punch and energy off the bench. Or he could run the point if Gates wants to shrink his lineup and boost the tempo.

If that is the case in the season-long role, I would expect East to average 5 to 7 points per game.

Missouri v Kansas State Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

I may well be proven wrong, but the comparison I can’t shake is Mike Dixon — minus the off-court business. Dixon thrived at creating instant offense off the bench. Over his last two seasons, he was a capable creator for others, including a 27.4% assist rate in his final campaign. More importantly, the difference between his assist and turnover rates is similar to East. Dixon was also effective at turning defense into fastbreak chances, and he was at his best shooting off the bounce. I don’t know if East will match Dixon’s 56.6 eFG%, but I’m confident he’ll wind up in the 50%. Do that, and MU fans will be pleased.

The Film

There’s no schematic nuance in these cut-ups. It’s just pure acceleration. Even proper transition defense is toast if East rips down a rebound and sees open hardwood ahead. And that burst makes him a change of pace from fellow newcomer Nick Honor.

Moving to Logan likely juiced East’s steal rate and created a few more chances to push the ball. We don’t have efficiency metrics for him as a ball-handler on the break, but East is still a blur on tape. We know he shot 58.5 percent inside the arc, and these rim attempts might explain why.

Even at the mid-major level, East thrived as a facilitator in the open floor, and that trait carried over to Logan. He gets his head up and is decisive within two dribbles, finding a guard sprinting the wing or big busting it on a rim run. Maybe East doesn’t start, but you can envision him heading up a small-ball lineup with D’Moi Hodge, Isiaih Mosley, Aidan Shaw, and Kobe Brown – a quintet that could get in gaps or grab-and-go off the glass.

East has never been a catch-and-shoot threat, which didn’t change at the JUCO level. Frankly, he looks more comfortable getting into his shot motion off the bounce. Last season, it posed a problem to a defender. Do you shrink the distance to contest? Or do you back up to prevent the speeding East from reaching the paint? Trick question. He’ll just put on the breaks and pull from long distance.

While East is a point guard, Logan’s offense didn’t put him in a conveyor belt of ball screens. Often, he’d initiate a set, cut away, and spend the rest of a possession working off the ball. When East utilized a pick-and-roll, it tended to be early in the shot clock, as a drag screen at the top of the key or dribbling into a side PNR. East wasn’t looking to turn tight and get downhill, either. Instead, the screen carved out space for him to take a side dribble, elevate and loft a jumper toward the rim.

East defies modern trends when spotting up. Instead of hoisting up catch-and-shoot jumpers, he put the ball on the deck. At UMass and Bradley, he drove right 65 percent of the time. Well, he kept on doing that at Logan. On kick outs, East catches, rips through, and attacks the closeout with his off hand. But again, diversity comes with his finishes. He can get a floater airborne with either hand, and he’s comfortable working to a one-dribble pull-up.

You won’t see a difference in decision-making when the ball gets reversed to East. And that’s the other contrast with Honor, who has attempted a jumper on 68 percent of his career spot-up possessions. Both of the point guards Gates added are comfortable playing off the ball. Honor’s shooting a 36.9 percent clip on those jumpers, and East has been in the 80th percentile nationally for mid-range efficiency. Their strengths give Gates flexibility.

We don’t mean to give short shrift to East’s passing in the half-court, but the film doesn’t hint at strong tendencies. He can make a pocket pass to a roller, hit a big in the short corner when a defender helps up and makes simple plays like moving the ball to an open shooter.

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.