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Mizzou Hoops Player Preview: Nick Honor

The Clemson transfer evolved from a pure scorer to a steadying presence at lead guard. That reliability would be a welcome change at Missouri, where ball handling was a glaring issue last season.

2022 Men’s ACC Basketball Tournament - First Round Photo by Sarah Stier/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

At first glance, you might assume Nick Honor shows up in a position room for Eli Drinkwitz. But, instead, the point guard might be among the essential pieces imported to Mizzou Arena. The Orlando native arrived after playing two seasons for Clemson, where he suited up after a season spent at Fordham. In those early days, Honor, the former Class 5A Player of the Year in Florida, was a scoring guard, putting up 15 points per game. Yet the move to ACC country came with a recast.

Playing for Brad Brownell, Honor found himself a system that wasn’t built around ball screens or handoffs and also split ball-handling duties. As a junior, it meant Honor and Al-Amir Dawes. And last season, Brownell plucked South Florida’s David Collins from the portal and expanded Chase Hunter’s time on the ball. While Honor started 25 games, his usage rate declined to 17.7%, comparable to a role player.

Still, Honor earned valuable experience on a Clemson squad that earned an NCAA tournament berth in 2021. He finished fourth in the percentage of minutes played each year. Despite entering his fifth collegiate season this year, Honor still has two years of eligibility, should he choose to use them.

The Numbers

Aidan Shaw | Freshman | Hybrid | 6-foot-9, 185 pounds

2022 Blue Valley 22 19.7 9.6 1.7 45.9 39.1 67.3 3.0 0.8 55.8 58.5 0.4 1.065
2021 Blue Valley 22 19.6 7.7 1.7 50.0 33.6 76.1 3.2 0.8 56.5 59.7 0.6 1.191

The word that comes to mind to provide a summation of Honor’s performance: reliable.

Sound underwhelming? Bland? Do you remember last season? We can’t get the image of DaJuan Gordon skidding to the floor in handoffs out of our minds. Or Boogie Coleman and Javon Pickett running weave actions to nowhere. Missouri ranked 339th in turnover rate. Reliable counts as a massive improvement — and you shouldn’t take it for granted.

Over three seasons, Honor has amassed an 18.9 assist rate. That’s unspectacular. But he only turns the ball over 10.4 percent of the time, has a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and his ball-control index score is 3.3. There will necessarily be some give and take when it comes to being an on-the-ball playmaker. After all, creating offense generally involves some degree of risk. Yet Honor strikes a delicate balance. He’s shown he can move the ball where it needs to go and has done it against high-major defenses.

That has value.

He’s blended that prudent distribution with picking his spots as a scorer. As a freshman, he ran 210 pick-and-rolls for Fordham — 70 more than in two seasons combined at Clemson. While Honor initiates the offense, he spends most possessions off the ball. Now, he’s morphed into a moderate-usage floor spacer. Last season, his most common half-court touch was a spot-up jumper, and those possessions doubled up his PNR scoring chances.

Despite his relative lack of size, Honor has posted solid effective field goal percentages at Clemson. His offensive rating is above average, no doubt buoyed by his ball protection. As a junior, he averaged 0.911 points per possession, ranking in the 68th percentile nationally, and had a plus-12 net rating. According to Pivot Analysis data, Clemson’s net rating only improved by 1.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Still, there’s some heartening about Honor not being a drag on lineups.

Now, when Honor does hunt shots in ball screens, the results are mixed. Per Synergy data, he averaged 0.656 PPP, including 0.511 last season. By contrast, he’s held his own as a catch-and-shoot option, connecting on 35.6% of his attempts. But what’s especially notable is that his rim finishing (1.244 PPP) improved dramatically last season.

Several areas offer some level of hesitation. Namely, he’s struggled in high-major play with scoring out of spot-up opportunities. In theory, these are limited if he’s operating on the ball. However, if those struggles continue, it could limit his ability to make an impact playing off the ball. Additionally, he’s struggled in isolation situations. Fortunately for Mizzou, they have someone who excels in that area. Finally, although he appears to be an adept defender, his lack of size and demonstrated rebounding ability could cause issues on what may be an already small lineup.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 05 Virginia Tech at Clemson Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Role

Perhaps more than any other position on the court, the battle for the primary ballhandler will be one to watch.

Honor and Sean East II, the JUCO Player of the Year from John A. Logan College, are vying for the gig. You could even toss the names of DeAndre Gholston and Tre Gomillion into the hopper. But as we’ve detailed, those two profile better playing off the ball.

East and Honor are a study in contrasts. East, who has DI experience from UMass and Bradley, thrives as a creator in the open floor and wants to hunt mid-range attempts in the half-court. As you’ll see in the film below, Honor’s skill set might track better for Gates’ half-court system. But, crucially, Honor’s TO rate is roughly half of East’s, and his jumper might be a tad more reliable off the catch. And that’s before you get to years of ACC experience. I suspect that wins Honor the lion’s share of the reps — at least early on.

That likely means Honor plays up to 65% of minutes on a given night, while the understudy earns 40% of playing time. That works out the 26 minutes for Honor and 16 minutes for East. Seem low? Remember that Gates’ history indicates he’ll go 10-deep with his bench.

Now, Honor has seen what happens when a mid-season change takes place. In the middle of last season, he was moved out of Clemson’s starting five. And down the stretch, Hunter saw his role expand. When Honor announced his intention to transfer, some outlets around Clemson speculated those moves might have prompted the exit. Yet Honor committed to MU after East signed on. One would think he entered fully aware of sharing the baton with the nation’s No. 2 JUCO prospect.

Assuming he earns the starter’s role, I bet he’ll average between 7-9 points a game. In most cases, Honor will be towards the bottom of the lineup in shot volume instead being asked to run the team and take advantage of opportunities when they arise. However, his ability to convert at the free throw stripe will undoubtedly provide a much-appreciated safety net.

No matter the level of minutes, his role on the squad will be the same. He will be the man in charge of primary ball-handling duties and will see a large share of ball screen action. Much of this depends on what offensive scheme Gates & Co. roll out, but its responsibilities will be similar. He will likely be a moderately used player in the 18-22% range.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Nashville Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

As far as a player comp, I can see Nick Honor replicating former Florida State guard C.J. Walker. Walker’s numbers suggest he might be a more prodigious creator, but his turnover rate was also higher than Honor’s. Both are capable 3-point shooters, but no one would dub them snipers. (Walker shot 32.1% for his career). Walker never saw more than 70% of minutes, and his usage peaked at 22%. His scoring topped out at 10 points per night over his last three seasons. That’s a fair approximation of what we’ll get from a healthy Honor.

The Film

When Honor arrived at Clemson, it came at a time when the Tigers’ offense was undergoing a shift. Since Brownell’s been on the job, the program’s tempo remained controlled, but its defense generated enough turnovers that the Tigers regular finished among the top 100 nationally in transition possessions. At the same time, its half-court offense — habitually heavy on spot-ups — started producing more catch-and-shoot jumpers.

Why do you care about this background? Well, Honor conformed to his new surroundings. The results were mixed, though. Over two seasons, he made just 30.2 percent of his spot-up jumpers, per Synergy. Yet Honor still pulls the trigger when the ball swings to him in the half-court.

However, Honor didn’t always loiter around the arc. Instead, when the ball was kicked out to him, as a defender rotated or closed out, he’d put the ball on the floor. But those results were also middling: 0.589 PPP and 31.3% shooting.

Sure, Honor brought the ball up and started sets, but functionally, he almost served as a wing. He’d interchange on the weak side of the floor, run spacing cuts, and often fill behind drivers.

That’s not a critique, either. Sean East II often went through the same sequence playing for Kyle Smithpeters at Logan. However, East’s instincts were to attack off the catch, while Honor is more inclined to rise and fire. But neither spent last season in systems where they were ball-dominant maestros. Keep that in mind as we move toward the regular season.

Even though Clemson’s transition game eased up while Honor was on the roster, he still benefited from getting in the open floor. When he ran the wings on the break, he averaged 1.357 PPP on catch-and-shoots in the last two seasons — or a 34.2% uptick in efficiency compared to facing a set defense. The only time Honor attacks the rack on the break is when he’s pushing the ball. Otherwise, he gets wide, sprints the flanks, and tries to run toward a spot in the slot.

Honor’s also heady in early-clock situations. He’ll push into the paint if a defender’s pick-up point is low. Cross-matching also offers him favorable matchups off the bounce or open space on the wing.

As a junior, Honor’s steal rate (3.5%) ranked sixth in the ACC, and those takeaways were another source of transition opportunities. He’s savvy at turning dribblers in a way to expose the ball, stunts in as a help defender to strip drivers, and occasionally jumps passing lanes on skip passes. His steal rate declined last season (2.0%), but it’s still worth noting he’s shown promise at turning defense into offense.

Honor doesn’t spend much time running defenders off screening action. But when he has, it’s been hyper-effective. Usually, he feints clearing out to the weak side corner, and abruptly reverses direction. The actions themselves vary. In the clips, you’ll see he comes off zipper action, curls at the elbow after a pin down, and then comes straight off the same type of screen. The resulting attempts — all 33 of them — netted Honor almost 1.46 PPP.

Everyone throws around the time-worn cliché about making simple plays. Honor embodies that notion by using some spot-up touches to facilitate. For example, attacking the closeout might force a perimeter to stunt. So, kick it to the man they left open. Maybe a big helps up the lane. Dandy. Just dump it to the short corner. And on ball reversals, it never hurts to make one extra pass if the defense is lagging in rotation.

At last, we arrive at ball screens. Honor didn’t go begging for them, but an important distinction must be made. Most of the time, Brownell’s offense didn’t get its power from having Honor run a PNR as the primary action of most sets. Sometimes, a possession would flow through three or four steps before Honor received a screen. Or it was Clemson’s late-clock call.

His shot composition on those touches was pretty diverse. In the games I watched, though, he used the screen to create space for a jumper. Those pull-ups treated him well, though. In two seasons, he averaged 1.269 PPP on dribble jumpers resulting from a middle PNR.

Almost 60% of the time, Honor used ball screens as a mechanism to facilitate. Last year, those passes netted Clemson about 0.917 PPP. And once you factor that in with Honor’s PNR scoring, he ranked in the 66th percentile nationally for overall efficiency. Factor in a 10.2% turnover rate, and the Gates might have the kind of consistent facilitator this roster lacked a year ago. It didn’t help that Clemson shot 39.6 percent when Honor pinged a pass to a teammate. It was also a stark contrast to his junior season when his passes were worth 1.014 PPP.

But how heavily will MU rely on PNRs? CSU gradually scaled them back during Gates’ tenure, but now he as an elite scorer in Mosley and a quality roller in Noah Carter. Honor’s also amassed 355 PNR passes in his career, and East had 348 over two seasons of Division-I action. So if Gates is inclined, he’s got two ball handlers with ample reps.

Dribble handoffs are a modest piece of Honor’s portfolio, and Gates’ teams haven’t used them extensively. But I thought it was important for you to at least see that Honor can operate in this close cousin of a side pick-and-roll.

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.