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Mizzou Hoops Player Preview: Aidan Shaw

The top-60 recruit fits the profile of a Dennis Gates recruit, but cracking the rotation could hinge on quickly settling in defensively and finding his shooting stroke.

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

By now, we should all be familiar with Aidan Shaw. He picked up an offer from Cuonzo Martin in March 2020, kicking off 18 months atop the program’s recruiting board. Over the same period, the 6-foot-9 forward’s stock remained steady, floating between 45th and 60th in 247Sports’ composite index. And that stability worked to the Tigers’ benefit. Shaw’s physical tools were obvious. So was the pride he took in clamping down defensively. He was also a nightmare in the open floor. Yet his offensive tools required some polish.

Unlike Tamar Bates, Caleb Love, or E.J. Liddell, Shaw, who hails from just over the Missouri border in Stillwell, Kansas, never blew up to the point that multiple blue bloods moved in. Kansas showed some interest, but the Jayhawks soon prioritized other prospects. MU competed with Oklahoma State, Maryland, and Iowa for most of Shaw’s recruitment. Ultimately, proximity won out, and Shaw committed last September.

Heading into his senior season, Shaw briefly committed to playing with Link Academy, a prep school that’s essentially an auxiliary of MoKan Elite’s EYBL program. But instead, Shaw decided to stay put at Blue Valley, averaging 19.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists on a squad that finished with a .500 record.

It can’t be emphasized enough how drama-free and orderly Shaw kept his recruitment — even when it reopened this spring. It made sense he’d back off his pledge once MU dispatched the staff that recruited him, but coach Dennis Gates didn’t waste time trying to keep him in the fold. It was obvious why. If nothing else, Shaw fits the physical prototype that Gates and associate head coach Charlton Young coveted while on staff at Florida State, as was his switchability on defense.

When Shaw announced he was sticking with his initial commitment, there was little surprise. He arrived on campus in June to a bit of a logjam. Obviously, Mizzou is going to feed ample minutes to Isiaih Mosley on the wing, while Kobe Brown and Noah Carter are also proven commodities at the combo forward spot. But in this day and age, there’s a risk to parking a top-60 recruit for too long, and there’s a role that gets Shaw some PT. He has four years of eligibility, but if his development goes as everyone hopes, he might be cutting his time in Columbia short.

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

Unsurprisingly, Shaw churned out ample raw production for Blue Valley. While we can’t calculate a precise usage rate, the Tigers flowed one in three possessions through the top-60 prospect. Given that work rate and the attention he received in scouting reports, Shaw’s efficiency (1.066 PPP) remained relatively healthy.

As a senior, almost 51 percent of his field-goal attempts came from behind the 3-point arc. That was a slight uptick from his junior season, but Shaw shot 39.1 percent — a boost of 6-percentage points. That’s heartening to see. While Shaw shot 52.9 percent inside the arc, that was still a dip of seven percentage points. However, it’s hard to know what caused it. Blue Valley doesn’t stream games, making it hard to tune in and get a clear sense of Shaw’s shooting portfolio and the Tigers’ offensive approach.

I’ve seen more of Shaw playing with MoKan Elite, and his role on an EYBL roster is drastically different than with Blue Valley. Sure, there are highlight tapes of Shaw destroying the rim and eating souls when rotating over to swat shots. But without a trove of complete games, we can’t see Blue Valley’s base offense and how it flows. That doesn’t sound very interesting, but it matters. We need that broader context and a sense of how defenses approached guarding Shaw.

That said, I watched Blue Valley play live twice last season, including its loss to Grand Island (Neb.), who was led by fellow top-50 talent Isaac Traudt. That night, the Islanders mixed pack line and zone to shrink gaps. The calculus: force Shaw to beat them from deep. While Shaw’s improved his handle and pull-up game operating in clogged gaps remains challenging. Meanwhile, the rest of his team, which only canned 28.9 percent of their 3-point attempts last season, couldn’t punish Grand Island for shrinking the floor. So, with space hard to come by, it makes sense that half of Shaw’s shots last season were 3-balls.

Given the circumstances and supporting cast, we should count Shaw’s senior season as a success. Yet I doubt much of his time with Blue Valley maps onto our expectations for his freshman campaign for Gates. For that, it’s better to consider Shaw’s handiwork on the grassroots circuit.

That’s not without challenges, either. Namely, the sample size of games is small. The pandemic wreaked havoc on the last two recruiting cycles. It meant that MoKan only played a dozen EYBL games the previous summer, all of which took place at the Peach Jam. Had I known I’d need a tranche of clips one day, I’d have recorded full games. Instead, I only have my notes and a statistical spreadsheet.

What those do show is that Shaw played a dramatically different role. Here’s what I wrote shortly after Shaw committed:

Shaw moved off the ball, ceding lead guard duties to Skyy Clark, a five-star prospect in 2023 and a Kentucky commit. (Later, Clark suffered a knee injury and was replaced by Bryson Warren, another top-30 recruit in the ‘23 class.) Inside, MoKan was stocked with two top-50 big men: Tarris Reed and Felix Okpara.

Over two weeks and 12 games at Peach Jam, Shaw averaged 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 19.8 minutes per game. His usage settled at 18.4 percent — in line with a role player — and sliced his 3-point attempt rate in half. Within MoKan’s offense, he operated off the ball as a cutter or occasional floor spacer. But, more often than not, Shaw’s best source of touches came when he sprinted wide in the channels on the break.

It’s not bold to suggest those words are probably a better reflection of his potential role with Gates this season — at least offensively. And that’s fine. The chief question, though, is to what degree his shooting translates. MU could use another reliable floor spacer. There are also potential small-ball lineups where Mosley’s athleticism in the open floor and as a lob threat are put to good use.

I’m bullish on him cracking the rotation, though, because of how dogged he can be defensively. Shaw showed us last summer that he can easily slide up and down the lineup to check spots one through four. His first slide is quick, and he flips his hips easily to cut off drivers. His length makes it easy for him to contest jumpers, whether it’s closing out or shrinking space in ball screens. We’ve seen footage of Shaw swatting shots, whether it’s as a low man rotating over or helping down. Yet he also does the simple stuff like rotating on time in the shell or communicating in pick-and-rolls.

There’s always a learning curve for scheme and acclimating to the physicality of the college game, but Shaw likes to defend. There’s buy-in, and once he gets comfortable, there’s reason to think he’ll find a place in the rotation because Gates trusts him to keep team defense steady. The EYBL metrics back that up. Shaw rebounded well for a wing (11.8 DR%), created turnovers (2.4 STL%), and could protect the rim (4.8 BLK%).

@MizzouHoops, twitter

The Role

During the dog days of the offseason, Sam Snelling took his crack at forecasting how Shaw’s freshman season might unfold. And while analytic gurus like Ken Pomeroy and Erik Haslam don’t list player metrics until games tip off, Bart Torvik’s Rostercast tool takes a stab at forecasting performance. What does it say about Shaw?

Nothing. Literally. It doesn’t even have Shaw cracking a 10-man rotation.

I’m not nearly sophisticated or skilled enough to build a player projection model, but I can take a retrospective look at players like Mosley: wings rated in the top 75 of 247Sports’ composite index between 2019 and 2022. My methodology is crude. Look for basic relationships between a player’s composite rating and playing time, usage, offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, efficiency margin, and a player’s impact on their team’s net rating.

Among those 71 players, the average playing time landed around 24 minutes per game and a 22.6% usage rate. Meanwhile, the average individual net rating came in at plus-10.3 points per 100 possessions. Those top-line numbers are what we’d typically see from a starter on a high-major roster.

So, is Shaw plug-and-play? Not exactly. As you might expect, one-and-done prospects tend to have a skewing effect. The picture looks different when we narrow our lens to focus on 20 prospects similar to Shaw, rated between 0.9700 and 0.9800 in the composite index.

For that group, the average playing time is just 30.2 percent of minutes — or almost 12 minutes per game. Their average usage is 17 percent, closer to a role player. In terms of efficiency, they typically put up 0.842 points per possession, while their net rating (minus-0.60) amounts to a push.

Translated: recruits of Shaw’s caliber start their careers as humble reserves trying to carve out a niche.

You can envision a similar situation unfolding for Shaw. Let’s start on the wing. Once MU landed Isiaih Mosley, it was reasonable to assume that 28 minutes each night were reserved. And it’s not as if Gates has a paucity of options. He’s got a pair of Cleveland State transfers in D’Moi Hodge and Tre Gomillion, each of whom is deeply versed in his play style. Meanwhile, DeAndre Gholston’s catch-and-shoot numbers hint at a potential floor spacer.

In recent seasons, elite wings, who have a composite rating north of 0.9900, have only shot 32.3 percent as a group from 3-point range. That’s close to the Division-I median. Moreover, five of those players went in the top 10 of the NBA Draft and had only connected at a 29.8 percent clip as freshmen.

Basically, NBA front offices are willing to overlook middling performance in favor of project ability — up to a certain point.

For freshmen rated similarly to Shaw, shooting has often been a separator and a way to expand their role. It’s how Alabama’s Josh Primo (38.1 3FG%), Ohio State’s Malaki Branham (41.6%), and Arkansas’ Moses Moody (35.8%) went from off NBA draft boards to being plucked between played No. 12 and No. 20 overall. And even if we set aside one-and-dones, players like Villanova’s Justin Moore (39.6%) and UConn’s James Bouknight (34.7%) earned ample time by making shots and keeping gaps open.

What’s the floor? Over the past three seasons, freshmen in Shaw’s tier of the composite have usually connected a 30.1 percent clip while hitting 33.2 percent of 3-balls, which would be close to the typical Division-I performance. And we’re not talking high volume, either. If Shaw attempts more than a couple of 3-pointers each night, he’ll be an outlier.

As for rim finishing, it’s not a helpful in parsing performance. Since 2019-20, the vast majority of highly-rated wings (74%) averaged more than 1.000 PPP from point-blank range as freshmen and shot 53.8 percent. Given what we’ve seen from Shaw, it would be surprising if he doesn’t clear that benchmark.

On the defensive end, the value of per-possession data even little murkier. Generally speaking, those metrics tell us that recruits like Shaw are average in ball-screen defense but sometimes struggle to close down spot-up shooters. Their average defensive efficiency (0.848 PPP allowed) isn’t putrid individually but tends to drag down their team’s overall net rating by 4.8 points per 100 possessions.

But the relationship between playing time and tasks like guarding pick-and-rolls or closing out on spot-up shooters is relatively weak. At least for players rated similarly to Shaw, 3-point shooting boasts a stronger link with earning playing time.

Earlier this week, Evan Miyakawa posted a really helpful illustration of Shaw’s situation. Take a look.

What it shows is that freshman performance is relatively unpredictable — until you get inside the top 75 of the composite ratings. Shaw, who was ranked 59th, is awfully close to the cut off.

If he winds up close to the averages we’ve seen here, it would likely mean playing 12 to 16 minutes per night with usage rate between 17 and 19 percent. During the past four seasons, the median scoring average for recruits with similar composite ratings checked in at 3.4 points per game. To me, that’s a reasonable floor to set.

The best case scenario is one where Shaw’s jumper translates quickly, which pushes his scoring average closer to eight points each time out. Would that earn him longer looks from NBA scouts? I’m not sure. Players like Primo, Branham and Moody also showed glimpses of facilitating when playing off of the catch. I’m not quite sure Shaw’s ball-handling has progressed to that point.

But if we reach a point where we’re analyzing what scouts and front offices think of Shaw, it’s probably an indicator that he’s exceeded expectations. That’s a problem Dennis Gates would love to confront.