In 2021, Missouri did not have a “true” point guard on its roster. Yes, you are reading that correctly. An SEC Power 6 school did not have a true point guard on its roster. Last season, Boogie Coleman and Kobe Brown shared the bulk of the minutes at the PG spot. Anton Brookshire, who was a true freshman last season and is now at Iona, provided some shaky minutes as well.
Not having a point guard on the roster plagued the Tigers in various ways last season. The departures of Xavier Pinson (LSU) and Dru Smith (graduation) were so clearly detrimental, as the Tigers struggled mightily to move the ball and get comfortable within its offensive sets. In 2021, the Tigers averaged a measly 12 assists per game (APG), while also averaging 14 TO. That equates to a 0.8 assist/turnover ratio, which is nowhere near the ideal mark of 2:1.
Not having a reliable ball handler affected the team’s ability to find open shots and also assist the open man. Due to the exponential amount of late-shot clock possessions that also led to contested shots, Mizzou’s shooting percentages weren’t ideal either. In 2022, Missouri ranks 296th nationally in percentage of time spent in the late shot clock, with an average of 3.4 late clock possessions per game (per Synergy). In comparison, in 2021, the Tigers ranked 32nd in time spent in the late shot clock, which equated to an average of 7.0 possessions per game. The Tigers shot 42% from the field and only 28% from deep last season, mainly due to those horrid late shot clock possessions. Again, not a recipe for success, especially in a competitive league like the SEC.
Now, let’s talk about this season and how just a few players and a revamped system can make an astonishing difference. As of right now, the Tigers have two “true” point guards, current starter Nick Honor and backup Sean East ll. Nick Honor comes from Clemson and so far has been extremely reliable and consistent. Through nine games, Honor is averaging 10 PPG, 3 APG, and only 1 TO. On top of this, Honor is also very efficient from the field, connecting on 45% of his shots and 44% from deep. Honor boasts a 3:1 assist/turnover ratio, which is an excellent stat that should not go unacknowledged.
Next up is Sean East II. East most recently played at John A. Logan Community College, where he played under Kyle Smithpeters, who is now on the bench for Mizzou. East is averaging 10 PPG, 3.6 APG, and only 1 TO. This means that both of Missouri’s primary ball handlers effectively have a 3:1 assist/turnover ratio, which is something Dennis Gates was looking for. In an identical fashion to Nick Honor, East has been reliable from the field, connecting on 53% of his shots. This stat comes despite his 25% clip from deep.
While yes, Missouri has a disappointing strength of schedule (sites vary but Missouri finds itself around 350th each time, out of 363 teams), it cannot go without saying that the team looks much improved and also seems to play together. As previously mentioned, Mizzou is scoring at a much higher rate, shooting more efficiently despite the uptick in overall possessions per game, and averaging nine more assists per game. Yes, there are other factors that have helped in the increase of these statistics, but having true ball handlers may just be the largest of them all.
After all, if Missouri can continue its unselfish play while also playing efficiently and taking care of the ball, who knows just how far the team can go? Currently, the Tigers see themselves at 34 in the NET rankings. To add on to this, (albeit it’s very early) Missouri is projected as the 10 seed in the NCAA tournament according to bracketology expert, Joe Lunardi. In a few days, Missouri gets a big opportunity at home against kansas and if they are able to notch out the upset, expectations may change a bit. In summary, when the most important position on the court gets addressed and sees a radical escalation in production, good things tend to happen.