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Mizzou Hoops Player Preview: Sean East II

Sean East returns to Mizzou with a role in place. There’s one area of his game that could be the difference between another solid campaign and a year to remember.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Second Round-Princeton vs Missouri Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the season, this series will dive deep into the players we see making a push for time in the rotation for the 2022-2023 Missouri basketball squad. 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

Mizzou is poised to have one of the more experienced rosters in college basketball for the 2023-2024 season. With that comes a team full of players who you expect to be steady performers often at the expense of exhilarating plays. Consider Sean East the exception.

Mizzou’s point guard duo of Nick Honor and Sean East represents something of a contrast. Honor, the elder statesman, known for his outside shooting and conservative ball security stands in opposition to East. Sean’s game is built more on quick bursts, transition theatrics, difficult passes and a wide array of finishing touches in the paint. The new thunder and lightning? Maybe.

East will be entering his fifth and final season of college basketball. Having made stops at Massachusetts, Bradley, John A. Logan and now Mizzou, East will have found some level of consistency for the first time. Can this familiarity with the program and his teammates unlock another gear?

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Missouri vs Tennessee Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The Numbers

Sean East II | 6’3” | Point Guard

Sean East Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% or% dr% ast% stl% to% ftr% ft% 2pt% 3pt%
Sean East Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% or% dr% ast% stl% to% ftr% ft% 2pt% 3pt%
2023 Miz 58.2 103.2 18.8 47.9 2.2 8.2 18.8 3.3 19.3 28.5 83.6 54.8 22.1
2021 Brad 59.7 100.4 20.9 46.4 2.8 9.7 25.4 2.3 17.1 11.2 81.8 46 31.6
2020 Umass 69.8 95.6 23.7 44.7 2.8 7.7 36.1 2.3 23.2 24.1 78.1 43.2 32.1
Career All - 99.6 21.1 46.2 2.6 8.4 27.1 2.7 20.2 22.2 81 47.7 28.6

One of the sillier statistical quirks of last year’s team was that Sean East averaged 0.847 PPP overall on offense. In his last season in D-I prior to that — 2020-2021 with Bradley — East averaged...0.847 PPP. How about that!

How he arrived at that figure changed. Last year he saw his usage rate drop from 20.9% to 18.8%, which again is expected for an “up-transfer.” While his minutes remained virtually unchanged — 59.7% of minutes in 2021 and 58.2% in 2023 — there were also tweaks to his game. Instead of leaning heavily on his ball screen offense — which dropped from 38.8% to 23.7% of possessions — he spread his talents around seeing big increases in transition opportunities and isolation possessions.

Most of the changes came out in the wash in terms of shooting accuracy as his eFG rose from a career 46.2% to 47.9%. An improvement to be sure, especially in light of the step up in competition. But a lot of his good work was undone in one area. A career 32% three-point shooter coming in, East connected on just 22.1% of his shots behind the arc. On his career he’s converted just 0.803 PPP on catch and shoot opportunities and that figure plummeted to 0.490 PPP In a word, that is suboptimal.

There are some very positive takeaways from his last season. His two-point FG% was a career high, landing at 54.8%. A remarkable figure for a guard. He’s an above average jump shooter off the dribble and is among the nation’s best when utilizing his floater on paint attempts. He was also elite at finishing around the rim, though you’d like to see his frequency increase there.

Sean did see his assist rate drop to 18.8% Most of that was a function of how the offense operated. Less ball screens equal less assists from primary ballhandlers. His turnover rate dropped slightly and landed at an acceptable 19.3%. He once again proved to be a valuable piece at the free throw line though like many of his teammates, didn’t have the volume of attempts to really exploit the advantage.

East’s statistical profile shows that of a nearly complete player. The one hangup being a fairly significant one. He simply hasn’t proven himself to be a consistent threat on long range jumpers. His role can still be a valuable one without it, but even a modest increase to shooting over 30% would make the rest of his game all the more effective. Until he does, defenses have an easy decision to cheat under ball screens and play soft coverage on the perimeter thus making things harder on him inside the arc than they otherwise would be.

The Role

East will be firmly entrenched in the rotation. His overall minutes could take a hit simply because Mizzou will have a deeper bench in 23-24. At times towards the tail end of last year’s season, Mizzou was often playing 7 or 8 men with only 6 receiving significant time. That should no longer be the case. I’d expect to see East get 45-50% of minutes and see his usage rate rise slightly to 20%. Assuming baseline carryover from 22-23, an expectation of 6-7 points per game is fair. That said, Sean is perhaps the most likely player to see a significant jump in performance. Don’t discount that this is his second year in the program — third alongside Assistant Kyle Smithpeters — and the intangible effects that come along with it can often be very beneficial. Sean is a better shooter than he showed last season, and if that shot does indeed improve, look out. Mizzou opponents will have to re-evaluate how they defend Mizzou’s already effective offense.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Film

By now, we know what East offers.

This time a year ago, we outlined him as a change of pace at lead guard: a dynamo in the open floor and looking to shoot off the bounce in the half-court. One month into the season, that assessment looked accurate. And six months ago, we had little reason to amend it.

At first glance, East’s efficiency in transition might catch you off guard. He only posted 0.890 PPP, per Synergy. But that number makes sense after you open a second tab. When East handled the ball, he averaged 1.052 PPP – and just 0.417 PPP when sprinting a wide channel.

Footage only drives that point home. To thrive in transition, East needs the rock, and his preference to deploy runners and floaters remains steady. That doesn’t need to change, either. But finding a way to shoot an average clip on spot-ups from the wing would juice an already potent open-floor attack.

F—k it, D’Moi down there somewhere.

That’s the meme-inspired ethos behind East’s facilitating at high speed. Whether it’s a one-handed hit-ahead or applying just enough pressure on the middle gap, East is Gates’ way of squeezing every bit of pace out of his rotation. What’s more impressive is East’s turnover rate declines to 17.3 percent in transition situations.

Quietly, though, East had moments where he showed prudence as a decision-maker in the half-court.

For example, he made almost every read you want from a lead guard when running spread pick-and-rolls in a five-out alignment. Some of them also require patience, like waiting for a help defender on the weak side to cheat toward the midline before skipping the ball to Hodge. East could also manipulate pace – slowing up to let Brown get clear on a pick-and-pop – to using an extra dribble – like on Hodge’s curl – to make recovery harder.

The same patience shows up in empty-side PNRs, too.

The tape is also essential to understanding East’s metrics as a facilitator. On paper, his passes in PNRs only yield 0.756 PPP, per Synergy. That’s subpar. Fortunately, Synergy also breaks down those passes by how the play ends. For example, spot-up shooters only shot 33.3 percent when East found them when playing out of a PNR. That’s 2.7 percentage points lower than the Tigers’ overall average.

But what drags on East’s passing efficiency is poor play-finishing by rollers, who only averaged 0.600 PPP on 30 possessions. All East can do is tee up a teammate. The tape shows us he’s at least competent, and his turnover rate (14.1%) is less than MU’s as a team.

Lineup data tells us East also ran with more reserves and sidekicks that tended to shoot the ball a little worse. That’s not something he can control. But MU’s backcourt additions from the portal are all capable floor spacers. Personnel changes alone might help his metrics.

The upside of a veteran-laden roster is that you know what you’re getting for the most part. Yet certainty comes with a ceiling.

In East’s case, we know he’s never been a sneaky spacer. He hunts for jumpers off the bounce — primarily out of middle ball screens — that have been worth 0.876 PPS over three Division I seasons. East has also shot 32.2 percent from beyond the arc (19 of 59) on dribble jumpers generated by PNRs, per Synergy.

Yet, that subtype of shot — a 3 out of a PNR — has only made up on a quarter of the shots East has taken off the dribble in his career. Again, he wants to play in the in-between spaces that modern defenses concede. And that’s what you see on film: East trying to turn the corner and — more often than not —reach into his bag for a left-handed floater.

How likely is that to change? Sure, East could stand to shoot the ball a bit better. But that only matters if his shooting preferences shift, tendencies that have remained steady across stops at four programs.

And what does he offer as a late-clock option? Over three seasons at MU, Bradley, and UMass, his efficiency has hovered in a narrow range and settled at 0.963 for his career, per Synergy. That’s on par with Kobe Brown and DeAndre Gholston produced (0.904 PPP) last season.

With every returner, you see a recurring problem: recovering to shooters.

East’s film file offers ample diversity, too. There are delayed closeouts after over helping to the mid-line or sinking on a middle drive. In some pick-and-roll coverages, he’s late recovering back to a shooter that has flared or popped. And he even gets caught out on some basic stunt-and-recover situations.

Unsurprisingly, the data isn’t pretty. Spot-up shooters tracked by East knocked down 37.1 percent of their attempts, according to Synergy data. That number ticks up to 39.2 percent on catch-and-shoot looks.

What’s worth monitoring is whether retrofitting the roster results in a schematic shift away from aggressive help to the middle of the floor. Shrinking the distance East has to cover might do wonders.

What’s harder to explain away is East’s tendency to get beat by cutters. Kansas rightly noticed MU’s preference to overplay passing lanes and bludgeoned MU to death with back cuts, but East was also caught ball-watching, allowing his man to dart from the weak-side slot on angle cuts. The same habit also cropped up when the ball was along the baseline, whether in the short corner on an inbounds play. As a result, his man could dive bomb toward the rim.

There’s also a potpourri of off-ball breakdowns scattered through the film trove. East would occasionally lose track of shooters. Sometimes, he might neglect to tag a roller, and a skilled guard could shake loose running off screens.

When East’s guarding on the ball, the results are decidedly better. However, more than 55 of his defensive possessions entailed off-ball duties. He also ranks in the 34th percentile nationally when playing in man-to-man. Compared to Honor, East gives up 12 more points per 100 possessions, per Synergy data. Meanwhile, their steal rates are practically identical.

This isn’t new, either. East allowed 1.011 PPP at Bradley in spot-up situations, and he posted a 1.000 mark during his freshman campaign. Both are in the same ballpark as last season’s performance (1.011) in Columbia.

None of this is meant to slight East. Instead, it just reinforces that we know what he offers this rotation. Instead of hoping for an overhaul, we might be better off seeing what gains East makes at the margins.

There’s no shame in East’s role — so long as he performs well.

PPP: Points Per Possession
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.