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Mizzou Hoops Player Preview: Nick Honor

Mizzou’s Super Senior has quickly become a cult hero. His final collegiate year will be defined by his reliability and expanded role.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Missouri vs Tennessee Christopher Hanewinckel-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

While it may have come as a surprise to some twelve months ago, Nick Honor returns as Mizzou’s leading minute-getter from last year. The point guard from Orlando, Florida, averaged 29.9 minutes per game, more than Kobe Brown and D’Moi Hodge who will be displaying their wares in the The Association. What he lacked in counting stats he made up for with court presence and timely playmaking. DeAndre Gholston will be best remembered for his late game theatrics from the 22-23 squad. Make no mistake, Honor was routinely clutch in big moments.

Needing little introduction to the Mizzou diehards, Honor will once again be a key feature of the 2023-2024 rotation. His minutes may reduce but that will merely be a function of a deeper roster of contributors. He’ll lean heavily on his wealth of collegiate experience — this will be his fifth season — to once again be the captain of the Tigers’ voyage.

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

The Numbers

Nick Honor | 5’10” | Point Guard

Nick Honor Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% or% dr% ast% stl% to% ftr% ft% 2pt% 3pt%
Nick Honor Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% or% dr% ast% stl% to% ftr% ft% 2pt% 3pt%
2023 Miz 74.3 117.6 13.6 53 1.5 4.9 15 2.9 13.6 25.9 87.5 41 39.9
2022 Clem 62.9 106.8 17.5 47.6 1.3 5 17.7 2 12.7 18.4 90.5 46.5 32.5
2021 Clem 57.9 106.1 20 50.6 1.8 4.8 20.7 3.5 13.3 13.1 73.9 43.3 36.7
2019 Fordham 90 98.5 24.9 44.3 1.6 6 19 1.3 11.6 19.3 81.6 39.4 33.7
Career All - 107.2 19.1 47.8 1.5 5.3 17.8 2.3 12.7 20.1 84.1 41.7 35.5

The most striking thing to me about Honor’s career is this: in each season his offensive efficiency has increased and his usage rate has decreased. This is largely intuitive as those two statistics often bear an inverse relationship. The more shots a player takes, the less efficient they typically are.

What’s interesting to me with Nick is that his usage rate has decreased so much. For starters, Honor is an exceptional ballhandler and rarely turns the ball over, which is a component of usage. Naturally, his usage rate will be lower than other players who take a similar number of shots but are looser with the ball. Yet his 2023 rate of 13.6% is nearly a “barely there,” mark in terms of statistical significance. And it’s a far cry from his freshman year where he sported a very healthy 24.9% usage. This will be discussed more below but suffice it to say, we expect this number to jump up into the high teens — more in line with his role at Clemson.

Elsewhere, Honor has proven to be a very capable scorer where he’s sported a 50%+ eFG in his three years at high major schools. Most of this is buoyed by his three-point shooting capabilities. He’s averaged 35.5% behind the arc on his career and had his career best season in 2023, knocking down 39.9% of his shots from distance. Last season he was lethal with the jumper — 1.150 PPP — and was especially so off catch and shoot opportunities — 1.260 PPP.

If there’s a weakness to his shot profile it’s when he’s attacking the rim. Honor converted for just 0.900 PPP on all rim attempts last year — 1.072 PPP career — and saw just 22.5% of all his shots come there, a particularly low number. While he’s proven to be a very reliable ballhandler and shot maker, there do appear to be some limitations to his shot creation ability. His career 84.1% free throw shooting — 87.5% in 2023 — does help him in that area though. He simply hasn’t proven overly adept at getting to the line with any frequency.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that a player returning from last year’s squad lags a bit on the glass. Honor has never been a key contributor in a team’s rebounding efforts. While his career turnover rate of 12.7% is exceptional, as was his rate of 13.6% in 2023, it’s a bit of a high floor, low ceiling situation. Honor had an assist rate of just 15% a year ago. He’s very capable of making the right reads and creating offense for his teammates, it’s just that he’s often so risk averse that you lose some playmaking potential in the process. Defensively Honor has been great at forcing turnovers through theft, averaging a 2.9% steal rate a year ago.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Role

If I’m sure of anything, I’m sure of this: Nick Honor will be a significant player on the 2023-2024 Tiger squad. While his overall minutes will likely fall, he’ll once again be among the top three players in time spent on the court. As we all witnessed a year ago, Honor is too valuable not to be.

The bigger question to me is what will go into those minutes. Gone from the roster are Mizzou’s leaders in usage rates with Kobe Brown (23.5%), DeAndre Gholston (25.1%) and Isiaih Mosley (29.2%). Only Jesus Carralero (26.9%) has a career average that approaches any of those three players. While Mosley unfortunately didn’t play for long stretches a year ago, Mizzou had the luxury of having two players that (efficiently) carried the load. That is no longer the case, at least based on what we know at this point.

Mizzou will have to feature a more balanced attack. With Honor logging so many minutes, that will likely require his offensive contributions to increase. Nick has been exceedingly efficient out of spot up opportunities and that will likely be a big part of his offense once again. He was exceptional a year ago in transition logging 1.111 PPP and 22.8% usage, both of which are very healthy numbers. What Mizzou will need from him is increased proficiency on the ball in pick and roll and isolation situations. He’s been quality at points in his career in both, especially in setting others up, but his overall usage will likely need to see an increase.

My projections for him in 2023-2024 include 70-72% of minutes played, a usage rate increase to 18% and a resulting points per game of 10 or 11.

The Film

No one would mistake Honor for a fast-twitch slasher who turns the corner to cave in a defense. Still, the Clemson transfer posted a robust 1.228 PPP when passing out of PNRs last season. His film, though, is a testament to consistent judgment.

For example, high pick-and-rolls weren’t complex affairs. Like a quarterback, Honor diagnosed coverages and took what the defense offered. When an opposing big man hedged, Honor could pitch the ball to a skilled four-man to drive the middle gap. Against drop coverage, where a big sank by one step, Honor’s dribble would do enough to engage two defenders and give the screener time to pop.

The same simplicity applied to spread pick-and-rolls. While that two-man game unfolded in one slot, another occurred in tandem on the opposite side: a wall screen for a guard. Even if the PNR was a dud, reversing the ball offered a high-quality catch-and-shoot. Failing that, Honor and the screener could try the whole thing over again.

Or MU could try an empty-side PNR, which allowed the likes of Kobe Brown or Noah Carter to slip to the mid-post or roll into a post-up. The possibility of those touches might also pull an off-ball defender closer to the mid-line – opening up a skip pass to the opposite corner.

Prudence has always been a part of Honor’s piloting of ball screens. But for three seasons, his efficiency as a passer (0.901 PPP) was average at best. It’s amazing how perceptions change when your teammates sink 41 percent of 3-balls resulting from your passes and average 1.525 PPP when cutting or rolling.

That same heady approach manifests when Honor scores using a ball screen.

Take the first clip against Kansas. Coach Bill Self loathes switching. Instead, he has the Jayhawks fight over the top while a big hangs back slightly. (This is called push coverage.) So, DaJuan Harris is in a trailing position and leaving Jalen Wilson to deal with Honor, who almost snakes the screen to get Wilson going right. When Honor spins off Wilson, Kevin Kevin McCullar Jr. can’t stunt toward the lane without leaving D’Moi Hodge open. The result: Honor uses an extension finish for a bucket.

Against Ole Miss, Jayveous McKinney keeps sinking. So, Honor deploys a floater. Alabama’s Noah Gurley bites on a fake, letting Honor dribble into a jumper at the elbow. Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith switches onto Honor but relies on his length to give him a cushion against the drive. Fine. Honor buries a 3-pointer in his eye. And sometimes, Honor could leverage defenses trying to sort out switches against a pair of ball screens set at the top of the key.

Still, Honor averaged 0.688 PPP and ranked in the 36th percentile as a PNR scorer last season, per Synergy data. The question is whether it was a blip. At Clemson, his efficiency was 0.889 PPP on roughly the same number of possessions. Fold in his lone season at Fordham, and his career efficiency (0.852) suggests a rebound wouldn’t be that surprising.

What can’t regress is the threat Honor poses when he gets his feet set.

Last season, he drilled 42 percent of catch-and-shoot percenters, an 8-percentage point increase over his junior campaign. Among 20 SEC players with a similar shot volume, his efficiency (1.256 PPP) ranked second, per Synergy Sports. Put simply, Honor remained a threat when he moved off the ball.

When MU ran its base offense – either the point series or delay series – Honor’s on-ball duties were minimal: trigger the action with a pass to a big. There was always the possibility a set might create a pick-and-roll, but often, Honor found himself spacing.

In the first clip, for example, Honor trots into a down screen. But instead of curling, he flares to the wing. Bingo. Brown reverses the ball. Yet in the following snippet, Honor runs a thru cut to the opposite corner – and is wide open when Tre Gomillion draws help on the block. He might also benefit if the defense mobbed Brown at the elbow. A defender might have to stunt off Honor to account for a cutter, creating an easy kick out.

MU’s offense also tended to create overloads. A slot ball screen was a conduit for a big to slip to the low block and, once the ball entered the post, wrench a defense to one side of the floor. Meanwhile, Honor could interchange with a guard or drift to the opposite corner. From there, a Tiger posting up only needed to make a basic read to whip the ball across the court.

Transition is more Sean East’s bailiwick, but Honor also scrounges up opportunities on the break. Yet their methods contrast. East needs the ball in his hands and to push the break forward. Honor is just fine getting wide and running to a spot. When the ball is in hands, he might need a drag screen in the slot to carve out some room and find an attack angle.

Sometimes, we’re guilty of using shorthand and describing Honor as a mere ball-mover. That’s not wrong, but it gives short shrift to diversity of his touches and how easily he adapts to Mizzou’s needs. His modest usage plays a role in obscuring it, but the nature of MU’s attack — which prizes connective and skilled forwards — is also factor.

But closely track him during a game, and it won’t take long to grasp why Honor is vitally important in keeping a perky version of the Princeton attack on schedule.

We’ve said it numerous times: MU’s defense was porous outside of generating steals.

Yet Honor only allowed 0.804 PPP, per Synergy. Again, defensive metrics are squishy, but that would have ranked in the 67thpercentile nationally. More importantly, Honor’s metrics hint at a reliable off-ball defender.

Consider rotating to the middle of the floor. It was a linchpin for a team that lacked size along the backline. It’s also relatively thankless work. You’re often parking on the SEC logo and sacrificing your body, swiping at the ball out of a big man’s hands, or attempting to deflect a dump off pass—anything to keep the ball out of the middle gap.

Sometimes, Honor could also supply backup for a team that was undersized inside by helping the Tigers’ around the low block. That might be via a hard double team or helping down from the top of the lane.

But there’s a downside to that approach.

Defense is a kinetic chain where a mistake can have ripple effects. For example, a breakdown on the ball might force Honor to stunt from the slot to the middle of the floor. His man might relocate when that happens, creating a longer recovery on spot-up jumpers. The same is true when he rotates toward the midline from the weak side of the floor.

It’s why we temper some critiques of returning Tigers. Some of their woes resulted from schematic bargains made to account for issues with roster construction. Ideally, those compromises won’t be needed this season. The program has a pair of legit anchors along the back line in freshman Jordan Butler and transfer Connor Vanover. Tamar Bates, who arrives from Indiana, has shown promise as an on-ball stopper. Finally, Caleb Grill and John Tonje have a history as sound pieces in the shell.

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.