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How concerning is Aidan Shaw’s hesitancy to shoot?

Missouri’s offense needs all hands on deck. So, why is the bouncy forward is passing up open looks — and does it hint at stalled development?

Missouri v Kansas Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Midway through the first half against Illinois, Aidan Shaw trotted up the floor and took up his station in the right corner.

At that point, Missouri only trailed by eight points and, for roughly three minutes, had managed to slow Illini’s wave of assaults in the open floor. Now, the Tigers needed to muster a shred of offense, and it didn’t matter who could supply it.

Initiating the offense at the top of the arc, Nick Honor audibled. Instead of feeding Noah Carter at the elbow and sprinting to set a pindown for Shaw, the point guard probed the middle gap, drew two defenders, and spied the unattended sophomore. Even better, Honor’s kickout hit Shaw right in the shot pocket.

No defender was one pass away. Shaw didn’t need to waste motion to get into his jumper. And the look served up to him on a plate makes wonks salivate: an open corner 3. It also marked a split-second convergence between the Tigers’ need for offensive diversity and for Shaw to show coveted progress.

He passed.

Rather than pull the trigger, Shaw sighted the rim and reversed the ball to Carter in the slot. The fifth-year senior got off a clean attempt, but Illinois’ Quincy Guerrier was close enough to contest it comfortably. The 3-ball thumped off the back rim. On the Illini’s resulting trip, Guerrier buried a triple from the corner pocket – and coach Dennis Gates called a timeout to regroup.

Two minutes later, a remarkably similar opportunity cropped up. A skip pass found Shaw in the same corner. Again, he deferred, swinging the ball to Curt Lewis on the wing, a pass nearly swiped before rolling harmlessly out of bounds. While MU prepared to inbound, Shaw trotted to the bench, replaced by Jordan Butler.

This raises a vexing question about the former top-75 recruit: Why won’t Shaw shoot?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

What’s behind Shaw’s stagnation?

Improving as an off-ball defender and boosting anemic rebound rates topped Shaw’s to-do list when the season began. By and large, Shaw applied his impressive athleticism to meet those demands.

He’s conceding just 0.833 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. That grades out as average among Division-I peers, but it’s a 21 percent improvement over his freshman campaign. Over a dozen games, Shaw’s also made good on his potential as a rim protector rotating from the weak-side, sending back 13.0 percent of shots and ranking ninth nationally. And while Gates chides him over consistency, Shaw’s work on the defensive backboards has improved.

It’s also helped Shaw cobble together a distinct defensive profile. Just three other Division-I boast similar block and rebound percentages while playing at least 40 percent of minutes. They’re listed with Shaw below.

Aidan Shaw’s Comps | Rebounding and Rim Protection | 2023-24

Name School %Min DR% BLK% ORTG USG% EFG%
Name School %Min DR% BLK% ORTG USG% EFG%
Clifford Omoruyi Rutgers 66.6 21.7 14.3 108 21 53.8
Ibrahima Diallo UCF 44.5 21.5 15.3 107.5 17.9 61.5
Miles Rubin Loyola Chicago 41.8 21.5 15.3 102.3 18.9 57.7
Aidan Shaw Missouri 41.5 18.7 12.9 103.8 10.2 66.7
Data Source: Bart Torvik

Yet, take a moment to review the column showing usage rates.

Currently, Shaw’s parked at 10.2 percent. How low is that figure? When you plug it in with our other parameters, Bart Torvik’s database, which spans a decade, turns up zero players with similar profiles. Finding any comps means lowering the acceptable limit for playing time. Still, that compromise gins up a whopping two names.

Aidan Shaw’s Comps | Minutes, Rebounding and Rim Protection | 2015-2024

Name Team Season %Min DR% BLK% ORTG USG% EFG%
Name Team Season %Min DR% BLK% ORTG USG% EFG%
Kaiodirichi Akobundu-Ehiogu UTA 2021 39.2 17.9 13.9 129.5 7.2 72.4
Aidan Shaw Missouri 2024 41.5 18.7 12.9 103.8 10.2 66.7
Aboubacar Diallo Eastern Illinois 2018 32.4 19.9 13.5 102.5 6.6 40.7
Data Source: Bart Torvik

So, if Shaw’s reticence on the offensive end seems weird, that perception isn’t off base.

Inserting him requires a stark tradeoff for Gates and his staff. Sure, you’re getting a potentially disruptive force on the defensive end. Yet MU’s offensive is being asked to function with a player whose activity level is – statistically speaking – on par with a walk-on at a high-major program. If the season ended today, it would be lower than the usage rate (11.7%) Shaw posted as a freshman.

A year ago, Shaw occupying a modest role wasn’t so confounding. We projected it. That’s life when Kobe Brown is the fulcrum of the roster and backstopped by a quality transfer in Noah Carter. And when he managed to see the floor, his role was narrowly confined to catch-and-shoot jumpers or trying to mash down lobs. More importantly, our review found Shaw’s presence didn’t weigh down lineups.

Once portal season arrived, MU reinforced Shaw’s position, adding a small-ball four in Colorado State’s John Tonje and a facilitator in Campbell vet Jesus Carralero Martin. The Tigers also had the added flexibility of freshman Trent Pierce, whose game is rooted in knocking down jumpers and spacing the floor.

That trio of additions – and Carter’s return – created a crowded house and alleviated Shaw’s need to scale up his role rapidly. He only needed to demonstrate tangible progress on a moderate usage rate. Find something he could excel at and use it to become a specialist.

Maybe he’d become an even more potent cutter. Hours in the practice gym refining his stroke might make him confident to drill spot-ups. Or he could hone his handle to punish defenses by ripping through and attacking gaps.

Instead, the past three games have offered us displays like these when Shaw holds the weak-side corner.

And to a lesser extent, the same phenomenon appears during possessions when Shaw winds up on the strong side of the floor.

For his part, Gates has openly professed his desire for MU to lead the nation in 3-point attempts. Achieving that goal means manufacturing quality attempts — like those from the deep corner. Through non-conference play, the Tigers ranked 90th nationally for shot volume from that spot on the floor, per CBB Analytics. Not only that, but the Tigers are hitting them at a 46 percent clip.

Put simply, corner 3s are the most valuable shot the Tigers can create — and Shaw is consistently turning them down.

Now, Shaw finished 2 of 14 on those attempts last season. But that’s a tiny sample, and often, the most significant improvement in a player’s shooting percentage comes as a sophomore. Yet Shaw’s only fired up one 3-ball this season. There’s always the possibility that he doesn’t inflict maximal damage on those shots. It’s impossible to judge at this point, and Shaw doesn’t seem too keen on amassing a body of evidence to evaluate.

That said, Shaw’s never proven all that assertive as a driver, either. In 45 career games, he’s only attempted a dozen drives, per Synergy. Blend those possessions with his volume of corner 3s, and Shaw’s only averaging 0.5 of those combined touches per game. By contrast, he averages almost one possession per game as a cutter, mixing in the occasional rim attempt on the break or hitting the offensive glass.

Set aside Shaw’s hesitancy to shoot, though, and there’s still a concerning passivity. Shaw’s abundant physical gifts still allow him to put the ball on the deck, gain elevation, and lay waste to the rim. Yet, we’re not seeing that physicality and aggression.

Against KU, for example, Shaw struggled to convert on several lob attempts, his most reliable form of offense.

Attempts to use him as a roller, particularly in actions with an empty corner, have produced equally stilted results.

Transition and early-clock opportunities aren’t a safe harbor, either. In the third clip, Illinois’ Luke Goode hacks Shaw to prevent an easy bucket. When Shaw stepped to the charity stripe, he clanked a pair of free throws.

Lineup data also peels back another layer to see how Shaw’s presence influences MU’s broader efficiency. During the first month of the season, the results were decidedly mixed. However, Shaw’s move into the starting five has ushered in a downward trend, one reflected in the chart below.

Since a victory at Pitt, his presence on the floor means MU’s efficiency trails off by 18.5 points per 100 possessions, according to Pivot Analysis. And in the Tigers' past three outings, they’re only mustering a 99.4 offensive rating in lineups featuring the sophomore.

It’s darkly ironic, but even if Shaw’s not shooting much, it still has an impact.

Last week, Matt Watkins demonstrated that it creates a usage vacuum that needs filling to keep the offense from caving in. That means more East weaving around ball screens, even as opponents deploy successful countermeasures. It’s more of Honor compensating through questionable rim attacks. And more of Carter trying to squeeze every drop of productivity out of a familiar script for paint touches. Meanwhile, Caleb Grill’s absence leaves a portal haul struggling to pitch in.

Had the Tigers’ season unfolded as planned, Shaw’s politeness as a ball-mover would be a minor trend to monitor and note at the end of the season. That hasn’t transpired, and as best-laid plans have gone awry, Shaw’s share of the work has grown.

With Shaw unable to meet his quota, Gates has started a search for alternatives. A week ago, it meant a shakeup to his starting five and swapping in Trent Pierce, halting Shaw’s audition after five games. It also prompts a reconsideration of longer-term prospects.

Cal Tobias/Rock M Nation

Is what we’re seeing with Shaw normal?

Moving into SEC play, we should probably keep two observations in mind.

First, Shaw’s development as an offensive threat has hit a snag, one magnified by issues with MU’s broader roster construction. Second, Shaw was ranked 17th nationally at his position coming out of Blue Valley High, and scouts projected his development would demand patience. Unsurprisingly, holding the latter in your head is hard as losses pile up.

While Shaw geared up for summer workouts, nine players ranked ahead of him bolted for the NBA. And among players between Nos. 11 and 20, half entered the transfer portal, meaning Shaw’s only among a literal handful of freshmen who stayed put for a sophomore season.

Look at how that quintet is faring so far.

Progress Report | Top-20 Small Forwards | Class of 2022 | 2023-24

Rank Name School %Min USG% PPP Def. PPP Player Net On/Off
Rank Name School %Min USG% PPP Def. PPP Player Net On/Off
2 Dillon Mitchell Texas 77 17.9 1.05 0.578 0.472 28.1
11 Tyrell Ward LSU 49.1 18.9 0.968 0.85 0.118 -23.65
13 Terrence Arceneaux Houston 42.1 16.9 0.833 0.741 0.092 2.08
17 Aidan Shaw Missouri 41.5 10.2 0.971 0.833 0.138 -3.88
Data Sources: 247Sports, Sports Reference, Synergy Sports, Pivot Analysis

Of that group, only Texas’ Dillion Mitchell garners heavy playing time, but his usage rate (17.9%) ranks fourth on the Longhorns’ roster. In many ways, Mitchell, who withdrew from the NBA draft last spring, exists as a more polished proxy for Shaw. Both thrive as cutters, sprinting the wings in transition, and crashing the glass. Each is a top-tier athlete, possessing a sturdy and lengthy frame. And there’s ample scrutiny for a jumper that’s not even close to posing a threat, leading defenses to sag off him.

Despite Mitchell’s noticeable improvements, draftniks appraisals slot him in the middle of the second round to not even hearing his name called.

Then comes a quartet that includes Shaw. Look at each player’s respective dosage of minutes. They’re basically the same. Only Virginia’s Leon Bond has a usage rate approaching starter level, while LSU’s Tyrell Ward and Houston’s Terrence Arceneaux are firmly entrenched in reserve roles. Shaw’s 13.8 net rating ranks second, and — as we saw above — any drag he has on the Tigers’ efficiency profile comes on offense.

Whether it’s floor time, efficiency, and his impact on a team’s net rating, Shaw’s not an aberration. He simply doesn’t soak up as many touches. He also conforms to recent trends for his position. Let’s look at prospects rated between No. 11 and No. 20 at the small forward position between 2017 and 2021 performed as sophomores.

What’s the baseline for sophomores like Aidan Shaw? | 2018-2022

Category Average (SD) Median Normal Range
Category Average (SD) Median Normal Range
%Minutes 48.1 (26.1) 51.3 22.0-74.2
Usage 18.0 (4.4) 18 13.6-22.4
PPP 0.855 (.220) 0.893 0.635-1.075
Def. PPP 0.814 (.149) 0.822 0.655-0.963
Player Net 4.2 (25.3) 6.2 -21.1-29.5
On/Off Impact -0.6 (6.9) -2 -7.5-6.3
n=31 Data Sources: Sports Reference, Synergy Sports, Hoop Lens, Pivot Analysis

Again, Shaw’s minutes, offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, net rating, and on-off impact all fall within the normal range. Moreover, his offensive performance and net rating run ahead of the median and average for that sample of 31 players. Out of that group, a paltry three players averaged more than 28 minutes per game and usage rate north of 20 percent: Xavier’s Naji Marshall, Louisville’s Jordan Nwora, and Florida’s Keyontae Johnson.

Poring over all these metrics reinforces a central theme: Shaw’s development isn’t perfect, but it’s not radically off course.

From the moment Shaw committed, we knew it would take him to chisel his potential into production. For all we know, he might have made some progress. Gates has spoken about the plays and risks the sophomore takes on inside the practice gym and the need to display them on game days.

Making that a reality won’t be strenuous. As we’ve seen, opportunities regularly come Shaw’s way during the natural flow of a set. He just needs to take the next step and pull the trigger on high-value jumpers or put the ball on the floor to exploit defenses in rotation. That alone would likely boost his usage to a level we see among players of his caliber.

Cheesy as it sounds, this boils down to confidence and Shaw trusting himself to make plays.

What’s adding urgency is the situation finds itself as this season unfolds for a team rapidly veering away from bubble contention. Any reset needs to start early in SEC play — and present an opportunity for Shaw’s emergence to coincide with rehabilitating the Tigers’ postseason profile.

If he’s willing to shoot his shot.