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Mizzou Hoops Player Review: Kobe Brown

Kobe Brown remains a unicorn in more ways than one.

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

May 14th, 2019 was a much more important date than most of us expected it to be. On that date, Cuonzo Martin added the final piece of his 2019 recruiting class when a 3-star wing from Huntsville, Alabama named Kobe Brown committed to play for the Mizzou Tigers.

At the time Brown was joining a small class that included only Mario McKinney and Tray Jackson, both more heralded out of high school. But both were gone within the year. McKinney transferred out in January, Jackson following in March. Meanwhile, Brown started 26 of 30 games in a year where COVID ended almost everyone's season early. It was clear early on in Brown’s tenure that he was a wise basketball player with a powerful body, and he would go on to start every basketball game he played under Martin. He would also see his production increase year over year.

When Dennis Gates was hired, he quickly moved to keep Kobe Brown in the fold. And he was intent on fixing the one glaring hole in Brown’s expansive game: Three Point Shooting.

With Brown shooting at a higher clip this season, he became a much more dangerous player off the dribble. He was tougher to double team and he saw his already solid offensive production spike upward into the kind of territory where he could reasonably be an NBA Draft pick.

At this point, we don’t know what Brown intends to do about his basketball future, but one thing is clear: a guy who was overlooked when he committed four years ago turned himself into the pillar for which Dennis Gates would revive the Missouri basketball program.

By the numbers

Kobe Brown | By the Numbers

Games Starts %Min ORtg Usage%
Games Starts %Min ORtg Usage%
34 34 71 125.5 23.5
29.5 15.8 6.4 2.5 1.5
  • 45.5%

Prior to last season, Kobe Brown was a career 23.9% three-point shooter. He was 49 of 205 over three years under Cuonzo Martin. He shot best as a freshman, which is also unusual, and took 75 3FGA that season, more than any other year. Until this past season. Per Brown ranked 17th in the country for three-point shooting, and was 1st in the SEC for games in the conference. From a career 23.9% shooter to one of the nation's best is just a wild trajectory in one offseason.

Lineup Data / Best lineup / Worst lineup

Kobe Brown | On/Off Splits | 2022-23

Status Poss Margin Off. PPP Def. PPP Net Rating eFG% ORB% FT Rate TOV% PPS - RIM PPS - Mid PPP - 3FGA
Status Poss Margin Off. PPP Def. PPP Net Rating eFG% ORB% FT Rate TOV% PPS - RIM PPS - Mid PPP - 3FGA
On 1650 220 122.14 108.8 13.33 57.1 25.1 22.3 13.6 1.21 0.85 1.14
Off 696 -62 107.31 116.22 -8.91 45.9 29 21.4 15.5 1.13 0.72 0.95
Pivot Analysis

Kobe Brown: exceptionally good.

Some conclusions are so self-evident that even cursory analysis comes off like navel-gazing. That’s the case here. Extracting Brown from a lineup caused MU’s net rating to crash by 22.2 points per 100 possessions and land at minus-8.9, per Pivot Analysis data.

Let’s put that number in more context.

Last season, 30 players from SEC programs logged more than 1,500 possessions of floor time. Brown’s impact on net rating ranked third behind Texas A&M’s Wade Taylor and Alabama’s Brandon Miller.

Impact Players | SEC | 2022-23

Player Team Poss Net
Player Team Poss Net
Wade Taylor IV Texas A&M 1629 27.07
Brandon Miller Alabama 2086 26.42
Kobe Brown Missouri 1650 22.24
Matt Murrell Ole Miss 1628 19.8
Colin Castleton* Florida 1344 18.94
KJ Williams LSU 1720 18.39
Antonio Reeves Kentucky 1507 16.35
Wendell Green Auburn 1569 14.85
Tyrece Radford Texas A&M 1724 11.59
*Castleton suffered a season-ending injury but would have cleared 1,500 possessions if healthy. Pivot Analysis

Or think of it this way: Missouri’s played like the No. 271 team in KenPom when Brown checked out. Those lineups had a defensive efficiency (116.2) that would have ranked third-worst in Division I. Had he departed last spring, forget the hand-wringing over MU’s seed in the field of 68. Instead, Gates’ reset in Columbia would have been a little harder.

Assuming Brown exercises his option for a fifth season, he should enter next season firmly entrenched in the preseason discussion for the SEC’s player of the year. Few can say they matter more.

Kobe Brown | Top-5 Lineups | 2022-23

PG CG Wing Wing/CF CF/Post Poss Margin Off. PPP Def. PPP Net
PG CG Wing Wing/CF CF/Post Poss Margin Off. PPP Def. PPP Net
Honor Hodge Gholston Brown, Ko. Carter 264 59 129.21 106.85 22.35
Honor Hodge Gholston Brown, Ko. Diarra 104 -27 101.06 127.05 -25.99
Honor East Hodge Brown, Ko. Carter 100 18 134.11 116.09 18.01
East Hodge Gholston Brown, Ko. Carter 88 25 133.31 104.82 28.48
Honor East Gholston Brown, Ko. Carter 72 31 136.95 136.95 94.06
Pivot Analysis

Evaluating lineups boils down to asking the company Brown has around him at any given time. These five lineups accounted for about a third of his floor time, and you can see how changing one supporting player trickles down.

We already covered how subbing out Carter for Diarra created a chasm that was impossible to fill. But did you know that swapping in Sean East II for D’Moi Hodge boosted the Tigers’ net rating by nearly 21 points per 100 possessions? Or that sitting DeAndre Gholston was a relatively modest (-4.34) in its impact?

Unsurprisingly, Brown spent a lot of time alongside Honor (82.7 percent of minutes), Carter (65.4%), and Gholston (61.2%) last season. When Gates did show flexibility it tended to be toggling between Hodge (45.6%), East (28.7%), and Tre Gomillion (15.82) at the combo guard position. Usually, that mixing and matching didn’t impose much of a tax. If you take a quick peek below, you’ll see positive scoring margins.

Supporting Cast | Reserves sharing the floor with Kobe Brown | 2022-23

Name Pos Margin Duration %Floor Time
Name Pos Margin Duration %Floor Time
Hodge Wing 32 222:16:00 32.24
East II CG 24 194:12:00 28.16
Diarra Post -23 164:08:00 23.8
East II PG 22 111:40:00 16.19
Gomillion CG 6 109:04:00 15.82

Except for one: playing Diarra at the five spot. Yet that overlap only amounted to a quarter of the time Brown manned the four spot. It was only when Gates really got to tinkering that Brown’s importance started to wash out.

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

Matt Watkins did a terrific job nailing the preview for Kobe Brown before the season:

And last season, he became a difference-maker setting up in the mid-post. He was very effective in finishing all shot types around the rim last season, be it traditional post-ups, drives to the bucket, or floaters. The paint is where Kobe shines.

Though he’s slightly undersized for a traditional “big,” he’s not that. Instead, he’s a triple threat that can play from the post extended, be it on the block or at the elbows. Additionally, he has the touch to make 12-foot jump shots, the speed to beat bigger defenders off the bounce, the vision to find cutters heading to the rim, and the strength to bully smaller defenders. When appropriately used, Kobe can be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.

On the other hand, Brown struggles when he’s mis-cast. For example, he’s never evolved into a reliable floor spacer, shooting off the catch or the bounce. He was moderately efficient as a sophomore, a year where he cut down the volume of those attempts. Brown’s efficiency plummeted when those attempts spiked as a freshman or a junior.

We’ve known for a while Brown is a good player. This year he became a great one based on his shooting. He went from a guy you didn’t want taking that open jumper to one you couldn’t afford to leave open.

Brown ranked in the 93rd percentile for Spot-up jump shots just one season after ranking in the 23rd percentile, per SynergySports. He went from 0.57 PPP on catch and shoots to 1.32 this past year.

If you looked at Brown's offensive profile from last year he graded out as excellent when it came to anything around the rim, and pretty awful once he was away from the rim. But his 2022-23 profile is just excellent all the way around. The number of games where Mizzou needed a basket and the ball went through Brown just showed his growth as a player. And the number of times he converted at the rim or took a jumpshot was nearly even.

Brown was the KenPom MVP 8 times this season and just one of those games was in a loss. He was also the overall GameScore leader for the season. Basically, Kobe was the MVP. We just hope he comes back to do it all again.