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Mizzou Hoops Player Review: Nick Honor

It turns out when you don’t turn the ball over as much, your offense improves! Thanks, Your Honor!

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

When Nick Honor committed to Missouri on April 19th of last year, the response overall was tepid. Not that fans weren’t excited for the roster makeover, but I don’t think many foresaw just how valuable of a player Honor would be at Missouri. His numbers at Clemson weren’t anything that stood out. He was a good shooter but far from a great one. He was a small point guard who didn’t offer much in the way of rebounding.

But if you know of the Missouri struggles the last few years, it was with turnovers. And many of us glowed at the 12.7% turnover rate as a junior. Ball security is one of the more overlooked aspects of your offensive production. Simply getting the opportunity to take a shot when you have the ball seems to increase your chances of scoring. I know this is groundbreaking stuff here, but when four of Cuonzo Martin’s five teams had a turnover rate over 20% so simply taking care of the ball was refreshing change. And the leader of that charge was the starting point guard.

Honor started all 35 games and just twice had more than 2 turnovers and even then it was just 3 in each game (vs Kansas and at Florida). In fact Honor had 12 games with 0 turnovers, and just 8 game with multiple turnovers. That’s just terrific ball security.

By the numbers

Nick Honor | By the Numbers

Games Starts %Min ORtg Usage%
Games Starts %Min ORtg Usage%
35 35 74.2 118.7 13.6
29.9 7.9 1.6 2.9 1.5

Other than his awesome turnover rate...

Nick Honor | 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 1727 82 117.47 112.72 4.74 54 25.8 24.2 13.5 1.16 0.85 1.05
Off 619 76 118.49 106.21 12.28 57.8 27.9 16.2 16 1.25 0.7 1.18
Pivot Analysis

Lineup data can be as deceitful as it is illuminating, and for Nick Honor, it’s probably the latter. In aggregate, MU’s efficiency was almost eight points worse when the Clemson transfer was on the floor. Yet, Honor’s solo 20.7 net rating is downright glittering.

The explanation isn’t complex: the company you keep matters.

No Tiger logged more minutes this season than Honors 1,048 at lead guard, and he spearheaded more than half of the 286 lineups that Gates trotted out. It’s almost a given that clunkers are mixed in. And even in heavier losses — MU suffered five by 15 or more — Honor rarely watched passively from a folding chair.

We also need to keep in mind how Honor went about running the point. Point guards are labeled creators as a default setting. Yet we’ve often dubbed Honor an initiator. Why the distinction? MU’s offense is dynamic and fluid, but it breaks with the modern trend of using pick-and-rolls as organizing principle. (The Tigers ranked 266th in D1 for PNR usage, per Synergy Sports.) Instead, MU draws inspiration from the triangle offense, which is an taps into elements of the Princeton offense. And both call on a lead guard to bring the ball up and trigger an offense by passing it to a big at the key or elbow. Then, that lead guard joins everyone else in playing off the ball.

So, Honor doesn't matter?

Far from it. It’s his job to relay the call. And when MU looks a bit out of sorts, usually after trying to exploit a secondary break, it falls to Honor to get the Tigers organized and into action. When that happens, Honor moves the ball where it needs to go, and MU’s offense whirs to life.

Honor was also potent when he shifted into a spacing role. Nearly two-thirds of field-goal attempts were 3-pointers, and he converted them at a 40.0 percent clip. He was especially good when holding the weak-side slot, an optimal location to get on the receiving end of skip passes. When left all alone to catch-and-shoot from 3, Honor shot 43.3 percent, per Synergy data.

The slippage with him on the floor came at the defensive end, but Honor’s individual efficiency (0.804 PPP) puts him in the 67th percentile among D1 peers. And while you could occasionally target him as a switch defender in PNRs, the metrics don't uncover many other weaknesses.

Nick Honor | 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
Honor East Gholston Brown, Ko. Carter 72 31 136.95 94.06 42.88
Honor Gomillion Hodge Brown, Ko. DeGray 54 8 119 104.12 14.87
Pivot Analysis

Once we split out individual lineups, the importance of who surrounds Honor stands out. The first group should be familiar. It’s MU’s starting five, which is also the most-used group this season. It’s the baseline.

If you read our review of Mohammed Diarra, you aren’t surprised by the rather large dip that came with him spelling Noah Carter. From there, though, we can see how the composition of MU’s backcourt altered efficiency.

Let’s say Gates wanted to shore up ball-handling by inserting Sean East II but kept D’Moi Hodge in the game as another source of spot-up shooting. Well, efficiency dipped by a little more than four points per 100 possessions. Why? The offense actually improved in that configuration. But an already leaky defense allowed opponents to take more shots around the rim, per Pivot data. It also makes sense when you consider East graded out slightly worse (0.855 PPP allowed) than Gholston (0.783 PPP) as a defender in the half court.

Keeping Gholston in the game and swapping East for Hodge improves the Tigers’ defensively (by about 10 points per 100 possessions) and juiced an already robust offense. As the season wore on, that became the extent of Gates flexibility with his guard lineup. During the season we noted that simply having Tre Gomillion and Isiaih Mosley available helped because they could soak up minutes and let Honor get a break.

When did lineups get sideways?

An analysis of Honor-led groups that finished with negative scoring margins turns up a lot of floor time for East at combo guard. Yet, that’s at odds with East’s overall profile, which shows MU has a positive scoring margin with him at off guard. Tracing the source is easy from there: big men.

Kobe Brown and Noah Carter were among the SEC’s best interior tandems, but take on or both off the floor, and the dropoff was steep. Now, imagine Gates subbing East and a back-up big at the same time. For example, lineups featuring Honor, East and Diarra finished with a minus-36.5 net rating over the course of 148 possessions, per Pivot Analysis. Even if DeGray took Diarra’s place, the net rating (-28.9) is still brutal.

Without Gomillion and Mosley, Gates deployed East selectively to rest one of three starting guards, usually sacrificing some defense in the process. But if the lineup had a reserve big in the mix, it drained away too much offense.

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

Nick Honor was brought onto the roster with a pretty specific purpose, take care of the ball and help space the floor with some threes. Honor did that, and more. He hit a career best 39.9% from behind the arc, and carried a career best Offensive Rating despite taking on more minutes than at any time since his Freshman season at Fordham.

He did all those things was being relatively quiet all year, which is also part of the game. Honor is reserved, and overlooked a lot, when it came to the compisition of the roster. In conference play he only had 5 games where he scored in double figures. And much like his turnovers, there just weren’t many loud performances. If you had to pick one single memory of Honor’s season it’s likely the three point shot he hit in overtime to give Mizzou a two-point lead over Mississippi State with very little time on the clock. That shot was only Honor’s third made basket on the game, and gave him 10 points for the game.

He did have 17 on the road at Georgia, but that came on the back of 5 made 3s in 7 attempts, and he still didn’t lead the team in scoring. That honor went to D’Moi Hodge.

Honor’s value to the team this year is suble enough it probably can’t be overstated. He wasn’t the most valuable player. That was Kobe Brown. He wasn’t the most integral offensive weapon. That was D’Moi Hodge. He wasn’t the transition engine. That was Sean East. He wasn’t the Coach on the Floor, that was Tre Gomillion. On a team of leaders, Nick Honor just quietly did his job and did it really well.

Next season he’ll be one of the guys leading at the front. He’ll take over mentorship of the younger guards. Perhaps even find a way to turn the ball over less, and shoot at a higher clip. Or perhaps he just shows up next season and repeats what was already a stellar performance.