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Missouri Hoops Player Review: KJ Santos

The UIC transfer’s season was undone by a foot injury and a position switch. Were his struggles an aberration or an ominous warning sign?

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Monday, all! We’re moving into our second week of postseason player reviews from this past year of Missouri basketball. To catch up on our previous reviews, see the links below:

This week, we’re leading with K.J. Santos, a player who intrigued Missouri fans with his potential but couldn’t stay on the floor after scheduling with injuries to start the year.

K.J. Santos - Regular Stats

20 12.3 1.3 1.9 0.3 34.6 22.2 14.3

K.J. Santos - Advanced Stats*

%MIN ORTG Adj GMSC POSS% Lineup O +/- Lineup D +/- eFG% TS%
%MIN ORTG Adj GMSC POSS% Lineup O +/- Lineup D +/- eFG% TS%
19.1 58.7 -0.4 12.0 0.93 (-1.0) 1.02 (-0.3) 34.3 32.6

Santos’ injury zapped a lot of momentum from what could have been a promising year. What went wrong for the UIC transfer?

Sam Snelling, Site Manager: I guess that’s the hope, right? Was the reason Santos struggled because he was derailed early with an injury and struggled to get back? It could be that.

It could also be that Mizzou saw him as a pace-and-space-four, a guy who can stretch the floor and switch multiple positions defensively when really he’s a jumbo wing who was forced out of position and struggled to provide the defense and rebounding necessary. At this point, I’m not sure what to make of Santos, but it looks like he’ll be sticking around this year. Hopefully, if the problem was A instead of B, he’ll get some opportunities on the wing next year and fill in well. As it is, it’s hard to get any sort of expectation for Santos after watching him play this year... but for now, it sure looks like a missed scout.

Matt Harris, Basketball Editor: No, I won’t give in to the easy temptation of issuing a blistering critique. We all know Santos’ season is one he’d liked wipe from the hard drive. Stepping back, you can also come up with a plausible case for what went wrong.

First, Santos played out of position. Setting physical dimensions aside, the Chicagoland native profiles as a wing offensively with the ability to switch and guard forwards at the other end. Was the decision to slide him down to the four-spot a long-considered move? Or was it a response to shoring up that piece of the rotation after Jontay Porter’s knee injury? If it was the latter, the fix is easy: move Santos back to the perimeter.

Second, you have to account for the cumulative toll of his injury history. Before he became a prep vagabond, Santos was viewed as a potential top-75 prospect. After he committed to MU, latching on to those assessments was a handy way of spinning the pickup as a coup. Yet Santos has injured both feet, broke a finger and endured an ankle injury. In June, Santos turns 22, and it stands to reason that any physical maturation is likely done. While he isn’t destined for mediocrity, those setbacks and the large chunks of time he’s missed, including skipping out on a JUCO season, mean we have to recalibrate expectations.

Even before he arrived on campus, his finishing ability around the rim needed to get better. Santos has the size to play through contact, but it’s fair to wonder whether his explosiveness has been sapped.

An optimist can view Santos’ season as one sabotaged by circumstances outside of his control. Instead of plugging in as a 3-and-D wing, he was hobbled and shifted to an ill-fitting role. The solution is a healthy offseason and the arrival of Tray Jackson, which would let Santos return to his natural habitat. If the staff envisioned Santos as a wrinkle for some lineups, their projection could still prove correct.

Josh Matejka, Editor: It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong outside of the injury that kept Santos from being 100 percent pretty much the entire season. I’m not as inclined to agree with Sam on the, “missed scout,” seeing as the staff has done a decent job of identifying talent and putting players in a good place to succeed so far. But this certainly looks like the case of a player who was asked to play out of position. With Jontay Porter out, Santos was expected to fill some inside depth, when he’s really more of a 3-and-D jumbo wing... though he could still use some work on both the 3 and the D of that equation.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

What would you like to see Santos work on during the offseason?

Sam Snelling: Everything. He needs to be fully healthy obviously. If there were lingering health issues, Santos needs to make sure those have been cleared up. He’s struggled his entire basketball career to stay healthy, so it’s not exactly an odd question to ask if he can remain healthy. Santos also needs to be able to shoot the ball with consistency and be slightly more of an offensive threat.

Missouri doesn’t need Santos to be an All-SEC player — they just need him to be far more serviceable than he was this past season. And I don’t think it’s mean to simply say he was bad this year.

Matt Harris: Stay healthy. Now, I know that’s not entirely within Santos’ purview. Instead, this is just uttering a wish and hoping the fates oblige. Even if you weren’t bullish on his stock or the staff’s evaluation, it’s absurd how often Santos’ own body betrays him.

Like Sam, I think moving Santos back to the perimeter is probably the place to start in the search to unlock some sort of return.

At UIC, Santos’ game wasn’t built on efficiency or self-generated offense. Almost 44 percent of Santos’ touches were catch-and-shoot jumpers, and he drilled 38.6 percent of them. When he did try to get downhill, Santos struggled (0.5 PPP) and only scored 37.5 percent of the time when he reached the rack. Keep in mind, too, that this was in the Horizon League.

K.J. Santos | 2016-17 Season

Shot Attmpt Poss/Gm PPP FG% eFG%
Shot Attmpt Poss/Gm PPP FG% eFG%
Jumper 3 1.05 35.6 52.5
Runner 0.4 0.533 26.7 26.7
Around Basket 2.4 0.951 46.3 46.3
Post-Ups 0.1 1.5 50 50
Synergy Sports

Putting Santos on the floor was a push for the Flames — seriously, his net rating was zero — and should have capped our expectations. Instead, this is what his offensive profile looked like during a debut in Columbia.

K.J. Santos | 2018-19 Season

Shot Attmpt Poss PPP FG% eFG%
Shot Attmpt Poss PPP FG% eFG%
Jumper 0.5 0.8 30 40
Runner 0.1 0.667 33.3 33.3
Around Basket 0.8 0.941 47.1 47.1
Post-Ups 0.2 0 0 0
Synergy Sports

Whatever was behind Santos’ struggles is also becoming moot. The clock is ticking. Mitchell Smith’s perimeter stroke proved more calibrated, while his activity as a rebounder improved. The Tigers are adding Jackson and heavily recruiting top-50 prospects in Caleb Love, Cam’Ron Fletcher and Josh Christopher. The debate over Santos positional fit is irrelevant because you can see logjams forming to block him from heavy minutes — if you even envision being heavily involved at all — on the wing or as a stretch big.

Any reclamation starts with Santos getting back to what he does best – knocking down jump shots. If he can do that, MU’s spacing might open up wide enough gaps for him to occasionally exploit or chances to operate as a cutter slipping to the rim.

Josh Matejka: At this point, I think it’s probably fair to fans (and Santos) to expect him to be an energy guy off the bench who can keep up the defensive intensity and knock down a shot or two if you need him to. Anything after that is gravy. For this to happen though, Santos will need to be healthy and able to stay up-to-date in practice. It appeared most of the time this past year that he just wasn’t in sync with the rest of the team on either end of the floor, and some of that can be attributed to missed practice and undeveloped chemistry. For Martin to maximize Santos’ talent, he’ll need to have him on the practice floor. That didn’t happen this year, and the results showed.

*Advanced Stats explainer:

%MIN — The number of minutes played in comparison to the total number of minutes available to be played. E.g. 30 minutes played in a 40 minute game would be 75%

ORtg — Individual offensive rating or points scored based upon a player accounting for the ending of 100 possessions (through shot attempts not offensive rebounded, assists, turnovers). This number comes from KenPom and it weighted to adjust for pace and opponent.

Adj GmSc — Adjusted GameScore, from Study Hall the accumulation of the players game score throughout the season

Poss% — Also referred to as Usage, it’s the number of possessions a player ends (via shot attempts not offensive rebounded, assists, turnovers) while on the court.

Lineup O/D +/- — This is the offensive and defensive points per possession when the player is on the court, the parenthesis reflects if lineups were better or worse with them on the floor (+ is if lineups were better with them on the floor, - is if lineups were worse)

eFG% — Effective Field Goal Percentage Adjusts shooting percentage for three point attempts. The formula is FGM + (.5 x 3PM) / FGA

TS% — True Shooting Percentage adjusts for both shooting percentage divided by total points scored. Traditionally the formula is (Points / 2 x (FGA + (0.44 x FTA)) x 100. We used KenPomeroy’s FT modifier of 0.475 instead of the NBA modifier of 0.44.