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Mizzou Hoops Player Preview: Caleb Grill

After a season of ups and downs with Iowa State, Caleb Grill heads south to find stability and a new system to accentuate his proven strengths.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Over 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

Caleb Grill joins the Mizzou roster from Maize, Kansas. One of three Tigers from the state to the west, Grill spent his freshman year at Iowa State before transferring to play for T.J. Otzelberger at UNLV. He then followed Otzelberger back to Iowa State where he completed his junior and senior seasons.

A multi-sport athlete in the Wichita suburb, Grill scored 1,178 points on the hardwood, threw for 3,122 yards on the gridiron, and won a state title in the high jump. Grill has leaned heavily on all of these experiences as he fashioned himself as a hard-nosed defender and high-volume jump shooter during his college career.

What’s immediately interesting is that Grill is transferring from the bizarro world Mizzou to...Mizzou. T.J. Otzelberger and Dennis Gates were both hired by current Mizzou Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois. Otzelberger’s teams have been known for their elite defense and at times, lagging offense. Dennis Gates’ first season in Mizzou was the exact opposite in that regard. How will it play out? We’ll soon find out!

Syndication: The Des Moines Register Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Numbers

Caleb Grill | 6’3” | Shooting Guard

Caleb Grill Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% or% dr% ast% stl% to% ftr% ft% 2pt% 3pt%
Caleb Grill Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% or% dr% ast% stl% to% ftr% ft% 2pt% 3pt%
2023 ISU 58.8 107.6 15.4 54.1 1.7 15 8.4 2.4 19.3 28.6 76.9 50 36.8
2022 ISU 59.9 109.5 13.5 53.2 2 11.4 12.3 2.5 11.5 7.9 62.5 57.9 34.8
2021 UNLV 84.7 103 15.4 51.9 1 10.4 11.7 2.6 17.5 14.1 69 51 34.8
2020 ISU 31.1 83.8 10.9 40.7 2.3 11.4 7.1 2 21 10 57.1 50 25
Career All - 103.5 14.2 51.7 1.7 12.1 10.3 2.4 16.7 15.7 71.2 52.4 34.4

While playing under his former coach, Grill’s directive was clear: Three and D. During his previous three seasons, Caleb attempted just over 78% of all field goal attempts taken from behind the arc. He’s proven to be a consistent threat in that area, averaging 34.4% makes on his career and 36.8% a year ago.

On his career, 83.3% of all field goal attempts have come via the jump shot. 83.6% of those jumpers have been off the catch, with a 1.024 PPP to show for it. While that number is a little lower than you’d hope, he did see it rise to an above-average 1.120 PPP his final season in Ames. The picture gets clearer when you see that he’s averaged 61.5% shots off the catch under contested situations, with a fairly unimpressive 0.862 career PPP. But again, he saw this latter number rise to 0.960 his senior season. Where Grill makes his money is on open looks off the catch, cashing in an incredible 1.282 PPP career — and an even more absurd 1.370 PPP last season. Mizzou’s 22-23 team generated the fifth-highest rate of shots of uncontested shots off the catch among SEC programs despite being the league’s most accurate club from deep. You could say it’s a match made in heaven and one that may see his conversion rate ascend into D’Moi Hodge territory (40%).

It’s little surprise then that nearly 45% of Grill’s career offense has come from spot-up opportunities. He’s been used a fair amount in transition (16.9%), running off of off-ball screens (7.8%) and on hand-offs (5.2%). That represents the bulk of Grill’s offense. It also backfills most of the play-type production lost from Hodge’s graduation.

While not much of a creator in the past, I do think we’ll see his role expand a bit on the ball this season. On his career he’s tallied a 10.3% assist rate — fairly low — with a corresponding 16.7% turnover rate. Grill has been involved with some on the ball activity and has produced a respectable 0.857 PPP on ball screens when including offense derived from his passing. Mizzou doesn’t appear to have a high-usage offensive creator locked and loaded, so having multiple players with the ability to be efficient in lower usage formats is paramount. I expect to see an increased usage in cuts as well as transition, which should buoy his offensive profile as well.

Unlike many of the other previews I’ve written in the recent past, the questions on Grill’s defensive capabilities are few. Caleb excels here. Whether it’s playing in-your-shirt man-to-man defense as is the norm for the Cyclones teams of late, or if it’s creating steals — he’s got a 2.4% career steal rate — Grill does it. He’s also proven himself a quality perimeter player on the glass, fashioning a 15% defensive rebound rate a year ago which would’ve finished third-best on a Mizzou team that lacked in that category.

The Role

Moving from the Big 12 to the SEC removes projection out of the equation. We know exactly what Caleb Grill can be in a high-major conference. The only remaining questions are how his role changes, if at all, and can his performance be improved.

I think his game is going to remain largely unchanged. He will likely get more opportunities in transition as well as open-rim attempts on cutting plays. His bread and butter will still be what he provides behind the arc. A move to a much more up-tempo — and open — offensive system should push his production to an even higher level.

I expect to see Grill play starter minutes, likely in the 55-60% minutes played range. I also expect to see his usage rise simply by virtue of his new program encouraging him to unleash shots at any given time. An 18% usage rate, while still considered that of a role player, would be a pretty heavy increase from his career marks. A reasonable expectation should these things manifest is an 8-10 points per night scorer. And one who does it with some flair.

The Film

When Caleb Grill committed to MU, he was concisely framed as a floor-spacer. Then you call up Iowa State’s rally against North Carolina, where Grill poured in 31 points.

For 38 minutes, he tormented the Tar Heels. He was combative, chirping at Caleb Love after drilling contested 3s in his face. He cooked D’Marco Dunn in a handoff for another 3-ball. Hubert Davis spent the first nine minutes running out of options. Eventually, he relented and tasked Leaky Black with tracking Grill. Defensively, he stuck with Love as the Heels’ combo guard swerved around ball screens or tried to shake Grill in isolation, often settling for contested step-backs.

And coach T.J. Otzelberger tasked Grill with carrying ISU down the stretch. Almost every trip saw Grill sprint out of a pindown or into a handoff. Once he shed Love, he’d turn the corner, get on balance, and pull from long range.

That version of Grill only appeared sporadically for the rest of the year.

By early January, he was reduced to running spacing cuts and holding corners. Any movement came when relocating or interchanging spots with another Cyclone. Grill wasn’t running Ricky, Zipper, or Stagger actions. Then came a back injury against Texas, an injury he’d play through the rest of the season. Grill has also been open about mental health challenges he confronted near the end of his time in Ames.

As the season wound down, he played more erect on the defensive end, and any change of direction requiring him to twist his core looked slow. The small mercy was Grill spent ample time playing off the ball, his defensive assignments rarely demanding him to lock-and-trail or fight over a ball screen.

Now that Grill’s refreshed and reset, how often do we see the traits he displayed 11 months ago?

When healthy, Grill’s shooting mechanics are pristine, but I fixate on his feet. Early on, he had little trouble turning tight, getting on balance, and squaring to the target after shedding his defender via a handoff, step-up screen, or off a pindown.

That movement is an element MU lacked at times last season. Roughly 56 of the Tigers’ 3-point attempts came off the catch, per Synergy Sports. Just 16 percent were launched by a shooter coming off a screen or handoff. It’ll be interesting to see if Grill gets more of those opportunities in Columbia.

If Grill ups the volume, it will nicely complement John Tonje, who serves as a stationary spacer.

A portion of Iowa State’s playbook utilizes pattern-based sets like the one seen in the clips above. After reversing the ball to the wing, a guard cuts through while a big pops out to help swing it back. On the weak side, guards swap places, and one clears on the reversal.

But as the shot clock ticks down, Grill might chase a reversal into a vacated slot on the strong side of the floor. Great, he’s getting into his jumper off movement, right?

What’s different is how disorganized Grill looks on those attempts. For one, his feet are rarely set, and his momentum has him drifting sideways. So, he has to torque his upper body around — fun with a bad back! — to get square to the rim. That’s not an ideal kinetic chain of energy transfer, capped off by a rushed — not quick or fluid — load on the shot.

Creating space is an underrated skill, but it’s vital for Grill. The vet knows where he needs to be to give a dribbler a passing window, and he’s savvy at reading the positioning of the man tracking him. Whether it’s lifting, drifting, interchanging, or shaking loose, Grill excels in the medium.

As the data shows, Grill’s efficiency dips once a hand obstructs his vision. Doesn’t matter the action, location, or size of the defender. And his efficiency on those looks stretches way back and well before Grill’s back was balky. It’s why intelligent movement without the ball and — ideally — generating clean looks via different screening actions matters for Grill.

Similar to Tonje, Grill spent his time minding the store on the defensive end, but sometimes, recoveries called on to cover more ground. As a no-middle team, ISU relied on aggressive ball-screen coverages to keep the ball on one side of the floor, while off-ball defenders loaded up.

However, if a dribbler reached the middle gap and kicked the ball to a shooter on the weak side, Grill might have to bust his tail on a close out. The same thing on skip passes. Or some reversals to the weak-side slot.

On balance, he did an admirable job. Shooters averaged 1.039 PPP and sank 35.7 percent of attempts, according to Synergy Sports data. That’s in the ballpark of the Division-I average for spot-up attempts. More notable, though, is Grill only ceded 0.636 PPP when his man attacked those closeouts. Even with an aching back, he still had enough agility to slide and force pull-ups.

As mentioned, we don’t have to project how Grill might hold up at the high-major level. There’s ample evidence for us to scrutinize. The metrics paint a pleasant picture of him as an on-ball defender, and the tape mostly backs it up.

In isolation, we can see him sit down and stick with Marquis Nowell, Bryce Thompson, and Gradey Dick. Early on last season, he could twist and bend enough to get skinny in pursuit of Caleb Love around ball screens and force contested attempts. ISU’s defense also asked him to help turn iced ball screens into traps.

Grill could also lend a hand on interior defense, whether pressuring an entry pass on the wing, fronting a big on a switch, or forcing a big like Pete Nance into a shot with a higher degree of difficulty.

Sometimes, the Cyclones’ assertive approach stuck Grill in poor mismatches. Jumbo wings or skilled big men owned the advantage when attacking from the nail or elbow. And there were possessions where a stellar advantage creator like Nowell might prevail. But, per Synergy, Grill’s allowed 0.920 PPP as an isolation defender over four seasons. That’s typical for a Division-I player.

On the flip side, Grill might man the Cyclones’ back line and serve as the low man in help defense. Again, those situations might get sideways. Like when a big makes a timely cut along the baseline to exploit an overload. Or slips to the short corner when Grill rotates to account for a driver. Sometimes, he’s a bit too handsy looking to strip the ball when supply help. These aren’t character flaws or mortal sins. It’s just worth noting that sometimes there’s a tax to be paid for a switch-everything mentality.

Finally, Grill’s often under control when closing out but will every so often give a free pass to a guard driving the baseline after they rip through.

The rumblings this offseason have been that Grill is more than a floor-spacer. Maybe adding 15 pounds of mass to his frame and getting his back healthy leads to him driving more closeouts. But we’ve seen that MU’s offense generates quality looks. If Grill converts them consistently and can supply reliable off-ball defense, he shouldn’t have much issue garnering floor time.

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.