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Mizzou Hoops Player Preview: Tamar Bates

Tamar Bates is a familiar face who is returning home for a fresh start on the court and may have found the perfect fit in the process.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

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

There’s a familiar phrase that says you can’t go home again. While it’s true that Tamar Bates has never suited up in a Mizzou uniform before this season, the connections to the black and gold are strong. Bates, once rated a top 30 prospect in high school, attended Piper High School just across the border in Kansas City, Kansas. He was heavily recruited by Mizzou before his commitment to Texas. After the Longhorns parted ways with then coach, Shaka Smart, Bates was once again courted by the Tiger staff. Ultimately, Bates opted to head to Indiana, leaving behind the strong family ties with the University — his father is a Mizzou graduate.

When Tamar’s name popped up on the portal entry list this spring, one may have thought, “we’ve traveled this road before.” But a change in personal circumstances and a desire for a fresh start led to a different ending.

Tamar arrives in Columbia with two years of eligibility — he’s a member of the first class to not have the benefit of the extra COVID year. And with that arrival comes a slew of exciting possibilities. At Indiana Bates often found opportunity tough to come by. While he did see a sizeable increase in playing time this past season, Indiana’s identity focused around Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino driving the proverbial bus. Indiana was determined to pound the paint and because of it ranked 10th from last among all D-I schools in three-point attempt rate. Indiana found success with that strategy, but it wasn’t the most ideal situation for a player whose strengths were behind the arc.

Now he’s found himself back in a familiar place with a program whose interests may perfectly align.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Quarterfinals - Indiana vs Maryland Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Numbers

Tamar Bates | 6’5” | Combo Guard

Tamar Bates Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% or% dr% ast% stl% to% ftr% ft% 2pt% 3pt%
Tamar Bates Team Min % Ortg Usage eFG% or% dr% ast% stl% to% ftr% ft% 2pt% 3pt%
2023 IU 50.8 104.4 15.7 48.7 1.7 6.9 9.1 1.3 13 13.9 92.6 41.1 37.4
2022 IU 32.9 86.9 17.2 40.4 1.8 8 7.9 1 16.2 18.5 83.3 47 29.8
Career IU - 97.5 16.3 45.4 1.7 7.3 8.6 1.2 14.3 15.7 88.2 39.3 34.6

One might see Tamar’s numbers as being a bit disappointing for a recruit rated as highly as he was. And to some degree, there’s valid reasons to adhere to that perspective. But, as we’re about to discuss, there’s reason to believe greatness may be percolating under the surface.

Bates’ usage rates at Indiana remained relatively low each season. We touched on the main reason for that already. This past season, Bates ranked 5th among Hoosiers in minutes played. Two players ranked ahead of him — Jackson-Davis and Hood-Schifino — used nearly 56% of the team’s possessions combined. They were the focal points. The remaining players were left fighting for the scraps. While Tamar’s usage rate of 15.7% is quite low, it does paint the picture of what he was asked to be: a complimentary piece.

In 2023 Bates did show progress after a pretty unspectacular freshman campaign. A year ago, he posted a 104.4 oRTG buoyed by a solid 47.9% eFG that was driven by a very good 37.4% three-point conversion rate. Bates wasn’t asked to do a whole lot in the creation department and his career assist rate of 8.6% shows that — though his career 14.3% turnover rate is outstanding. While trips to the line have been few and far in between, Tamar has converted 88.2%.

Digging deeper, we see that Bates has taken nearly 73% of all field goals via the jump shot. That’s both a very high number and unsurprising considering his role. Rim finishing has not been something that Tamar has been asked to do much of, or more accurately, had the opportunity to do. On his career just 18.3% of all field goals were attempted at the rim. For comparison, both Nick Honor and Sean East were north of 20% last season. A considerable segment of Bates’ two-point attempts have come from the difficult pull-up jumper category, where he’s posted a respectable but still inefficient 0.730 PPP in his career. His career attempt rate on those shots is 37.9% — compared with D’Moi Hodge who a year ago attempted just 17% of all jumpers off the bounce. Perhaps not having an All-American camped on the block with resulting defensive help will increase his chances at close range?

And now we arrive at where the opportunities arise. This past season Mizzou ranked 74th percentile among all D-I teams in jump shots taken. They rated 71st percentile in jumpers taken via the catch and shoot. Dennis Gates’ offense WILL produce shots for spot-up shooters. He simply needs guys to knock them down. Enter Tamar Bates. After experiencing struggles in year one, Bates flourished off the catch in 2023. He posted a 1.140 PPP on jumpers off the catch, a very solid number. Predictably, his efficiency dropped on contested looks, landing at a still above average 0.940 PPP. But when he had space, he was practically shooting layups and his results followed, averaging a 1.400 PPP. D’Moi Hodge averaged 1.380 PPP on those same looks. The prospects are certainly exciting.

Tamar Bates is also an incredibly effective defender. His length and athleticism enable him to guard multiple spots on the floor. In a system that encourages deflections, Bates should see his steal rate rocket. If there’s one area that’s somewhat concerning defensively, it’s that Tamar hasn’t produced much as a rebounder...yet. For a team that sorely needs improvement, Bates can find an even larger role if he can provide it.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Role

Bates will start the season as a virtual lock for the rotation. Where he falls in that pecking order will largely depend on his production and those around him. While I only feel certain in two “locks” in the starting rotation, there’s about five additional players who I can see getting the nod, Tamar being one of them.

I anticipate we’ll see his usage rise into the high teens. While his minutes may actually fall by virtue of a deeper bench, his time on the court will be more engaged. I feel comfortable in projecting a 5-7 points per game effort this season. There will be big nights as well as slow. Such is the way of life on a balanced team with many jump shooters. However, I do see that role expanding considerably his senior year.

The keys for Bates aside from doing what he does well behind the arc will be to translate his defensive abilities into a pressure-oriented version. Offensively, if he can work his way into secondary creator roles and working off the ball in transition and on cutting chances — and seeing his rim rate increase — Mizzou may just have found their next dynamic lefty from Kansas City.

The Film

Two years ago, landing Bates was deemed a coup coach Mike Woodson, who faced questions about how he’d acclimate to college recruiting. Scoring a pledge from Bates, ranked 30th in 247Sports’ composite index, served as a quick rebuttal.

Woodson pitched a vision of smaller lineups in a four-out system where Bates would nestle in at combo guard. That summer, the program parceled out intel that amped up expectations. Bates packed on 12 pounds of muscle and, per Woodson, possessed “athletic arrogance.”

In August 2021, IU showed well against European pros in the Bahamas. Afterward, Woodson didn’t temper his assessment. “He’s what we thought he’d be when we recruited him,” the coach told reporters. The hype machine had whirred to life.

Throughout non-conference play, Bates mostly backed it up. While rough around the edges, he flashed some potential as a three-level scorer, while his physical tools helped him gain traction defensively.

But by January, the optimism looked dubious when Big Ten play started. At one point, Bates scored just 14 points in seven games. As February arrived, scribes were meticulously documenting his pre-game shooting routine. Over the final 24 games of his freshman campaign, he averaged 2.8 points and shot 27.1 percent from the floor.

Last season, though, expectations were more reasonable. Bates, who shot 40 percent from 3 at IMG Academy, saw that stroke come online. He racked up some quality outings in November and December coming off the bench, and he tallied 17 points on Jan. 22 in a home win over Michigan State. Then Bates receded again, averaging 2.9 points on 10 of 39 shooting over the next dozen games.

By all accounts, Bates’ exit came on amicable terms. He’s closer to home and in a potentially better system in Columbia. Just as important, the scrutiny should also be dialed back.

As you watch the tape of Bates, it’s vital to remember that he was a reserve receiving low usage as an off-ball element. The Hoosiers relied on Xavier Johnson and, after he went down with an injury, Hood-Schifino to stress defenses off the bounce. Meanwhile, IU boasted arguably the nation’s best big man on the box.

So, Jackson-Davis would get the ball punched inside, and the Hoosiers would play off the post. Or they might have TJD setting middle ball screens and rolling while Reneau drifts to the short corner.

Why does this matter? Because it only functions if there’s spacing, which is what Bates and Miller Kopp had to supply as spot-up threats. Narrow in scope? Yeah. But Bates canned 37.8 percent of his spot-up 3s. If you’re going to do one thing, do it well.

There’s also a catch with IU’s stylistic approach.

Defenses needed to crowd Jackson-Davis. So, they would sink toward the block. And even when he’s functioning as a roller, Reneau or Race Thompson are in the vicinity — with their defenders — as safety valves. That can make for a lot of congestion in and around the lane.

If Bates ripped through, he drove the ball into a mess of bodies. Moreover, Bates is more of a glider off the bounce. That resulted in a tendency to pull up in the mid-range. You see what happens when it goes well. Squint and there are faint hints of Kareem Rush.

Yet the metrics are more sobering. Over two seasons, Bates averaged 0.733 PPP on dribble jumpers that resulted from spot-ups, per Synergy. The question is whether those shots are a matter a matter of circumstances or Bates’ preference. Mizzou’s offense is the inverse of IU’s, and ideally, it will give Bates breathing room to be more direct and play in straight lines.

Bates didn’t spend every possession stoically watching. However, just 15 percent of his touches saw him running a pick-and-roll. That’s less than possession per game, meaning we’re looking at a small sample and the potential for wide swings in efficiency.

Bates’ efficiency (0.767 PPP) is slightly above the Division-I median. Functionally, he seldom rejects a ball screen but still hunts in the mid-range. Again, maybe diversification comes with wider gaps, but that’s speculative right now.

That tendency might also be irrelevant. Over the past three seasons, Dennis Gates’ teams have never ranked higher than 264th nationally in PNR volume. It’s not a fulcrum for his system. Still, it’s worth (briefly) touching on here.

Nominally, Bates is a combo guard, implying that there are stints where he’s driving the offense. Yet that’s merely theoretical at this juncture in his career. For example, his career assist rate is 8.6%. That’s miniscule. But remember, Woodson wasn’t tasking him with serving as a setup man.

Last season, Bates lifted his assist-to-turnover to 1.1, which is average. But once you factor in steals, his BCI rises to 2.2. Why should you care? Because Gates’ teams put a premium on winning the possession battle. Bates might not be carving up defenses, but his turnover creation is a potential boon for a team that wants to live in transition.

When necessary, Bates can run the occasional break and find teammates sprinting the floor. Once IU set up, Bates was competent enough at moving the ball to the open man. (His turnovers often occurred on entry passes to Jackson or Reneau.) Moving forward, it’ll be worth monitoring how much headroom Bates has as a second-side creator when knifing into gaps as a defense rotates.

Bates is a prime example of why we go to film instead of tossing out defensive metrics from Synergy. That data would tell you he was awful at guarding spot-up jumpers. But when you glance closer, you’ll notice that shooters averaged 1.31 PPP on guarded attempts. That’s...high. And a massive spike from Bates’ freshman season, when they only averaged 0.91 PPP, per Synergy.

And when you watch full games, you rarely jot down notes about Bates being late to close out or flying by a shooter. More often than not, he’s on time recovering, and under control in responding.

Bates didn’t always get ample opportunity in Bloomington to display the trait that made him a favorite of this website: on-ball defense. Whether it was at Piper or IMG Academy, you could rely on Bates to not only sit down and show off effortless agility, but he was tough at fighting over screens or trailing players.

For the sake of diversity, we didn’t include every cut up from IU’s tilt against Penn State in the Big Ten tournament, but it’s a fine example of what Bates can do. There were possessions where PSU hunted Bates in mismatches against Jalen Pickett, a bully-ball expert. Yet Bates showed strength to make Pickett work for position and utilized his length to make turnarounds and fadeaways more challenging.

No doubt, Tonje and Grill have more on their respective résumés, which — not unreasonably — might seemingly give them a nod. Yet Bates’ shooting stroke is comparable, and he might have more upside defensively.

Bates’ one flaw is sometimes he’s too aggressive in carrying out his duties. There will be some cheap reach-in calls, late swipes as a help defender, and biting on shot fakes. A little bit more discipline will smooth those out.

Moving into the season, Bates’ handle might be his swing skill, whether adding more of a slashing element or showing he can grow into a secondary creator. Assuming his shooting doesn’t regress with more volume, MU will have a 3-and-D option at the off-guard or wing spots.

A pinch of patience would also do wonders. He’s around for another two years, and next season might be when he’s of most significant value. In 2024-25, MU’s rotation could feature nine underclassmen. There’s a world where Bates and Aidan Shaw are the grizzled vets on the perimeter. So long as Bates makes solid strides this season, his true impact might be a season away.

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.