#33 Cullen VanLeer
6'4" 200 lbs
Like most things around Missouri basketball these days, Cullen VanLeer is something of a polarizing figure amongst the Mizzou faithful. The reasons why are deep ones, stemming back to things said by certain mastheaders about a roster of 13 Matt Rowans. Basically, for every concern about Kim Anderson's ability to recruit at this level, there is a player like Cullen on the roster to give that argument fire. VanLeer is the kind of player coaches love, he's smart, a coach's son, he does all the little things that you want a player to do. The problem lies is the big things, and VanLeer struggled to hit upon those this season.
Billed as a shooter, VanLeer wasn't able to find consistency from behind the arc against the high major competition, shooting just 32% from the floor, and under 28% from beyond the three-point arc. Making shots was a struggle for the guy the coaching staff thought was most likely to be a strong percentage shooter, something this offensively challenged team needed.
There is no denying that VanLeer did not play well this season from a shooting standpoint. However he did have a low turnover rate, nearly ranking in the top 100 nationally (which is pretty good, particularly for a freshman guard). His offensive rating was a less than stellar, but not all together horrible 92.6, but that dropped to a pretty abysmal 79 in conference. Offensive rating is an offensive efficiency statistic developed by Dean Oliver, one of the prime stat heads for basketball. Having a score over 100 is pretty good (Denzel Valentine led the country with a score just north of 125), being in the 90s isn't great. So where VanLeer discovered his inefficiency is largely in just being nonexistent. He struggled to make shots, and he wasn't setting up other players, so his number was bad.
Where people have faith in VanLeer, they also generally have faith in Kim Anderson. For all intents and purposes, VanLeer shouldn't be on the Missouri roster. He only had mid-major offers before his senior season, and was looking like a Missouri Valley program level player before Missouri swooped in with an offer and signed him in the fall period. However, just like his head coach, he is here and he is a part of the program, and there is something that the coaching staff likes about VanLeer and his ability to be a kind of foundational player for what they want this program to be.
For the record, I am not saying that VanLeer doesn't belong, what I am saying is there is legitimate reason to think he doesn't. At this point, it's up to him to prove the doubters wrong, and give the supporters something to crow about. You can see things to like about VanLeer's game. He's got a fluid release on his shot, his footwork is outstanding, fundamentally he's got everything you could want. He's also an instinctual player on defense, he seems to be in the right place when he needs to be. However he doesn't have great lateral quickness, or much in the way of explosiveness. So the question becomes does VanLeer have the work ethic, and enough of the other fundamentals to overcome his deficiencies. Can there be enough strength training to improve his quickness and explosiveness? All these questions lie ahead for Cullen VanLeer, and in some ways, Kim Anderson's future might depend on the success of the unexpected, specifically guys like Cullen VanLeer.
When CVL got on campus he was billed as a three point specialist that had a good head for the game and he was well liked by the coaching staff, they saw something in him. Unfortunately for CVL his shot never really worked for him this year, thus making him a bit of an offensive black hole when on the floor. And with a team that had trouble shooting, having a player not able to contribute on the offensive side of things for the amount of minutes he was getting, that wasn’t a great thing. CVL though in the eyes of the coaching staff did a lot of good things in practice and in games that typically don’t show up in the scorebook. CVL feels to me like a player that was overused due to a lack of trust from the KA’s perspective in some of his other wing players. CVL, like many of his classmates, probably saw too many minutes his freshman year, and with the progress of others around him, should settle into a comfortable area of 10 – 15 minutes a night and after 4 years being a solid contributor off the bench that comes in, knocks down a few threes and occasionally goes off for longer stretches. So this offseason, get in the gym, figure out your shot, rinse and repeat.
Cullen didn't have as successful a season as he - or Kim Anderson - may have hoped for, but there's always room for improvement, right? Of course there is. Heck, you can see the formula plain as day if you look close enough. VanLeer just needs to embrace the role he was meant to play. Get grittier. Roll around in some gravel, eat your cereal without any milk, practice running routes, whatever floats your narrative boat. After that's taken care of, he needs to set up permanent residence in the gym. I mean literally move in. I've seen Mizzou's facilities, the living arrangement will more than likely be an improvement on whatever student housing
the athletic departmentVanLeer pays for. I'm not saying that Kim should hire one of Cullen's parents, but I'm not not saying that being a coach's son could elevate the boy's game significantly. Sure, hard work and practice can provide dividends, but this team needs all the help it can get. Embrace your role, Cullen. Your team needs you.