Tigers search for solutions to stagnant offense
COLUMBIA, MO. • Missouri recruited graduate transfer Kassius Robertson more for his shooting than his passing, but when the season tipped off in November, there was Robertson in Cuonzo Martin’s starting lineup as the Tigers’ point guard.
That assignment didn’t last long. Robertson slid over to his natural shooting guard position when freshman Blake Harris took over the point, though it was really Jordan Geist who was getting the starter’s minutes as the team’s primary ball-handler. Since Harris transferred to North Carolina State earlier this month, the ball has found its way back to Robertson.
Coincidentally or not, his shooting stroke has cooled some.
Heading into Wednesday’s visit from No. 19 Auburn (17-2, 5-1 SEC), Robertson leads the Southeastern Conference in minutes played in league play (37 per game) and ranks third in 3-point shooting (45.9 percent), but he’s made just two of his last 10 from behind the arc the last two games while taking on more shifts at the point. He especially struggled in Saturday’s loss at Texas A&M, where Robertson balanced his duties in the backcourt and missed 10 of 11 shots. Geist continues to start and shoulder most of the minutes running the offense, but Robertson seems to have surpassed junior Terrence Phillips as the team’s No. 2 ball-handler.
Could those point guard duties diminish Robertson’s impact as a perimeter shooter? He doesn’t think so, especially not in Martin’s offense, which requires the one through four positions — one point guard, two wings and a power forward — to handle the ball, pass and shoot.
Is Robertson a point guard or a shooting guard?
“To be honest, the goal is the same regardless,” Robertson said Tuesday. “Make plays if I’m at the one, two or three. Shoot the ball when I’m open and try to get everybody involved. I think it’s important everybody has that mindset as well. It doesn’t really matter what position we play. We need to start making plays for each other. That’s why our offense has been stagnant the last couple games because we haven’t really gotten a lot of playmaking.”
That’s been the problem lately as the Tigers (13-6, 3-3) haven’t scored more than 63 points in their last three games and tallied just 49 Saturday in College Station, Texas. Martin’s team has cut down on its turnovers, but the offense hasn’t operated with the same efficient flow from previous weeks. The Tigers have the same number of turnovers as they do assists (66) through six SEC games.
Without adding a dynamic, 6-10 forward who can create his own shot from any spot on the floor — by the way, freshman Michael Porter Jr. still isn’t practicing with the team while recovering from back surgery, Martin said Tuesday — the solution to Mizzou’s suddenly stale offense must come from within the current rotation.
“We’re better as a unit when everyone’s moving and screening for each other,” Martin said. “We don’t have the personnel where guys can make one-on-one plays and we’re as productive.”
The Tigers need to be more productive early in games as they’ve had to climb out of early deficits to make games competitive. Martin would like to see his team play with more decisiveness early.
“We’re doing a better job taking care of the ball,” he said, “but you still have to play with a pace. That’s the confidence of making sound decisions with the ball, not holding it too long, not over-dribbling, being strong with the ball, attacking the rim and not necessarily playing safe but playing aggressively.”
Whether Robertson is playing the point or shooting 3-pointers off screens, the offense will fix itself with a more potent Jordan Barnett. The senior guard has scored in single digits in three of the last four games and played so poorly at Texas A&M he later admitted his “head might not have been” in the game. Three days later, Barnett couldn’t explain what happened.
“Aside from maybe the first four minutes I just wasn’t mentally there,” said Barnett, who scored nine points on a season-low six shots. “I had a lot of uncharacteristic turnovers, just really passive, unaggressive turnovers, which isn’t me.”
The performance left Martin every bit as befuddled. As they search for offense, the Tigers don’t have another player with the combination of Barnett’s 6-7 frame and shooting accuracy to replace his perimeter threat in the lineup. No matter who’s playing the point, Mizzou needs Barnett’s scoring touch — or more unanswered questions will dog the Tigers as conference play resumes.
“I don’t know why his head wasn’t in the game,” Martin said. “I mean, this is basketball. It’s what we do. We’ve got another (game) coming up. I expect him to be ready to play.”