More than once this week, Washington State Cougars men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith has publicly singled out guard Michael Flowers, effusively praising him for his development and work ethic as a grad transfer for the Cougs.
When a coach does that, I tend to sit up and take notice.
(Side note: Don’t forget that WSU plays Stanford at 2 p.m. PT today on ESPNU, so set your DVRs or fire up WatchESPN.com or the ESPN app while you’re at work. And read Bryce’s preview, while you’re at it!)
Flowers committed to WSU shortly after last season ended, and it was widely assumed at the time that he’d be a like-for-like replacement for the departing Isaac Bonton. Bonton — who had both his fans and his critics — was ostensibly a point guard, in the sense that he initiated the offense and led the team in assists, but he was about as ball-dominant as you can get: more than 30% of WSU’s possessions ended with an action by him when he was on the floor (we call that “usage”), including taking nearly a third of the Cougars’ shots. Each of those figures were in the top 40 nationally, making him the definition of a “go-to guy.”
Flowers, who began his career at Western Michigan before transferring to South Alabama, fit much the same profile of score-first “point” guard: He was a slightly less extreme version of Bonton with 29% usage (66th nationally) and 30% shot percentage (83rd). For the analytics averse, he averaged 21 points last season, 12th nationally.
But this season, Flowers has been anything but that. At times he has stepped up to be the primary scorer, but you have to go way down the Cougars’ kenpom page — which is ordered by usage — to find Flowers: He’s using just 19% of possessions, ranking fifth on his own team. Less that TJ Bamba and Jefferson Koulibaly!
The result has been hyper efficiency as a much more traditional point guard, as his offensive rating has taken a major jump this season from any of his previous four, despite averaging only 13 points.
And we might have seen another step in his evolution this past weekend, as he expertly orchestrated the Cougars’ offense to its best two-game run at the mountain schools since Utah and Colorado joined the Pac-12.
“Without a doubt, and it’s odd, I didn’t expect this from Mike Flowers, where he’s come from June until now,” Smith said. “We knew he came in as a scorer … but he’s much more than that and he keeps growing.
“He’s got a growth mindset, and he’s really become a better defender. He’s taken on the job of being our top passer. He’s good in the pick-and-roll. If he can keep doing that, giving up some of his game for others, that’s going to make us the best we can be I think.”
It’s worth noting that Flowers was named one of two team captains a couple of weeks ago as he’s stepped up to become the team’s leader. As he continues to figure out where the balance is between scoring and distributing for each game, it’s only going to make the Cougs better.
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