The Washington State Cougars men’s basketball team landed a massive addition to their 2021-22 squad when South Alabama graduate transfer Michael Flowers announced he’d be transferring to Pullman for his final year of eligibility.
Flowers — a 6-foot-1, 190-pound guard — fills a specific need for the Cougars, appearing to be a nearly like-for-like replacement for Isaac Bonton, who seems destined to forego his extra year of eligibility and begin his professional career. As the Jaguars’ lead guard, Flowers averaged 21 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
Flowers said he picked the Cougars over schools such as Arkansas, USC, Miami, Texas A&M, Florida, Colorado and Marquette.
“I chose Washington State because I wanted to play in a Power 5 conference and I felt they were the best fit,” Flowers told ESPN.com’s Jonathan Givony. “The coaching staff showed a great interest in me and my goals. I like the way coach Kyle Smith allows his point guards to make plays and helps put players in position to be effective.”
Translation: The freedom afforded to Bonton on the court that caused so many fans such consternation seems to be a major part of what convinced Flowers to join WSU. And there’s every reason to believe that Flowers can step right in and replace Bonton’s production — and probably add to it.
Flowers and Bonton are remarkably similar offensive players, at least stylistically. Both used roughly 30% of their team’s possessions, and they rebounded, assisted, stole the ball, and got to the free throw line at similar rates. You can see a lot of that on display here, where Flowers scored 35 points in his final game at Western Michigan — that’s where he spent his first three seasons before his lone campaign at South Alabama:
Where Flowers might be able to significantly separate himself from Bonton is in his efficiency. Last season, he posted an offensive rating of 108, easily the best among the four highest-usage players in the Sun Belt conference, and a substantial increase over what Bonton posted overall last year (94). By that measure, Flowers was about 14 points per 100 offensive actions better than Bonton last season.
How? By shooting a higher percentage (on 2s, 3s and free throws) and taking just a little bit better care of the ball.
|3P%||33% (39-119)||37% (76-205)|
|2P%||43% (89-208)||48% (85-178)|
|FT%||66% (77-117)||83% (104-126)|
Now, the level of competition was obviously different, and we’ll address that in a minute. But digging into these stats a little deeper I think tells an interesting story about what kind of player the Cougs are getting.
In short: If you ever thought, “I like Bonton, but I’d really love him if he just played a little more under control!” .... well, it sure looks like Michael Flowers is your guy.
In looking more closely at his 2s, we see that Flowers is a bit more selective about when he decides to attack the basket: He took far fewer shots at the rim last season than Bonton (about half the rate, per hoop-math.com), but he finished them at a much better percentage (57% to 44%) while drawing roughly the same number of fouls. And, like Bonton, Flowers also features a strong mid-range game, taking 2-point jumpers as roughly the same rate as his predecessor, but making them at a bit better percentage (46% to 42%).
Those twos that Flowers foregoes? Those turn into 3s, which he can create on his own: Less than half of Flowers’ makes came off an assist — an even lower rate than Bonton, who would often shoot off the dribble — and yet Flowers still made nearly 40%.
Put all that together and you have a player who seems to have a keen sense of the optimal shot.
Then there’s ball control: Flowers’ turnover rate is a little better than Bonton’s, but his assist rate is a little worse. That combo suggests someone who is a bit more risk averse with his passing than Bonton was — less payoff but also fewer bad outcomes, which is a tradeoff the coaching staff probably gladly makes after the team struggled so mightily with empty possessions this past season.
The giant caveat, of course, is that Bonton had to play against much stiffer competition. Flowers did have a massive game early last season against Auburn (29 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 2 turnovers in 39 minutes), so it’s clear he’s got it in him to be great against high major talent. But doing it once in non-conference play is a little bit different animal than doing it twice a week, every week, for 2 1⁄2 months against what is shaping up to be perhaps the best conference in the country next season.
I do know this, though: He wouldn’t be playing at WSU if the coaching staff didn’t think that his skills would translate on the up-transfer. And, frankly, it’s much easier to make the case that he’ll produce something at least close to what he did last season than it is to make the case that he’ll significantly regress.
Flowers will be surrounded by more talent than he’s ever played with, and with so many freshmen expected to make strides forward next season, it seems logical to project that he won’t be asked to carry the same kind of load that he’s had to carry at his previous stops. A great example of what that kind of change can do for a player is USC’s Tahj Eaddy, whose efficiency took a major leap forward when he moved from Santa Clara to Los Angeles (96 offensive rating to 116).
It would seem to me that the absolute floor in terms of expectations would what we got from Bonton last season, with it being highly probable that Flowers is able to give us even more.
There’s also this little tidbit: I think it’s relevant that the news was broken this morning by Givony, who is ESPN.com’s lead NBA Draft analyst. I’m making an educated guess that Flowers was squarely on his draft radar, which means we could be landing a potentially NBA-quality player.
Flowers is the second addition to the backcourt this offseason, joining Tyrell Roberts, a Division 2 all-American known for his ability to shoot. Those two, plus Noah Williams, likely will eat up the bulk of the minutes in the backcourt, with Jefferson Koulibaly (who missed this season with an injury), Ryan Rapp, and perhaps even incoming freshman Myles Rice will be battling it out for whatever point guard minutes are left, while TJ Bamba surely will eat into some minutes at the two (while also playing some at the three).
Here’s a look at how the scholarship situation currently stands. It sure seems like Tony Miller isn’t in the plans going forward, but nothing has been announced yet regarding a transfer, so he remains in the chart. Because of the COVID scholarship rules, WSU can still add to this class without any transfers out, and I’d be surprised if the Cougars were done adding to the roster this offseason: