Five For ’20: Ranking The Mountain West’s Top Five Passers
Predicting the top five Mountain West passers of the ’19-20 season
Who are the top passers in the MW?
As part of Mountain West Wire’s continued dedication to offseason basketball content, we welcome you to the first installment of the Five For ’20 series.
The Five For ’20 series features our ranking of the top five Mountain West players in five different skill sets: passing, scoring, defending, rebounding, and shot blocking. Rankings aren’t position-specific, meaning a non-point guard can appear on the top passer list, a top scorer might not be a shooting guard, and so on.
We hope you enjoy the five-article series and engage in further conversation about where certain players should rank or appear on our Five For ’20 lists.
The Five For ’20 series schedule is below.
- Monday: Passers
- Tuesday: Scorers
- Wednesday: Shot Blockers
- Thursday: Defenders
- Friday: Rebounders
Without further adieu, we open up our top passer list with the defending player of the year at the top.
1) Sam Merrill, Utah State
’18-19: 4.2 APG, 2.23 AST/TOV Ratio, 24.0 AST Rate, 10.0 TOV Rate
What makes Merrill such a threat offensively beyond just his shooting ability is how he maneuvers around the court. Though the Aggie guard possesses the basketball as much as anyone, his constant activity off the ball helps Utah State space the floor, leading Craig Smith’s team to better looks on offense. You won’t find many players who turn the ball over at such a low clip while maintaining a sky-high usage rate.
Merrill has a great feel for the game’s angles, such as when to pull up, when to distribute, and finding open space on the court. The defending player of the year is an especially strong entry passer and pick-and-roll guy, which bodes well for a team that features star big man Neemias Queta.
2) JaQuan Lyle, New Mexico
’16-17: 4.6 APG, 1.89 AST/TOV Ratio, 30.6 AST Rate, 19.2 TOV Rate
Lyle last appeared on the court in March 2017’s Big Ten Tournament, then a member of Ohio State. If New Mexico is as good as advertised, Lyle is going to have a breakout year. The former top 50 recruit is creative with the pick-and-roll and with entry passes and is capable of distributing in the open floor. Cutting down on turnovers and meshing within the new offense will be key.
Assuming Lyle is back to 100 percent following last autumn’s Achilles tear and two years without competitive basketball, the Lobo offense should be much improved. Fellow backcourt member J.J. Caldwell is another excellent passer who could slightly diminish Lyle’s assist numbers while still improving his overall effectiveness.
3) Lindsey Drew, Nevada
’17-18: 4.3 APG, 3.34 AST/TOV Ratio, 24.6 AST Rate, 15.7 TOV Rate
You didn’t forget about Nevada’s do-it-all point guard, did you? Drew is coming off an Achilles tear and hip ailments which forced him to miss all of last season. Now fully cleared with a new coaching staff ready to maximize his potential, the California native is primed for a huge senior season.
Drew has a great feel for the game, playing under control and almost unfazed in his floor leader role. Athleticism, length, and creativity with the basketball are all notable traits for Nevada’s point guard. Drew’s impressive 3.34:1 assist:turnover ratio prior to injury in ’17-18 is over one assist better than any other player on this list. When you combine a three-year starter with a perimeter sniper in Jazz Johnson, you have an excellent backcourt duo to steer Steve Alford’s squad.
4) Amauri Hardy, UNLV
’18-19: 3.5 APG, 1.65 AST/TOV Ratio, 24.1 AST Rate, 14.8 TOV Rate
A number of new pieces surround UNLV’s floor leader this season but the most impactful is head coach T.J. Otzelberger. Hardy should thrive in a new-look offense oriented around spacing and attacking. The Detroit product is at his best when he makes dribble drives to the basket, either to dump off to a big or manufacture a shot opportunity.
Given Otzelberger’s offensive focus on perimeter shooting, more real estate should open up throughout the floor and bring out the best in Hardy, a capable playmaker. Look for Hardy’s assist numbers to take a substantial leap as a junior.
5) Malachi Flynn, San Diego State
’17-18: 4.3 APG, 2.00 AST/TOV Ratio, 26.3 AST Rate, 13.0 TOV Rate
San Diego State’s backcourt is completely overhauled with the additions of Washington State transfer Malachi Flynn and Santa Clara transfer K.J. Feagin. Flynn is a ball-heavy lead guard who is an excellent scorer but brings plenty of distributing to the table. The junior tallied an exact 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in ’17-18 with the Cougars, a positive sign given WSU’s uninspiring 37.8 jump-shooting percentage and the team’s overall reliance on Flynn.
Flynn brings a shifty, drive-and-dish skill set to the Aztec offense. Slimmed-down wing Matt Mitchell (10.3 PPG) and developing shooter Jordan Schakel (41.5 3P%) should thrive off Flynn’s repertoire and improve an SDSU attack that ranked 184th nationally last season in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom.
Also considered: Kendle Moore, Colorado State; Noah Blackwell, Fresno State; J.J. Caldwell, New Mexico; Drue Drinnon, New Mexico; K.J. Feagin, San Diego State; Brae Ivey, San Jose State
Eli Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and his work has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. Boettger is a current USBWA member.