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Player review: Federico Mussini and the no good very bad month

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A decent start gave way to the burden of being the team’s only point guard

Federico Mussini hears from Chris Mullin in the huddle Wendell Cruz

We conclude our look back at the Red Storm players with Federico Mussini, the player who generated probably the most hype and the one who was put into the toughest position, given his status as the closest thing the team had to a ball handler...

...and didn’t quite meet the challenge late in the season.

Around here, we believe strongly that a team needs a player that can cross into the offensive side of the court while facing token pressure. Federico Mussini was game, he might improve, but around the Big East, most other players were better at setting up the initial offense. Without that ability, St. John’s struggled to get good looks, struggled to get into position (as others had to help get the ball across the half court line) and were generally out of rhythm all year.

Even the head coach openly admitted he was playing too many minutes. Mullin said in February:

“[Mussini is] a great worker, tremendous teammate and he has a high basketball IQ. He's had some really good games and some tough games, but no matter what goes on he comes to work hard and he's very diligent.

"He's going to be very successful throughout his career at St. John's. He is (currently) handling big minutes, probably too many, but in the long run it will be good experience for him."

This isn’t an attempt to bury the freshman. This will be a look into context, and a look into how, if used correctly, Mussini could be a star for St. John’s.

By the numbers

Federico Mussini selected stats per game, 2015-16 season [m/g = minutes per game; rpg = rebounds per game; pf/100 - personal fouls per 100 possessions]

Player
m/g
2p%
3p%
ft%
ast
pts
pf/100
Federico Mussini
29.3
0.388
0.304
0.862
2.2
10.7
2.4
Mussini rank
1
9
7
1
3
2
1

Federico Mussini selected stats, all games, 2015-16 season [glossary of terms]. Ranks are out of 10 players.

Player
efg%
3par
drb%
ast%
stl%
tov%
usg%
Federico Mussini
0.430
0.603
7.6
15.5
2.2
17.3
21.4
Mussini rank
9
3
10
3
2
4
3

Federico Mussini selected tempo-neutral stats, Big East games [m/g = minutes per game; rpg = rebounds per game]. Ranks are out of nine players.

Player
m/g
2p%
3p%
ft%
ast
pts
pf/100
Federico Mussini
25.2
0.278
0.278
0.872
1.9
8.1
2.8
Mussini rank
4
9
6
1
3
3
1

Federico Mussini selected tempo-neutral stats, Big East games [glossary of terms]. Ranks are out of 9 players.

Player
efg%
3par
drb%
ast%
stl%
tov%
usg%
Federico Mussini
0.365
0.625
8.0
15
2.6
15.7
20.1
Mussini rank
9
1
9
4
1
3
4

By the numbers - by month

Month
2pa
2p%
3pa
3p%
ft%
ast
tov
pts
November
5.3
0.531
7.0
0.381
0.815
2.7
3.3
17.3
December
4.0
0.375
6.8
0.278
0.875
2.6
2.9
10.4
January
3.6
0.310
6.0
0.354
0.950
3.0
2.3
11.0
February/ March
2.8
0.321
4.0
0.200
0.839
0.9
1.2
6.8

First, yes, Mussini had some poor shooting percentages and his scoring tailed off precipitously as the season went on. It was that February and March where his shooting percentages really tanked.

But, if you believe that freshmen can be worn down by playing more minutes than was intended, if you believe that freshmen improve, consider that Mussini’s turnover percentage went down as the season went on. That he will be playing off the ball more next season.

Three things about Federico Mussini

Not a good end to the season. Federico Mussini arrived at St. John’s as an undersized shooter (6’1”, 150 pounds, which is the skinniest major conference guard who played 90 minutes or more in conference play last season). But he had some ball handling skills. Because he had any ball handling skills, and because he was the closest thing the team had to a scorer who could create while handling moving the ball up the court, he played a lot of minutes.

And it caught up with Mussini late in the season. Note how his usage remains the same but the averages in minutes and points go down.

Perhaps it was a choice, or perhaps Chris Mullin saw a player who is, to be frank, very small, which affected his game - along with a late season lull that affects many players in a new level of play.

Obvious freshman flaws, BUT! Mussini had trouble breaking pressure to set up the Red Storm attack, which is a point guard’s primary duty. He struggled to defend in a Big East filled with bigger players (you may remember Isaiah Whitehead using Mussini like a turnstile in the Johnnies’ two meetings against the cross-rivers rival Seton Hall). And he pressed to turn around the Red Storm’s fortunes on the court in a 16-game losing streak.

Mussini shot 10/40 from beyond the arc from February 1st until the end of the season, a 20% clip. And in that time, he delivered 10 assists in nine games.

The young Italian guard did cap the season with a 15-point outing against the Golden Eagles in 29 minutes, as Christian Jones went off with his mid-range shot.

But a positive to take away is that even though Mussini had the same physical struggles with size and physicality early in the year, he was able to ride spectacular shooting bursts - he even shot 53% inside the arc in his first month and 38% outside the arc in November, and shot 5/7 against Syracuse after a 3/17 lull in three games from outside the arc. And in January, he shot 35% from outside the arc, dropping 19 points against both Xavier and Marquette.

Which is to say that just maybe an offseason of conditioning - along with a more fitting role playing off of other ball handlers - could return Mussini to an effective offensive option.

Remember in his early games, where he’d have little bursts and hit long jumpers after generating space from a screen? Despite his lack of size, heft, and elite speed, he was able to find little tiny cracks and get his shot off. And he could find his way to the rim for shots, even if they didn’t fall in traffic.

Improvement is not a given - any player can fail to develop. But knowing what we know about how freshman players tend to play much better as sophomores, Mussini’s offseason could be the key to creating a heady player who can get buckets in bunches. His free throw shooting percentages indicate that he’s a very skilled shooter.

Don’t write him off.

by Wendell Cruz
by Wendell Cruz

Minutes matter. On the downside, much of what happened was somewhat predictable. We knew Mussini would have a quickness struggle against Big East opponents, that he was small, that his game isn’t really that of a point guard, but that’s a role he would have to play.

But at 3rd in minutes on the team but shooting 28% both inside AND outside of the arc, that is a level of play that needs to improve.

Now, in this discussion, let us remember that Mussini, a freshman, played nearly 30 minutes per game. The freshman with the next-highest number of minutes per game were Yankuba Sima and Kassoum Yakwe, who both played 23 minutes per game.

Yakwe played four games of 30 minutes or more. Sima had six games of 30 minutes or more.

Mussini played 19 games of 30 minutes or more.

Given that time, his flaws were quite exposed, including:

  • the defense,
  • the slow rotations on help D,
  • the physical weakness,
  • the occasional tendency for the hero shot three-pointer (when they go in, they’re fearless. When they miss, they are unscrupulous), and
  • the inability to break down the defense to get others good shots, the struggles in finishing at the rim.
St. John's vs Georgetown 1-14-16
by Wendell Cruz

Looking forward

No player will benefit as much from having Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds than Federico Mussini.

That’s hyperbole; we don’t know what those new guards will being to the table, and they might be so good that Mussini is squeezed out.

But we doubt it. Noting Mullin’s usage of minutes (granted, on a team where no player was universally playing well on either end of the court), we can think about how he really might be trying to build a San Antonio Spurs-inspired system, where depth is an important asset.

In that case, Mussini can expect to have opportunities to play a number of roles - occasionally primary ball handler, often as a shooter who creates chaos and looks for small spaces, assuming he improves his strength and finishing both at the basket and from the perimeter.

The improvements of the talented guard from Italy will reflect the fortunes of Chris Mullin’s rebuild. If he can find a way for Mussini to find shots, St. John’s will be able to deploy multiple attacking players form the perimeter on each possession. If Mussini can’t improve from what was a decent first half of a season, the burden on Lovett/ Ponds/ Ellison will be huge.

We are thinking that so many recruiters couldn’t be wrong. Mussini may have played too many minutes as a freshman, but those minutes will be a big part of his development, his introduction to learning by fire, with no safety net. Memories that he will work to eradicate.