Auburn basketball's revamped roster looks ready to run-and-gun again
With a sniper in Chad Baker-Mazara now signed, Bruce Pearl's Tigers have made a big-time upgrade in the 3-point shooting department.
SF Chad Baker-Mazara (Twitter)
Ever since Auburn’s season ended with a second half of ice-cold shooting against Houston in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, fans have been clamoring for the Tigers to upgrade their roster.
Auburn’s 2022-23 season was an adventure — one that has carried into an eventful offseason — that had a mix of solid wins and frustrating losses. The Tigers ultimately finished the season with an effective field goal percentage of 49.5%, which was the lowest for the program since the second year of the Bruce Pearl rebuild.
Perhaps the most maddening element of Auburn’s campaign was its inability to consistently shoot well from deep, a former hallmark of Pearl’s best teams. Auburn finished No. 309 nationally in 3-point percentage at 31.5%, a far cry from the 38.1% it shot during its run to the 2019 Final Four.
Pearl and his team did a good job of adapting to its strengths and weaknesses last season, managing to make the NCAA Tournament and not go one-and-done with a more methodical offensive approach.
But, as the Tigers’ roster reload draws to a close, it’s clear that the next edition of Auburn basketball is more likely to go back to the run-and-gun style that put the program back on the map under Pearl.
The most recent evidence of this came last week, as Auburn locked down a wing in the transfer portal to help replace what it had lost in departing veteran Allen Flanigan. The Tigers had recruited a number of potential starting small forwards in the portal — most notably former 5-star Matthew Cleveland, who ultimately chose Miami — but hadn’t been able to lock one down yet.
“I'm not much of a poker player, but there's a little bit involved in that,” Pearl said at his annual charity golf event at Lake Martin. “You don't want to settle. You don't want to just be done with it and take someone who can't get you where you want to be. The league's too good. When I say patience, we're not panicking. But I'm hoping that it pays off.
“I don't see, truly, why we're losing anybody, if there's a wing out there that likes to score and play with a little bit of freedom. I mean, Wendell (Green Jr.) and (Flanigan) were our two most ball-dominant players and they're both gone. … You'd like to think that a great wing — and I say wing, but we play three guards anyways — would be pretty excited about that opportunity. And I think we've got some that are excited. We just haven't got anybody to say the magic words.”
A few days later, after an official visit, Auburn got the magic words from Chad Baker-Mazara.
A 6-foot-7 wing originally from the Dominican Republic, Baker-Mazara played high school ball in New Jersey and prep ball in Ohio before starting in 13 of 15 games as a freshman at Duquesne in the Atlantic 10. He then transferred to San Diego State, where he was the Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year on a team that made the NCAA Tournament.
CBM then had to transfer to Northwest Florida State due to academic issues. There, he helped lead the Raiders all the way to the junior college national championship game.
So what made CBM such a valued target for Auburn and others — Kentucky swooped in with a late push before his commitment to the Tigers — in the transfer market?
He’s a certified deadeye. At Northwest Florida State, he shot a stunning 67-143 on 3-pointers (46.9%) while averaging 15.2 points per game. (He also averaged at least a steal and a little more than a block per contest, too.)
And that wasn’t just the case of a former Division I player teeing off on overmatched competition, either. Baker-Mazara shot 39.3% from deep in his season at San Diego State, and he hit 41.7% of his attempts during the COVID-shortened season at Duquesne.
For his post-prep career, CBM has shot an even 44% from deep. There will be questions about how a former mid-major player turned JUCO star can transition to the grind of SEC basketball, but there shouldn’t be any question about his ability to shoot.
And, according to the numbers, he’s a perfect fit for Auburn’s transition this offseason. Because, even before you add in the impact of 5-star Aden Holloway, the combined 3-point percentage of what Auburn lost from last season’s team to what it gained is almost a full 10% increase.