Baylor basketball losing Mitchell, Teague and Butler has opened the door for Adam Flagler to fill a starring role.
Baylor basketball has an arduous journey ahead in its quest to repeat as national champions. Nobody has repeated since Florida in 2006-07, and head coach Scott Drew lost a ton of talent this offseason. Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Mark Vital are all gone, leaving the Bears returning only 35.9 percent of their possession minutes from last season.
There are, however, reasons for optimism heading into this coming campaign. The arrival of Arizona transfer James Akinjo certainly plays a factor, as does the return of Matthew Mayer and his mesmerizing mullet. Landing the No. 15 overall recruiting class in the nation doesn’t hurt, either. In the absence of Baylor’s three core guards from last season, one man’s upcoming breakout is perhaps the team’s biggest key.
Adam Flagler, who originally started his career at Presbyterian, is set for a massive jump in usage. His elite efficiency scoring role off the bench for the national champions last season was remarkably impressive; he has also shown the potential to be a legit star with more responsibility. His pairing with Akinjo will form one of the better starting backcourts in America.
Flagler did not even average double-figures per game last season, but he has All-American potential for his junior year. Let’s dive into how.
A usage jump is inevitable.
The defending national champions are experiencing no shortage of backcourt turnover this offseason. Mitchell, Butler and Teague are no longer walking through the door for head coach Scott Drew. With that in mind, Baylor only returns one guard who played more than 17 percent of the team’s minutes last season. That is Flagler, and he is poised for a major jump in usage.
Consider the number of shots that will be available this season:
Baylor needs to replace 40 shots per game from last year’s roster, with 35 of those coming from the backcourt. New arrival James Akinjo will certainly get up some shots — he posted a 25.4 percent shot rate with Arizona last season — but not all of them.
Akinjo’s role is expected to be similar at Baylor, where he will start at point guard and likely average around 12 shots per game. This still leaves a lot of attempts to go around, and I doubt Drew will want to deviate too far from the guard-centric offense that won the national title.
With that in mind, Flagler is the obvious choice to eat up more usage. He’s already played a year with the program and is a near-ideal fit in the scheme. Flagler is easily one of the most talented offensive players on the roster and the Bears will prioritize getting him touches.
While he may have been the super-sixth-man last year, he has the skills to be a No. 1 option.
Flagler is a flamethrower.
Flagler is one of the top returning shooters in all of college basketball. Though he does struggle with game-to-game consistency, his combination of volume and efficiency is elite. He is a career 39.9-percent shooter from beyond the arc, including 46-for-106 last season in his first year with the Bears. That mark ranked 77th nationally.
Playing alongside elite guards aided in his shot selection, but Flagler is an absolute flamethrower regardless. He was Presbyterian’s leading scorer as a freshman in 2019-20, proving himself capable of being the top name on opponents’ scouting reports. While over 90 percent of his made 3-pointers last season were assisted, he hit 25 unassisted trifectas with the Blue Hose two years prior.
It is also worth noting the likelihood of Flagler’s sharpshooting continuing. First and foremost, he already has a large sample size (370 career 3-point attempts, 6.1 3PA per game). His efficiency on those attempts speaks for itself. In terms of volume, he hit 101 threes with Presbyterian; that number ranked fourth among all freshmen that year and 28th nationally.
Additionally, free-throw percentage is often an indicator of future shooting. Flagler is a career 110-for-129 (85.3 percent) at the charity stripe, an excellent mark. Baylor’s opponents will key in on Flagler much more this season than last, but his perimeter shooting is likely to remain elite. This is especially true with James Akinjo (31.2 percent assist rate last season) feeding him the rock.
He is dangerous.
While Flagler (rightfully) carries a shooter’s reputation with range to Miramar, he is no slouch inside the arc. He can create for himself off the dribble and boasts impressive numbers from the mid-range and at-the-rim for his career. Nearly 40 percent of his total career shots are 2-point attempts. Flagler is no stranger to making defenses pay for overplaying his perimeter jumper.
Starting with his attacking ability, Flagler is highly efficient when he does get to the basket. Fewer than one-fifth of his career field goal attempts have been deemed “at-the-rim” thus far but he has converted at a 67.3 percent rate. Instead of just scoring these interior buckets following cuts, over half of them were unassisted.
He is also an underrated mid-range killer. This was particularly noticeable while at Presbyterian, where he shot 32-for-82 (39.0 percent) on non-at-the-rim 2PA. Over 90 percent of those makes were unassisted; he proved capable of creating for himself in the mid-range.
Flagler’s all-around scoring ability is extremely impressive. Many players are called “three-level scorers,” but Flagler truly embodies that role. He is primed for a major breakout in 2021-22 with a higher usage rate. These numbers are flat-out ridiculous:
He steps up in the biggest moments.
Flagler has combined to play 23 games against Tier A+B opponents during his two collegiate seasons. In those contests, he tickled the twine from deep at a 43.6 percent rate (48-for-110). That is 2.1 made trifectas per game; an impressive rate in just 25.6 minutes. While some players put up most of their numbers against lesser competition, Flagler’s jumper stays steady in the biggest moments.
Most notably, he was the underrated star of Baylor’s national championship run. He averaged 18.4 points per 40 minutes during the NCAA Tournament, three points more than his regular-season average. In addition to upping his scoring volume, he was crazy efficient as a dancing sensation.
Flagler scorched the nets to the tune of 12-for-18 (66.67 percent) from 3-point range and 18-for-19 (94.74 percent) at the foul line. His free-throw attempt rate increase was impressive as well; he shot 3.2 more free throws per 40 minutes (142 percent increase) than he did in the regular season.
With how efficient he is at the line, being able to draw contact against top-tier competition is worth noting. His season-long free-throw rate was 25.4 percent last season (28 games). In the 15 contests vs. Tier A opponents, that jumped to 39.1 percent. That is a large enough sample size to deem the increase significant.
It’s time to enter the spotlight.
Adam Flagler has flown under the radar for far too long.
First, he received only one Division-I offer out of high school. Then, he was the leading scorer on a Presbyterian team that ranked 179th on KenPom. He finally made his power-conference splash last season, helping Baylor win its first-ever men’s national championship. Yet, he was (at best) the fourth fiddle on that team, with media recognition going to first-round picks Mitchell and Butler.
Now, though, it is time for the 6-3 guard to step into the spotlight. Sure, Mayer is back and Akinjo is a big addition, but there is a strong argument to be made that Baylor is now Flagler’s team. He is a dynamic three-level scorer who has shown up on the biggest stages of his career to date. Who better to lead the Bears in their quest to repeat as champs?
Baylor is set to enter this season as a Top 15 team in the country. There will be a learning curve to playing without four key pieces from last season, but this is still an incredibly dangerous roster. Flagler, Akinjo and Mayer will form an elite trio, there are several intriguing youngsters, and Drew is a top-tier coach.
Flagler has proven people wrong all throughout the past few years. Now tasked with filling a starring role on a national-title-contending team, he is set to do so again.
Header image courtesy of Baylor athletics.