The Daily Hoosier spent the week down in The Bahamas in connection with IU basketball’s foreign tour and had several opportunities to see the team in action. Since nothing was televised and not everything was public, we are going to go player-by-player in jersey number order to share our thoughts on what we saw and what to expect from Indiana’s 2021-22 roster.
One of the most common questions I have received in the last week is why Khristian Lander didn’t play more in The Bahamas.
I will be the first to admit, I thought the second-year point guard from Evansville would see more than nine minutes of action over two games. But the easy explanation is this — there are three point guards on this roster, and none of them have proven to be reliable perimeter shooters. That means only one of them is likely to be on the floor at a time until that changes, and Lander is third in the pecking order right now.
A simple look at the point guard minutes allocation substantiates this. There were 80 minutes available at point guard over the two games, and combined Xavier Johnson (42), Rob Phinisee (29) and Khristian Lander (9) played 80 minutes. I cannot say with certainty that there was never a time when there were two point guards on the floor, but if it happened, it was very brief.
Mike Woodson could have chosen to allocate those point guard minutes evenly, but this was a business trip, and Lander’s minutes suggest here in August the staff doesn’t believe he is in line to play a major role in 2021-22.
With Lander only seeing nine minutes of action, this obviously won’t be a lengthy dissection of his performance on the court at the Atlantis.
Despite his shooting struggles last season, what really kept Lander from having a big role was the defensive end. To this point under Woodson, Indiana has spent significantly more time at practice and in workouts focusing on defense, so Lander’s standing as the third point guard is likely a reflection of how he is perceived defensively more than anything else. He got into the first game during a first half in which Johnson and Phinisee had terrorized BC Mega on the ball, so that bar was set high.
On one of the first possessions with Lander in the game, BC Mega point guard Scoochie Smith made it coast-to-coast all the way to the rim without having to make a pass. On other possessions he didn’t appear to be aggressive enough on ball screen coverages and help-side defense. On defense, Lander has the look of a hesitant thinker more than a confident aggressor.
It is still just August, and Lander has plenty of time to improve while he figures out what Woodson wants. But it is going to be hard for him to pass Johnson and Phinisee on the defensive end this season. And that really isn’t saying much. This is what really should be the just turned 19 Lander’s freshman season, while Johnson and Phinisee are fourth year veterans known for their defensive prowess.
Perhaps in some part because he has had to deal with Johnson and Phinisee every day in practice, there were hopeful signs on the offensive end.
Most will recall Lander completely lost confidence during the 2020-21 season to the point where he couldn’t make point blank shots in the paint. In The Bahamas Lander made all four of his two-point attempts, and all of them were crafty moves to the paint involving skilled and aggressive finishes over length. While the sample size was small, Lander did not look like he lacked confidence when attacking the basket. He was never comfortable running set plays for Archie Miller, and thus far his role as an initiator in a more open and free system looks like a more natural fit. If Lander can become an efficient scorer at the rim and couple that with his vision and instincts as a passer, that might be his ticket to earning more playing time.
Lander only took one 3-pointer over the two games, but I watched him some during warm-ups. While his shot mechanics are not completely transformed, there are clear improvements. He seems to have his feet facing the basket and he no longer appears to be pushing the ball from around his waist. We’ll have to see if the tweaks translate to makes as he earns more live action.
It isn’t clear how much Lander will see the floor in 2021-22, but things always happen. There will be moments when he has a big role.
While both Johnson and Phinisee are eligible to return for the 2022-23 season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if one or both of them chose not to. The point being, there is a not so distant opportunity for Lander at IU if both sides of this equation remain patient.
This is a story still very much in its early stages.
KHRISTIAN LANDER’S STATS IN THE BAHAMAS
- Game one: 7 minutes, 4 points, 2-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-2 FT, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 turnover, 0 blocks, 0 steals
- Game two: 2 minutes, 4 points, 2-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 turnovers, 0 blocks, 0 steals
- Averages: 4.5 minutes, 4.0 points, 80% FG, 0.0% 3 FG, 0.0% FT, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 turnovers, 0 blocks, 0 steals
See also: Mike Woodson believes Khristian Lander has solid foundation to build from
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