Indiana junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis can’t get through an interview without someone asking him about how the development of his jump shot and right hand are coming along.
Those are fair questions, critiques Jackson-Davis has owned-up to, and they were actually part of coach Mike Woodson’s pitch to the 6-foot-9 big man to get him to return for a third season.
When Woodson met with Jackson-Davis to try to convince him to stay at IU, it wasn’t to heap praise on the All-American.
“I didn’t show him anything from a basketball standpoint that he did well,” Woodson said last week at the Big Ten’s media day. “I showed him all the shit that he couldn’t do.”
Jackson-Davis wants to stick in the NBA of course, and he placed value on the wisdom Woodson has gained from a long career in the league both as a player and a coach.
“He showed me things I didn’t want to see,” Jackson-Davis said. … “He was already coaching me even though he wasn’t my coach yet, so that was really big for me and my dad.”
While the emphasis with Jackson-Davis has been on improving his shot and his right hand, even if those aspects of his game don’t come along he can still play at a much higher level this year. And that is saying something when considering he was first team All-Big Ten in 2020-21.
And the point here isn’t to cast doubt on Jackson-Davis’ ability to develop the shot and right hand, although the latter seems like a safer bet than the former if The Bahamas was any indication. Jackson-Davis only took one shot away from the paint in the two games there, and honestly, he is too good in the paint to try to force him out and hope he knocks down shots. That’s basically what he said about his shot selection on the foreign trip.
“I’m just going to take what the defense gives me,” Jackson-Davis said. “If I know I can score at will inside then there’s no reason to go away from that, but if they’re going to give me the jumper then I’m gonna let it fly.”
What the defense gives him is the operative phrase here. With his elite quickness, Jackson-Davis doesn’t need to be given much to take a lot. And because of that, the idea that he is suddenly going to be letting 3-pointers fly at a meaningful rate probably isn’t realistic.
But what are some areas where we might see Jackson-Davis makes strides in year three under Woodson? Here are several.
Rebounding Rate – New assistant coach Dane Fife has laid down the challenge. He told Jackson-Davis he should average 12 to 14 rebounds a contest. Although he averaged more rebounds per game as a sophomore with 9.0, Jackson-Davis’ offensive and defensive rebounding rates (rebounds per minute) were both down when compared to his freshman season. He has said openly that he wasn’t in as good of shape as he needed to be, and that played a role last season.
“It is almost like a will,” Jackson-Davis said. “It’s like Dennis Rodman said, you have to have a knack for the ball, you’ve got to anticipate where it’s going. I feel like with the shape I’m in I should get every ball honestly.”
Run the floor – Another aspect of Jackson-Davis’ game that suffered last year was his ability to outrun the defense in transition opportunities. He focused heavily on his cardiovascular conditioning in the offseason, and more than anything else that stood out in The Bahamas. Jackson-Davis probably won’t play any more than the 32 minutes he saw per contest last year, but he likely won’t wear down like he did at times in 2020-21.
Leadership – While he was a central part of the team’s production from day one, Jackson-Davis didn’t find his voice in the locker room until year two. This year he is a team captain and has put the pressure on himself to take charge.
“This year I’ve taken a full pledge of trying to lead guys, get the young guys to do the right thing,” he said.
Jackson-Davis said he is doing a bit of everything in that regard, from making sure guys are in the right place on the floor, at practice on time, and even being a shoulder to lean on.
Passing/reading doubles/handling the ball – Rob Phinisee said at Big Ten media day the offense will in many ways be dictated by Jackson-Davis and the other big men when they are out on the perimeter. Presumably by that he meant that Jackson-Davis will be given the opportunity to read and react to defenses in dribble hand-off and ball screen actions.
Whether he is in the paint or on the wing, Jackson-Davis is going to draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses. His ability to read those defenders and make the right reads, whether it is to pass or attack off the bounce will apparently take on greater significance.
Playing through contact – While he is a high-end scorer in the paint, Jackson-Davis has had his share of struggles against big, physical length in the Big Ten. At times he settles for finishing over those kind of defenders rather than through contact.
No doubt part of the issue was that Jackson-Davis had no one who could guard him at practice after Joey Brunk went down with a season-ending injury last year. That has changed this year with the addition of 7-foot, 250 pound center Michael Durr.
“Early on he (Durr) made Trayce really have to work when he caught the ball down low, and you need that in the Big Ten,” Woodson said.
Jackson-Davis wasn’t a particularly efficient scorer last year, making just 51.7 percent of his shots — almost all of which came in the paint. With Durr around to help prepare him for size, his rate may improve.
A new defensive style – Jackson-Davis is perhaps best known for his pogo-stick like explosiveness on the offensive end, and we just might see more benefits from those quick, aggressive moves on the defensive end this year. Rather than hedging and recovering, Jackson-Davis will be switching more often than not, and that means he can focus on impacting the ball more whether that means bothering dribblers with his length and quickness, jumping passing lanes or effecting shots. There were signs of all of this in The Bahamas.
X gonna give it to him – To this point Jackson-Davis hasn’t played with an elite facilitator on offense, but he will have one this year in Xavier Johnson, who had the fourth-best assist rate in the country last year at Pittsburgh. Johnson’s greatest gift is using his quickness to break down defenses, and that will mean a whole lot of drive and dish opportunities to Jackson-Davis.
More room to operate – As good as Jackson-Davis is in the paint, he has never played in a system with four or more on the perimeter. Last year both he and Race Thompson played inside, and the year prior it was Brunk and Justin Smith whose scoring range also didn’t extend beyond 10 feet.
This year Woodson is intent on moving four out and leaving the paint open. Jackson-Davis has a very quick first step, and that added space should complement his ability to make fast moves and get by his man, and it should often mean the help is a step slower.
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”
- Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier
- You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
- Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no cost to you.