ALBANY, N.Y. — What’s up with those crossover and between the legs moves you’ve seen from Trayce Jackson-Davis lately? And since when can he lead the fast break and make no-look passes?
If you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s had that stuff in his bag for years.
But Race Thompson wouldn’t allow him to make that claim.
Not until there was proof of concept anyway — in an actual game.
“It’s really always been there,” Jackson-Davis said on Saturday of his ball handling ability. “You can even ask Race. We always played open gyms and stuff of that nature, and I would take the ball up the court, and he would say, ‘well, until I see it in an actual game, I won’t believe it.'”
Thompson nodded his head in agreement with that claim.
“I said, all right, bet, this is the year it’s going to happen,” Jackson-Davis said.
Thompson, who has been a teammate and friend of Jackson-Davis for four years, knows how to push the first team All-American’s buttons.
“He never did it in the past (in games), and I knew he could do it, and I know him so well, I knew I could challenge him to do it in a game, and he’ll take that challenge,” Thompson said.
“I would tell him ‘I bet you won’t do it.’ He followed through on that one and he is definitely handling the ball a lot.”
Jackson-Davis’ ability to handle the rock has been on display with regularity this season. He started leading the break early this season, and that has continued throughout his senior campaign. And with increasing regularity, he’s become a half-court weapon to attack off the bounce from the perimeter as well.
Over most of his first three years he was almost exclusively a back to the basket weapon for IU, but this season a good percentage of his touches are coming on the perimeter, facing the basket.
That opens up a number of options for Indiana. It pulls the opposing big man away from the paint to create better spacing, provides pick-and-roll and dive options, and yes, it allows Jackson-Davis to create via the dribble drive — something he has done with regularity during his prolific second half of his senior season.
It’s a major part of the reason why Indiana has its most efficient offense since 2016 according to KenPom.
The bottom line — Indiana has found more ways for the best player on the floor to beat you, and Jackson-Davis has made the necessary improvements to deliver on those opportunities.
“We’ve been able to put him in those positions in practice, and it’s been a nice carryover in the game,” IU coach Mike Woodson said on Saturday in Albany. “We’ve been trying to move him around out on the floor.”
In the half-court Jackson-Davis has in many ways become the attacking wing the Hoosiers have been missing. And he has the physical tools to be a real weapon, especially when matched up against a typically slower and less athletic fellow big man.
“It opens up a lot because he’s an athletic guard at that point,” IU guard Trey Galloway said on Saturday. “It’s really big for us because he can create for himself and others.”
The creating for others aspect has been a major part of Jackson-Davis’ run to consensus first team All-American, and his team’s run to 23 wins — also their best since 2016. He’s averaging 4.1 assists per game, more than double his previous career-best of 1.9 a year ago.
Basically, if you guard him one-on-one in the post, good luck. If you double him, Jackson-Davis can beat you with the pass. If he’s on the perimeter, Jackson-Davis can beat you with the dribble.
And in transition, Indiana can play fast like it wants to with the ball in Jackson-Davis’ hands after a defensive rebound.
“We don’t have to come back and get it, we can just run,” Galloway said.
“When you get a rebound and just push and everybody just fills the wings, it’s hard to guard because you can space the floor, and he’s a threat if you don’t stop the ball,” Thompson added.
From a numbers standpoint, everything is up for Jackson-Davis this season, even the advanced metrics, including his percentage of the team’s shots, and percentage of possessions used. With the addition of ball handling to his game, he’s become almost impossible to take away from the offense.
And when teams do throw enough his way that he has to give it up, Jackson-Davis is making teams pay with an assist rate that ranks No. 176 among all players in Division I college basketball.
“I mean, we’re benefitting from it, the Millers (Miller Kopp) and the Gallos (Galloway), whoever gets in front of the ball, he’s been a guy that’s willing to pass it,” Woodson said. “So it makes it kind of nice to see him doing things like that.”
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