With just four scholarship guards on the 2019-20 roster, IU basketball head coach Archie Miller wants to get this just right.
The third year leader of the Hoosier program saw what happened to his team last year when starting point guard Rob Phinisee missed time with a concussion and struggled to return to his former self even when resuming play.
The disastrous 12 losses in 13 games stretch began soon after Phinisee suffered a concussion, and the Lafayette native’s absence and recovery seemed to play a large role.
“You saw our team last year at times when Rob was playing effectively and was healthy,” Miller said on Wednesday at the IU basketball media day. “He’s a gamer.”
Implied in that statement from Miller of course was the state of his team when Phinisee wasn’t healthy.
Miller also knows that with the scoring void left by the departures of Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan, positioning his most capable point producers will be critical this year.
Those are just some of the variables that are contributing to new roles for IU’s upperclassmen in the 2019-20 backcourt.
While Phinisee is locked in as the starting point guard, sliding over next to him off the ball will be Devonte Green.
Green has been thought of more as a primary ball handler / back-up point guard throughout his IU career, but now Miller sees the 6-foot-3 New York native as someone that can become a leading scorer on the team in his final season in Bloomington.
“He’s our most talented offensive player without question,” Miller said.
“I think the way he scores, the way he can create, Devonte is going to have to play off the ball a little bit offensively for us.”
With Green moving off the ball, that creates an opening for junior guard Al Durham.
“I think that’s where guys like Al (Durham) playing the one more comes into a little bit more play,” Miller saaid. “Devonte, when he needs to score, we have to have the ability to put him in situations where he’s a more primary offensive weapon. Where he’s not bringing it up. He’s more of a receiver than a facilitator.”
The term “combo guard” gets tossed around a lot, but Durham seems to legitimately be on that path.
With Green and Phinisee seemingly locked in as the starting guards at least in two guard lineups, Durham appears to be the guy that will rotate in for each of them.
“Definitely without question I see him (Durham) playing a lot more point guard for us this year,” Miller said. “I feel like that’s going to be something that’s going to help our team. It’s going to put — if it’s not Rob or Devonte, it’s going to put him on the floor as an older player with the ball in his hands. That’s important.”
The 6-foot-4 Durham spoke on Tuesday about the work he has been putting in during the offseason to ready himself for the unique challenges of playing point guard.
“Yeah, we been practicing it,” Durham said. “I mean, we’ve talked about it, I been repping it out at the point guard spot. So I feel like I can come in and contribute any way I can at the point guard spot, I’ll do it.”
If the trio can stay healthy, there should be plenty of minutes to distribute among them. Durham will still play off the ball at times as well. That’s a spot where he grew into a reliable three-point shooter as a sophomore. Durham’s percentage from long range improved from 28.6% to 34.8% from his freshman to sophomore season.
“He’s one of our more consistent shooters and he knows what we’re doing for the most part,” Miller said. “He’s been a terrific teammate since day one. Right now we really count on him being not only a terrific teammate, but terrific leader for us.”
Hailing from Lilburn, Georgia, Durham has continued to emphasize improving his shot during this offseason.
“Yeah, continuously in the gym, shooting putting up shots, getting reps,” Durham said. “It’s just something I can continuously improve in. Even though I took strides last year, I want to continue to make strides this year.”
Durham was recruited to IU by former head coach Tom Crean but decided to stay with Miller when he was hired in 2017.
Since then, Miller has learned to trust Durham as someone that will not only put in the work — but also deliver results.
“He takes a lot pride in his individual improvement and he works at it,” Miller said about Durham. “He’s a much better player. He’s stronger now than he has been in the past. He’s heavier now than he has been in the past. Now he’s experienced a lot of minutes in a two-year period. We count on him to do a lot.”
The fourth piece of the puzzle in the IU backcourt is true freshman guard Armaan Franklin. The Indianapolis product should see plenty of action early in the season during the easier part of the schedule, and will no doubt play a role throughout the campaign as the inevitable challenges with foul trouble and bumps and bruises happen.
Much like Durham, Franklin is a versatile guard that could likely play on or off the ball, but his early path to the floor should be as a shot maker as the rest of his game develops.
Whoever of the four is on the floor for the Hoosiers, one thing they all seem to agree on is that they need to orchestrate more movement in the offense.
“Yeah, most definitely I see us moving a lot more,” Durham said. “And I feel as we been working to get the ball moving a lot in our offense, a lot of motion, so everybody gets the feel of the ball and get us moving so we’re not really stagnant this year.”
Many observers believed that a stagnant offense played a major role in dooming Indiana’s 2018-19 season, and Miller agrees that changes are coming.
“We are going to have to move that ball,” Miller said. “To do that, you’re going to have a lot of concepts and action to the way you play. I’m excited to coach this team in that regard.”
Whatever the new concepts to infuse motion are, Miller knows that he only has a handful of scholarship guards on his roster to facilitate them.
He’s been working to get his guards in positions to optimize their value to the team, and he knows that each of them will play a meaningful role in the 2019-20 campaign.
“From on offensive perspective, how we generate offense, how we score, how we’re efficient, is going to be through the bulk of the parts, not one guy,” Miller said.
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