Juwan Morgan knows about significant year-over-year improvement.
Playing in his third year in the Indiana program and his first season under new head coach Archie Miller, Morgan’s game transformed and his stat line exploded.
The Waynesville, Missouri native averaged 8.8 more points, 1.8 more rebounds and .5 more blocks per game for his junior season compared to his sophomore campaign.
So when Morgan said this in reference to Damezi Anderson on 1070 The Fan this week, it caught our attention.
“That’s my dark horse for most improved player.”
Clearly Morgan saw something behind the scenes that suggests there is much more to Anderson than what he displayed as a freshman.
Let’s face it. The South Bend product struggled. Perhaps it isn’t fair to call any first year player’s season a disappointment, but the word at least comes to mind.
But as Morgan clearly knows, “disappointment” only comes to mind because Anderson is much better than what we have seen thus far.
The 6-foot-7 Anderson appeared in 21 games and averaged 9.6 minutes per contest. He made 27.9% of his shots from the field including 23.3% (7-for-30) from three-point range.
Anderson averaged 1.5 points and 1.1 rebounds per game for the season. He contributed 8 assists while committing 11 turnovers.
Certainly nothing eye-catching in any of those numbers. Not on the plus side anyway.
Of course there could be some strategic thinking in Morgan’s sentiment. Anderson really has nowhere to go but up — and despite the frustrating year one — his ceiling is still quite high. That’s a healthy recipe for most improved player.
But in reality Morgan seemingly already knows what we thought we knew about Damezi Anderson the recruit.
Known as a high level perimeter shooter, Anderson became the all-time leading scorer in the history of South Bend.
He made 53-of-134 (39.6%) tries from behind the arc during his final AAU season, and then improved upon that rate during his senior year of high school.
While it didn’t translate to the floor in year one, Morgan saw enough to know that Anderson is no bust.
And now he has to prove that Morgan is right.
How is he going to do that? Miller spoke about it.
“Damezi getting a year older….he is a good perimeter shooter that’s young and has to develop,” Miller said.
It isn’t uncommon for guys that come in with a reputation as perimeter shooters to struggle in their first year at the college level.
The game is moving faster, and the defense is bigger, longer and stronger. Space is hard to find, and weaknesses are quickly exposed. Not good off the dribble? Don’t expect an inch to get shots off.
Of course like any freshman, there are other developmental needs in Anderson’s game, like creating off the bounce and defense. But the quickest path for Anderson to see a much bigger role in 2019-20 seems to be by knocking down shots.
So how does a player like Anderson, a shooter, develop year-over-year?
“I think the biggest thing is repetition,” Miller said. “Guys gotta get in the gym, they gotta do it every day. You gotta shoot the shots that you shoot in the game. We’ve had some guys really progress to different percentages in our first two years and it’s going to have to keep going.”
Miller is right about guys progressing in his system as shooters.
Al Durham went from 28.6% to 34.8% from three-point range in his first two seasons. He was hovering near 40% in December before a wrist injury slowed his pace.
Devonte Green went from 33.7% to 41.3%, finishing eighth in the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage.
And of course Miller knows a little something about shooting.
As a 5-foot-10 guard in the ACC, space was especially hard to find for him at North Carolina State from 1997 to 2002. But Miller still managed to shoot 42.8% from long range over the course of his career there.
So when the now Hoosier head coach talks about shooting, it bears repeating. And he repeated himself when he further elaborated on how players like Anderson can make strides similar to Durham and Green.
“It’s repetiton,” Miller said. “Putting them in situations where they’re repping it at game speed and game time, and hopefully over the course of time, any time I’ve been around it, the more you do it the better off you get.”
As both a player and a coach, Miller has been around it for a while. He knows that adapting to the “game speed” of college can be difficult for new guys like Anderson. It’s about much more than just “getting shots up,” as the expression goes.
It’s about getting the right shots up, in the right spots, at the right speed.
But Miller also knows that if Anderson gets it all right, he can become a major asset going forward.
As Miller put it, a 6-foot-7 guy with some perimeter skills “gives you that flexibility with a bigger guard with size that can shoot.”
Now it is up to Anderson — to put in the work and see it through to the floor.
To get there it sounds like job number one is to tirelessly get in the repetitions. And not just any repetitions — the right repetitions.
There is a long way to go in the Damezi Anderson story at Indiana. He’s still just 19 years old. His teammates see the potential and he has coaches that can develop him. Thoughts of “disappointment” can quickly change to “most improved.”
And all of that also bears repeating.
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