Credit - Mike Schumann, The Daily Hoosier

IU Basketball Annual Review Series: Three Things for Justin Smith’s 2020-21 Season

Nine Indiana basketball players that saw the floor during the season will be back for the 2020-21 campaign as of this writing. 

While formal practices have concluded, the work never stops for high major college basketball players.  Growth and development happens in the offseason, in individual workouts and permitted organized team activities.

At the end of each season the coaches sit down and have one-on-one meeting with the players.  If you could talk to each of the nine returning players about their 2019-20 season and what they need to improve going forward, what would you say? 

We play Archie Miller for a day and give it a shot with the “Annual Review” series.


Quick 2019-20 Recap:

Justin Smith

Smith appeared in all 32 games for the 2019-20 season and started each contest.  The Illinois native averaged 30.3 minutes per game, which was in increase from his 24.7 minutes as a sophomore — and a team high.  He was one of three players to start every game along with Trayce Jackson-Davis and Al Durham.

The 6-foot-7 Smith shot 49.2 percent overall from the field, good for third on the team among those that played more than 10 minutes per contest.  Smith took just over one three-pointer per game and made 26.3 percent.  Smith was third on the team in points (10.4) and tied for second in rebounds (5.2) per game.

The Daily Hoosier Report Card

Justin Smith (B-) There was a lot to like about Smith’s season.  He shot better from distance, cut down turnovers, got to the free throw line more, improved his rebounding average, and was as reliable of a defender as anyone.  But Smith’s challenge has always been that he is limited offensively, and that didn’t change substantially in year three.


“When Justin’s good, Justin’s activity level — and you can see his effort level, making plays others can’t make, whether he just goes and gets a rebound nobody else can get, which we needed. He gets a steal, a deflection because he’s in the right position.” — Archie Miller after the home win over Penn State on Feb. 23

Credit – IU Athletics

Primary Developmental Needs:

1. Keep the motor in high gear.

Despite increased productivity in Smith’s raw numbers, the per-40 stats tell a different story as his junior year saw him produce his lowest rebounding rate.  One solution might be less minutes, as Smith might be getting tired.  He produced his best rebounding rate as a freshman when he only played 15 minutes per contest.  Smith has become a strong defender, improving to his best per-40 minute steal rate while significantly reducing his foul rate, but that effort expended might be taking away from other areas.

2. Play with reckless abandon.

Fair or not, it doesn’t always look like Smith is willing to sacrifice his body.  Whether that is more aggressively attacking the rim on offense or relentlessly crashing the glass on either end, at times it appears that Smith isn’t always willing to lay it all on the line.  Compare his per-40 numbers (6.8 rpg, 1.3 spg, .4 bpg) to a similarly sized and less athletic Race Thompson (11.6 rpg, 2.0 spg, 1.9 bpg).  Unlike Smith, Thompson has a nose for the ball that is driven by his aggressive style of play.  Again, fatigue may be a factor, but if Smith really wants to reach his full potential he is going to have to throw caution to the wind.

3. Play to and enhance your strengths.

Smith can be an elite defender, slasher, and rim runner.  If he plays with more sustained and reckless effort, he can be an elite rebounder.  If he develops his left hand, he can enhance his ability to score in the paint.  While he improved more than four percentage points from behind the arc, it doesn’t appear as though three-point shooting will ever be a major strength to Smith’s game.  That could be why Smith never took more than one three-pointer in any of IU’s last nine games.  If he expends all of his energy towards rebounding, defense and finishing he is likely to see much more productivity and efficiency.

It should be noted that Smith significantly reduced his turnover rate, from 2.9 and 3.0 per-40 minutes as a freshman and sophomore, respectively, to 2.1 as a junior.  That is further evidence that Smith played more within his strengths — a trend that he will need to sustain in 2020-21.

What Success Looks Like in 2020-21

A strong senior season for Smith might not mean more production.  10 points and 5 rebounds per game might just approximate his ceiling.

But if he can manufacture that production in less minutes while continuing to be a strong defender and playing more power forward than wing he will become an improved asset to the team.

If Smith can also once again incrementally improve his three-point shot to 30 percent to be a more respected threat, that will only enhance his value further.


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