Only seven players that saw the floor from the 2018-19 Indiana basketball team will be back for the 2019-20 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.
If you could talk to each of the seven returning players about their 2018-19 season and what they need to improve going forward, what would you say?
We play Archie for a day and give it a shot with “Exit Interviews.”
Quick 2018-19 Recap:
Smith played in all 35 games and started 32 times. The 6-foot-7 forward was fifth on the team with 8.2 points per game and third with 4.5 rebounds.
The Buffalo Grove, Ill. native shot 49.6 percent from the field overall including 21.9 percent from 3-point range. Smith shot 51.4 percent from the free throw line and had 65 turnovers compared to 28 assists.
A business major, Smith earned Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2019.
Primary Developmental Needs:
1. Develop an identity. Smith is an enigma. He’s an elite athlete that shows flashes of an elite game. Unfortunately, those moments were more of an exception than the norm. Is he a perimeter shooter? A slasher? A rebound and put back guy? A rim runner?
At various times you can answer yes to all of those questions, but you could never consistently say yes to any of them — and sometimes he was none of them. Smith needs to become a guy that you know when he’s on the floor you are consistently at least going to get one or two things every game.
2. Rev up that motor. A 6-foot-7, 227 pound forward with a 48-inch vertical should be able to dominate the glass. Somehow, Smith managed to compile 13 games with two or fewer rebounds. On the other hand, he had six games with nine or more rebounds. That’s the enigma part.
The name we keep coming back to is Jordan Murphy of Minnesota. At 6-foot-6, Murphy averaged 14.2 rebounds per 40 minutes in each of his last two seasons with the Gophers. Smith comes in at 7.2 rebounds per 40 minutes, and actually declined in that regard from his freshman year.
Admittedly, Murphy has about 20 pounds on Smith, but most of this is about having a motor that is fully engaged at all times.
This isn’t a new discussion point for Smith. Chicago State coach Lance Irvin saw a lot of Smith during his AAU days in high school and said this after his team played at IU to open the 2018-19 season: “One thing I said about Justin is that he’ll have to learn to consistently play hard. When we got him his sophomore year (of high school) he would play hard but not as hard as we would need him to play,” Irvin said.
3. Knock down shots…or else? Smith is in a tricky spot next year. With De’Ron Davis presumably healthy and Joey Brunk and Trayce Jackson-Davis on the roster, is there room on the floor for another big that cannot consistently hit perimeter shots?
It’s no secret, things got really bad last year, with defenses sagging off Smith to clog driving lanes. As his 3-point shooting percentage suggests, that was an effective strategy by the opposition.
With the new faces arriving and Jerome Hunter possibly returning on the wing, Smith seems destined to lose minutes if he cannot become a consistent shooter.
Sticking with Big Ten comparisons, Michigan State’s Kenny Goins might be the model here. The 6-foot-7 Spartan big man never attempted a 3-pointer until his junior year, when he shot 26.7 percent. As a senior Goins improved to 34.4% and was instrumental in spreading out defenses and creating driving lanes.
4. Develop the off hand. With the defense sagging and shots not falling, there was seemingly only one thing to do. Attack off of the dribble. Thus far Smith has only seemed comfortable using his right hand, which has made him relatively easy to defend in space, as defenders were schooled to shut off his right hand and force him into an awkward finish.
Smith’s deficiencies with his off hand limited him as a passer as well.
The juxtaposition with Juwan Morgan was clear. Morgan had a seemingly never ending array of crafty finishing moves with both hands, and made major strides in that regard from his sophomore to his junior year. Smith will need to do the same.
What Success Looks Like in 2019-20
You could start with the intangibles. A fiery, emotional and always switched on Smith would be a huge asset to next year’s team. We didn’t mention it, but confidence seems to be holding Smith back as much as anything. A much more confident and aggressive version of Smith can still be a major factor in the Big Ten. This story is only halfway written.
With the intangibles and the improvements to his shot and off-hand, Smith could clearly become a 12 points and 7 rebounds per game guy.
We didn’t mention defense above, but Smith has the tools to become a lock down defender for opposing wings. He had big moments including last year at Penn State against Lamar Stevens. If Smith can become a consistently reliable and high level defender on opposing wings and stretch-fours, that will further add to his value as an upperclassman and make it difficult to take him off the floor.
Previous Exit Interviews:
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