In a spring devoid of sports news, the IU basketball program got a shot in the arm this week with the announcement that in-state point guard Khristian Lander had signed his national letter of intent and will be on the 2020-21 Hoosier roster.
Lander was the top rated point guard in the class of 2021 according to most recruiting services, and he is still a five-star recruit and top-25 overall prospect as a member of the class of 2020.
Those kind of lofty credentials can created unrealistic expectations for a player like Lander. Hoosier fans should know by now that there are no recruiting “saviors” in college basketball.
But there is also no denying that a player of Lander’s talent and potential can make a real impact. That’s why national analysts such as CBS’ Jon Rothstein vaulted IU in their respective rankings after the news of Lander’s reclassification.
Just what will Lander’s impact be on IU’s 2020-21 squad? Let’s take a look.
A SMALLER MORE VERSATILE LINEUP
You won’t find much enthusiasm for the three-forward (or was it one power forward / two center?) lineup featuring Justin Smith, Trayce-Jackson-Davis and Joey Brunk that was frequently utilized by head coach Archie Miller.
While the coaching staff was trying to play to its strengths, the pendulum swung too far towards size, and too far from dynamic, play-making versatility.
Part of the challenge for Miller was that he had just four scholarship guards on his roster in 2019-20. Lander, along with his fellow 2020 guard classmates Trey Galloway and Anthony Leal, give IU a net addition of two guards this season after accounting for the graduation of Devonte Green. That alone should give the staff more options to work with.
Lander appears to be the most likely of the freshman guards that will be ready to contribute from the jump, and along with a more experienced guard/wing group of Rob Phinisee, Al Durham, Armaan Franklin, and Jerome Hunter, IU should be able to effectively play smaller this year. And that should lead to more offensive firepower.
Miller arrived at IU three years ago touting his transition offense. Since then, he has been trying to find a way to make it work consistently in the Big Ten.
Beyond just the physical, half court nature of the league, Miller’s biggest challenge in establishing his preferred offensive style has been the lack of guards with elite speed.
When we asked Galloway what stood out the most about Lander after playing AAU basketball with him in 2019, this is what he said —
“His speed and ability to make plays. He can get from one end of the court to the other real fast. His ability to finish at the rim and get past people is incredible,” Galloway said.
If there is one reason why Archie Miller put such a premium on Lander since he was 15 years old, it is his north/south speed. Lander’s ability to create before defenses get set on the other end will be a difference maker.
If his speed translates, Lander should be able to generate a few buckets per game in transition.
BREAKING DOWN DEFENSES
Lander’s speed translates to the half court as well.
247Sports director of basketball scouting Jerry Meyer provides this evaluation of Lander’s strengths as a player:
“Both a smooth and explosive athlete. Has a tremendous burst to the rim off the dribble. Creative ball handler and finisher. Good passer as well.”
Everything gets easier when you are able to break down defenses off the dribble, and Lander has another gear when attacking that should open things open for IU, especially if they choose to go with smaller, more versatile lineups.
Lander is a competent scorer at all three levels, but he is also a capable and willing passer. When he gets past his man in the half court, IU will be more dangerous.
High level offensive basketball is a game of creating separation and space, and Lander should be able to do that as a freshman.
KEEPING DURHAM AND FRANKLIN OFF THE BALL
Both Al Durham and Armaan Franklin did what they had to do this past season when they assumed some of the primary ball handling duties, but let’s face it, playing point guard is not the highest or best value they can provide to Indiana.
Durham excelled at times coming off of screens without the ball, and his three-point shooting proficiency has improved each season at Indiana. He could be a player that takes another jump in efficiency just by being allowed to play to his strengths. And that isn’t on the ball on either end of the floor.
Franklin played some point guard in high school but had no expectations of doing so at IU. While he has really good acceleration with the ball in the open court, Franklin’s game is better suited to play the two and he has the length and athleticism to be a third guard if the staff wants to go that route.
POINT GUARD DEPTH
When was the last time IU had two true point guards on its roster that were ready to play at the high major level?
It has been a while.
You might recall Indiana looking to walk-ons Harrison Niego and Jonny Marlin for spot duty over Yogi Ferrell’s last three years. There was no one beyond Josh Newkirk for the two years following Ferrell, and a young and often injured Rob Phinisee has ridden solo since.
Phinisee and Lander are not both just natural point guards. They are both talented enough to lead successful teams at a high major level.
And before you think this is a competition for minutes between the two, consider this — some of the more successful college basketball teams in recent years have won big with two point guard lineups.
A quick survey of the national champions over the last decade highlights that almost every title winner largely played with two primary ball handlers on the floor. Think Villanova with Jalen Brunson/Phil Booth in 2018 and Brunson/Ryan Arcidiacono in 2016. Similarly, North Carolina went with Joel Berry and Nate Britt in 2017, and the pattern continues as you go back in time.
The point guards days of Chris Reynolds and Jamaal Meeks are largely gone. Phinisee and Lander are scoring point guards, and they can co-exist, and even thrive on the court together.
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