In many ways Khristian Lander has gone from a prized 5-star recruit to the forgotten man at Indiana.
Or young man, if you prefer.
After reclassifying to move up a year and join the IU program as a 17 year old last summer, Lander encountered the bumpy road that probably should have been easy to predict for someone his age, but that was nevertheless surprising because of the accolades he brought with him from Evansville.
The 6-foot-2 Lander appeared in 26 games for Indiana, all off the bench. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.2 assists per game in 10.2 minutes per contest while shooting 25.7 percent from the field overall including 27.3 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
Lander never looked like a player who was comfortable on the court, and at least in part that was due to the style of play under former head coach Archie Miller. Lander’s father Keith told The Daily Hoosier last month that a set oriented offense under Miller that involved the point guard dribbling at the top of the key while the play unfolded felt foreign to his son.
When the family sat down with Mike Woodson and watched film on how the new head coach wants his point guards to play, there was a collective epiphany.
“We were watching the video (with Woodson) saying, ‘That’s what we think it should look like.’ We didn’t have that this year for whatever reason,” Keith Lander told The Daily Hoosier last month. “He wants his guards to be more in attack mode. Making plays, dropping it down to the bigs when the defense collapses. He wants his point guards to initiate things and not be in sets all the time.”
Lander’s ability as a playmaker in “attack mode” is largely what wowed recruiting analysts and college coaches when he was a high school prospect. When Lander committed to Indiana in February of 2020, we asked his former AAU and current IU teammate Trey Galloway what made him special.
“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 of Lander’s greatest strengths on the basketball court at the time.
But we rarely saw that side of Lander during the 2020-21 season.
The more methodical style utilized under Miller ultimately played a role in Lander losing confidence, as the game began to feel unnatural when compared to the systems he had thrived in coming up through the high school and AAU ranks. It is now Woodson’s job to rebuild Lander’s confidence, and he sees a solid foundation to work with. From Woodson’s early vantage point, Lander’s greatest strengths on the court fit well with his preferred up-tempo read and react style.
“He’s young and talented,” Woodson told reporters last month. “The thing that he possesses, is he has enough speed to change the game up and down the floor, and his vision is pretty good as a young player.”
Utilizing Lander’s speed won’t be easy in the Big Ten, a conference in which it is notoriously difficult to play fast. Indiana had the third slowest tempo in the league last season according to KenPom.com, and they were No. 289 nationally. From the Big Ten only Nebraska was able to crack the top-75 in the country when it came to adjusted tempo, and that came at the cost of finishing last in the conference with the league’s least efficient offense. So Woodson has the challenge of figuring out how to play fast in a relatively slow and physical league while not sacrificing efficiency.
But with players like Lander and Pittsburgh transfer Xavier Johnson, Woodson should be able to get things moving downhill as quickly as he deems optimal at Indiana. That should put Lander in his comfort zone of playing more instinctively, and the hope would be that in year two a more free flowing fast paced style would lead to Lander improving his own offensive efficiency and scoring production.
“I’ve gotta get his shot more comfortable for him, where he feels good about shooting it and making it, and he’s got to get a little bit stronger physically,” Woodson said of the areas where he wants to help his talented young guard make strides during the offseason.
Keith Lander described Woodson as “regular guy, but at the same time unapologetic” last month, and that means at times giving unfiltered views about what a player needs to work on to be reach their potential. When it comes to Lander, Woodson sees work itself as something that needs to go to the next level if that 5-star potential is to be realized.
“I can’t help but think the sky is the limit for this young man, he’s just gotta be willing to work, because he’s got to be pushed in that area and taught how to play harder and learn the college game,” Woodson said. “He’s a young, young freshman, so he’s still got a long way to go.”
Frustrated by his freshman season and unsure of the future when Miller was fired, Lander put his name in the transfer portal soon after the news broke. But Lander never really wanted to leave Indiana, and his meetings with Woodson checked all the boxes when it came to his decision to pull his name back out of the portal a couple weeks later.
Now both player and coach are focused on the future, as a bit older, wiser and perhaps slightly humbled Lander looks forward to thinking less and just playing the game once again.
“I’m glad he committed to come back and is giving me an opportunity to work with a young talent,” Woodson said.
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