With the majority of Indiana’s offseason roster changes behind us, we bring back our annual tradition of taking a closer look at the players expected to return to the program.
Next up is Anthony Leal, who is training for his third year with IU basketball.
THE 2021-22 NUMBERS
The 6-foot-5 Leal played in 17 games and started twice (Northern Kentucky and Northwestern). He averaged 10.2 minutes and 1.9 points per game, and he had 18 assists and just seven turnovers. He shot 40.7 percent from the field overall including 31.8 percent from three. 22 of his 27 attempts from the field came from three.
Despite those first two career starts, Leal saw less action in his second season compared to 2020-21 when he averaged 11.6 minutes over 20 appearances. He only played in 17-of-35 games, and Leal never saw meaningful action again after a Feb. 24 game against Maryland.
Leal was Academic All-Big Ten in 2021-22.
WHAT WENT WELL
Leal has good vision on the court and he shares the basketball. It’s a very small sample size, but Leal had the second-highest assist rate on the team at 17.9 percent. In the two games he played the most minutes, Leal had nine assists against two turnovers against Northwestern and Northern Kentucky.
In the Big Ten home opener against Nebraska, Leal was part of a bench rotation that helped turned the tide and deliver IU’s first league win. He also played valuable minutes in wins over Notre Dame and Maryland.
The Bloomington native also brings a ton of intangibles to the program. He is an enthusiastic and positive locker room presence, and Leal is consistently cited by the coaches and his teammates as one of the hardest workers in the program.
OFFSEASON DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS
1. Become a little more selfish. There’s a fine line between making the extra pass and taking an open shot. While it’s true Leal is just 16-of-52 from three through his first two seasons, it does still seem like his best chance to carve-out a consistent role on a team that is only upgrading the talent around him is to become a more aggressive shooter from long-range.
Leal may have the best shot mechanics on the team, and if he could turn into someone who can make north of 40 percent from deep with high volume relative to his minutes, he’d be hard to keep off the court. They used to call Matt Roth the Allen-wrench because of his ability to come in games and knock-down threes, and he did that one thing with an aggressive mindset. It isn’t clear if Leal’s team-first mentality aligns with hunting shots, but he could earn a bigger role if he could do that successfully on a squad that still seems to need capable perimeter shooters.
2. Develop more confidence/stay the course. Leal came to IU believing that making threes was part of his ticket to seeing the floor early. But his 30.8 percent start to his career from deep hasn’t been enough to break through. It is common for young players to struggle from long range early, only to turn a corner later as the game slows down and confidence develops.
And it is also fascinating how a small sample size can influence perspectives. While Leal shot just 7-of-22 from three (31.8 percent) last season, two more makes would have placed him at 40.9 percent, and that likely would have been enough to have the mob howling for more minutes. He isn’t that far away, but as mentioned, getting there on high volume seems to be the real key.
3. Pass the competition on the defensive end. If you consider who was ahead of him last year on the depth chart, and specifically Miller Kopp, Parker Stewart and Tamar Bates, Leal had a path to the court as a defender. But he didn’t show that he was consistently better than those three, and Mike Woodson’s defense-first approach kept Leal mostly on the bench. The bar was even higher late game when Woodson often went to Rob Phinisee and Trey Galloway for defense.
Leal plays with physicality, but he needs to make strides in lateral quickness, foot speed, and athleticism. And if he can develop in those areas it will go a long way towards increasing his opportunity to play in year three.
WHAT SUCCESS LOOK LIKE IN 2022-23
Leal’s potential for playing time saw a boost when IU didn’t land another high-level defender, Dexter Dennis, out of the transfer portal. But he still has a lot of competition for minutes despite the departure of Stewart and Phinisee. Kopp, Bates, Galloway, Jordan Geronimo, C.J. Gunn, and Kaleb Banks all overlap Leal’s skillset in one way or another.
Breaking through certainly won’t be easy.
We’ve pretty much laid out what success looks like for Leal next season — make threes at a high rate and volume, and don’t leave Indiana exposed defensively.
Nobody in college basketball plays all 13 on scholarship. So if it happens again that Leal can’t crack the regular rotation, Indiana is fortunate to have someone of his character and positive outlook on the team.
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