As a 42.8 percent career three-point shooter, it can’t be easy to watch.
“If you can shoot, you can shoot,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller told us at the Big Ten’s media day in October.
As a guard for North Carolina State from 1997 to 2002, Miller could shoot. It was something that he was known for throughout his career in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But Miller’s first two Indiana teams?
Well, not so much.
His first Hoosier squad shot a dismal 32.2 percent from long range, which put IU at No. 307 in the country (out of 353 teams).
Somehow Indiana managed to be worse last season, hitting just 31.2 percent of their three-point attempts and landing at No. 311 nationally.
It’s simplistic, but it also seems pretty clear that even just a middle-of-the-road effort from behind the arc would have been enough to put IU, a No. 1 seed in the NIT, in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
But that’s all in the past. Or is it?
Now entering his third season in Bloomington, Miller seemingly has to do the impossible.
If you can shoot, you can shoot he told us. So if you can’t shoot, you can’t shoot, right?
Although there are some familiar faces, when he looks up and down his 2019-20 roster, Miller does see shooters. Six of them, in fact, that he singled out at the Big Ten media day.
“If you look at Robert (Phinisee), Devonte (Green), Al (Durham), even Armaan (Franklin) coming in as a young player, add Jerome (Hunter) and add Damezi (Anderson), those guys, those six players, they have to be able keep the defense honest, and they’re all good shooters and they should be able to do it,” Miller said.
The way Miller framed that statement was key. IU isn’t going to be chucking up 30 shots from long range every night this year.
No, for this year’s Indiana squad, the offense is going to start in the paint, and open three-point shooting should be a by product of what Miller believes is the strength of this 2019-20 team.
“Our front court is a big strength,” Miller said. “We have to be able to play through them, and hopefully, giving us the three-point shot and protecting the paint more so will be what teams try to do to us that’s where it is going to be a big key to be able to alleviate pressure from the line.”
Of course for defenses to honor the three point line, Miller’s six shooters need to deliver.
Although it was something of a rarity, when it happened last year, good things generally followed.
“When you look at over the course of time when we’ve had our big wins or had opportunities to play well, we’ve had perimeter scoring,” Miller said. “We’ve had perimeter guys make threes. If you just take some of the games, whether it’s Michigan State on the road or at home, multi-number games where you hit ten-plus threes. It’s a big deal in college basketball being able to shoot it.”
While of course things like confidence and injuries come into play when it comes to making threes, the Hoosier head coach believes that the right guys taking the right shots plays the biggest role in the team’s percentage from long distance.
“I think the quality of shots you get is the key, Miller added. “The guys that are shooting the ball and where they are shooting it from, how they’re getting them, those are the good ones. If that’s the case, we have confidence in making them.”
When you consider “the guys that are shooting the ball” as Miller put it, it’s instructive to take a peek back at last year’s numbers.
Four of IU’s top seven players in terms of the three-point attempts in 2018-19 were guys that, at least in terms of how it turned out, were less than ideal when it came to putting up a high volume of shots. Consider how these four players shot the ball from distance last year:
- Romeo Langford (27.2%)
- Juwan Morgan (29.5%)
- Evan Fitzner (30.9%)
- Justin Smith (21.9%)
Of course three of the four are no longer with the team, and it is noteworthy that Miller did not include Smith in his group of six shooters for 2019-20. Instead, Miller has emphasized that Smith needs to focus on doing what he does best.
If you take those four players out of last year’s numbers, Indiana shot 33.8 percent from three-point range. While still not particularly impressive, that’s a percentage that would have moved IU up more than 100 spots in the national rankings and added 51 more points scored on the season. That’s probably enough to squeeze out at least another win or two for a team that lost eight games by five or fewer points.
For the right shooters, or Miller’s six shooters if you will, he sees a more confident group that is being encouraged to put up shots.
“We have better shooters this year individually, and those guys have a lot more confidence right now,” Miller said. “Being able to take and make threes is something that we’re encouraging.”
But while the shots are being encouraged, Miller again sees the three-point line as more of a byproduct than a point of emphasis.
Beyond just playing inside out, he sees multiple ways including pace, and defense-to-offense transition, that good, open shots will be created for the right players.
“Our scheme, especially with this year’s team, it’s an uptempo approach more so than anything,” Miller said. “We want to get back to the running game. When your defense creates those opportunities, shooting comes into play. Threes in transition are the best ones you can take.
“In the half court you’re going to get threes off of movement. Ball movement, screening action, inside-out, drive to pass, sharing the ball. We shouldn’t be a team that shoots quick threes, I don’t think anyone is unless you’ve got prolific shooters, but for us to shoot the ball, we want to shoot a high percentage, that’s what the most important thing is.”
There are more variables to consider when you go inside the numbers from last year’s team.
Green, for example, shot better than 50 percent from three point range in the final seven games.
Durham surged north of 40 percent from behind the arc through December of his sophomore campaign before a shooting hand injury possibly impacted his second half.
Phinisee’s shooting numbers tailed off significantly once he returned from a concussion in January.
Those three, in particular, are better shooters than what they showed us last year, and Miller believes that Anderson and Hunter’s primary contribution on the offensive end can be knocking down shots.
“Damezi is a guy we have some hope for in that regard,” Miller said. “As a sophomore, he’s going to have to have a role on our team. One of the best things that Damezi does is he can shoot the ball. You got to start with that with him.”
The story is much the same when it comes to Hunter.
“Jerome’s best gift as a young player will be his outside shooting,” Miller added. “As as he comes off a year where he hasn’t played, the rust and all that other stuff you’re going to go through trying to find it, hopefully he can find some rhythm.”
Meanwhile Franklin, the lone true freshman of the six has gone 3-of-8 (37.5%) in IU’s two preseason exhibition contests.
So does all of this mean that you should expect major strides from behind the arc in 2019-20?
After two straight seasons outside of the top-300, you are forgiven if your confidence in holding that expectation is shaken a bit.
And confidence might be the biggest variable of all when it comes to this team.
Indiana has guys that can shoot the basketball.
But Big Ten coaches will make adjustments. The double teams will come in the post, and despite Miller’s best efforts to push the pace, IU will be forced much of the time to score in the half court.
Ultimately, it may just come down to a simple bottom line.
If you can shoot, you can shoot.
“When you can shoot you find a way to make shots, Miller told us.
“I don’t care who you are or the scheme that you’re in, if you can really shoot the ball, you can make shots.”
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