By Dustin Dopirak —
Much of Archie Miller’s value as a basketball player came from his ability to hit outside shots.
Sure, he had an uncommon basketball IQ and was a solid all-around point guard. But at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, he needed something else to get on the floor in the ACC as he did at North Carolina State, and that was hit outside shot.
In four plus seasons with the Wolfpack — including his second year when he played three games and had to take a medical redshirt — he hit 218 3-point shots, just shy of two per game. He shot better from outside the arc (42.8 percent) than he did inside (41.1 percent) and took more than three times as many 3-point shots (509) as he did twos (151).
“At the end of the day, shooters shoot,” Miller said. “I was a good shooter. I was a good shooter at a young age all the way through college. I played for a lot of different coaches and a lot of different styles. Shooters shoot.”
And that simply adds to his frustration that, throughout his tenure at Indiana so far, the Hoosiers have not shot the ball well from outside, which continues to slow Miller’s attempt at a rebuild.
Heading into Thursday night’s 9 p.m. game at No. 4 Iowa, the Hoosiers rank last in the Big Ten in 3-pointers made per game (6.07) and 12th in 3-point percentage (32.4 percent). This is not an anomaly, as the Hoosiers also ranked last in the league in 3-pointers last season with 5.5 per game while ranking eighth in percentage at 32.6 percent. They were 13th in both makes (6.0 per game) and percentage (31.2 percent) in 2018-19. There’s some positive trend line in there, but not much.
Ultimately, it’s one of the defining characteristics of Miller’s Indiana teams so far. They’ve built rosters around athletes who can score at the rim either on the dribble drive (Romeo Langford) or out of post-ups (Juwan Morgan, Trayce Jackson-Davis) but have never put enough shooters around them for the 3-point shot to be a reliable part of their offense.
In Miller’s mind, that’s not a function of his offense. It’s actually creating more open looks as opponents pack the paint to deal with Jackson-Davis, just as they were when they were trying to stop Morgan and Langford. It just comes down to shooters not making enough shots.
“From a percentage standpoint, it’s been an inconsistent shooting period of time for us,” Miller said. “We don’t have knockdown, lights-out shooters. That being said, I like the quality of shot we’re getting right now. I think that as we look at our team and evaluate some things, we’re getting some good looks. When you have a guy like Trayce who commands a lot of attention, those guys are going to continue to get good looks. I think for us, it’s not about dwelling over the fact that we’re not shooting it well, but improving our confidence level, finding ways to get guys the ball in rhythm and on time and it’s going to turn back around for us.”
The Hoosiers have had games in this season when they’ve shot it well from deep. They hit 13 3-pointers against North Alabama in December and hit a combined 17 over two games against Wisconsin and Nebraska. However, they’ve also shot under 35 percent from beyond the arc in seven of their 14 games and have only made more than seven 3-pointers in a game three times. In their loss to Purdue on Thursday, they were 3 of 18 from beyond the arc and lost by 12 points despite hitting the same number of field goals (25) in the game that Purdue did.
“We’ve had some shooting nights when we’ve made more than our fair share,” Miller said. “And we’ve had some nights where we’ve been off. That’s probably how this team is going to be.”
As Miller said, the Hoosiers have never had anyone who could qualify as a “knockdown” shooter in his tenure. Former guard Devonte Green was a high-volume option during his tenure, but didn’t always make a high percentage. This season, just four players — guards Armaan Franklin, Aljami Durham, Rob Phinisee and forward Jerome Hunter have more than seven 3-pointers in the Hoosiers’ 14 games. Franklin (20) and Durham (17) are the only two players who have hit more than 15 all season. Franklin (42.6 percent) and Hunter (36.8 percent) are the only two players with at least 10 attempts who are shooting better than 32 percent from beyond the arc.
Miller made a point to recruit shooting in the 2020 recruiting class, but that’s had mixed results and the two shooters who were most accomplished from the outside in high school — guards Anthony Leal and Khristian Lander — have had limited minutes and therefore limited attempts. Leal has taken all 16 of his field goals from beyond the 3-point arc and made five of them. Lander is 6 of 22 from beyond the arc in a total of 105 minutes in 14 appearances. The other two freshmen, Trey Galloway and Jordan Geronimo, are 4 of 23 and 2 of 5 from beyond arc, respectively.
Jackson-Davis hasn’t taken a 3-pointer all season and Race Thompson is 3 of 10 from beyond the arc, so if the Hoosiers are to get better this season, they’ll need more consistency from Franklin, Hunter, Phinisee and Durham and more attempts for Leal and Geronimo. The long-term fixes are even more difficult, considering the Hoosiers don’t currently have an outside shooter committed in the pipeline beyond transfer Parker Stewart.
“I think Al can shoot the ball a lot better,” Miller said. “I think Rob’s got to be a more confident shooter with his open ones. He’s shown that. Armaan has shown stretches of being really consistent. He’s just getting back. I think Anthony can really add to that and Jerome can really add to that, which those guys have shown.”
Miller doesn’t have any plans to do any massive mechanical fixes of his outside shooters and he’s not going to force his big men to start taking 3s. His approach is for them to keep shooting in practices and then in the games when the opportunities come their way.
“Putting it all together though and being a team that is very confident in itself, to me is a team that is working at it every day the right way,” Miller said, “and continues to believe that if we continue to work to get the good ones and if those guys get them, they’ll make them. At some point, it will come back around. To look back four years and start to re-track shooting percentages, I can’t really say that it’s an offensive philosophy that we don’t like to make shots. At some point in time, shooters make shots, and guys have to step up and make them.”
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