(Image via iuhoosiers.com)
Perusing Indiana’s KenPom profile, here are some early-season efficiency stats that jump out to me.
The question on all of these is: are they a trend we can believe in … or just a mirage?
Trayce Jackson-Davis’ usage
Do you realize that Trayce Jackson-Davis is currently #2 in the KenPom Player of the Year standings?
Interestingly, he’s right behind one current Big Ten big man (Luka Garza, of course) and just ahead of one former Big Ten big man (Eugene Omoruyi, who transferred to Oregon from Rutgers).
Now you may be wondering how Trayce can be so high on this list with an offensive rating (110.3) and effective field goal percentage (50.9%) that are good but still well below his freshman numbers, along with lower rebounding and block rates than he turned in as a freshman.
Well, here’s the most important number you need to know: Trayce is using 34.4% of Indiana’s possessions when he’s on the court.
That’s an incredible number for a big man who rarely takes jump shots or handles the ball on the perimeter. (It also speaks to Indiana’s collective dearth of offense from its guards.)
The KenPom Player of the Year algorithm places a premium on usage rate because, when combined with at least moderate efficiency, it suggests a player who is incredibly important and productive for his team.
It’s interesting to contrast Trayce’s early-season performance with what Trevion Williams is doing at Purdue against a much softer schedule. His usage rate (35.1%) is actually higher than Trayce’s, while his efficiency (ORtg of 88.5 and eFG% of 40.0% … woof) has dipped tremendously.
Most players aren’t able to maintain high efficiency as their usage rates climb. So far Trayce has struggled with it some, but his performance against Stanford suggests he may be adjusting to his new high-usage role.
He may not finish with a usage quite so high, but this is definitely a trend. Indiana is playing through its All America candidate, and will continue to all season long.
Armaan Franklin’s rebounding
Armaan is currently grabbing 18.4% of the available defensive rebounds when he’s on the court. That is the highest rebounding efficiency on Indiana’s team.
Sometimes players can tally anomalous efficiency numbers in small sample sizes of minutes. But Armaan is playing a ton. He’s tied for Trayce for the team lead in minutes, playing 75.6% of Indiana’s minutes so far.
So this number is probably more trend than mirage.
Armaan is stronger and more assertive this season, and he’s playing a lot of minutes that might otherwise be going to Justin Smith. And he’s making good use of them.
Archie mentioned that his guards needed to rebound better, and Armaan has answered the call.
Preferably, Trayce and Race will both surpass Armaan as the season goes along. If they don’t, Indiana profiles to be one of the conference’s worst rebounding teams, which is not ideal. But it’s at least nice to know Indiana has a third reliable rebounder out there.
Race Thompson’s combined block and steal rate
One of Race Thompson’s most underrated skills is disruptiveness as a defender. Race is currently blocking 8.7% of opponent shots when he’s on the court, and he’s getting steals on 2.5% of opponent possessions. That’s 11.2 combined, and that is the hallmark of a disruptive defensive player.
Here are all of the other individual seasons since 2002 by an IU player who played at least 40% of minutes and had a block + steal rate greater than 6.5%, where the Steal Rate was at least 1.5% (to eliminate big guys who just feasted on blocked shots):
- 2019: Juwan Morgan 9.1 (5.8% + 2.3%)
- 2018: Juwan Morgan 7.8 (5.4% + 2.4%)
- 2017: OG Anunoby 8.5 (5.5% + 3.0%) and Thomas Bryant 7.3 (5.7% + 1.6%)
- 2013: Cody Zeller 6.5 (4.4% + 2.1%) and Victor Oladipo 8.3 (2.8% + 4.5%)
- 2012: Cody Zeller 7.1 (4.3% + 2.8%)
- 2007: D.J. White 10.0 (8.3% + 1.7%)
- 2002: Jared Jeffries 6.6 (3.8% + 2.8%) and Jeff Newton 11.6 (8.9% +1.7%)
What is the common thread among all those guys? They all played, or are still playing, in the NBA … other than Jeff Newton, who became the greatest professional player in the history of the Japan!
In other words, only players who are very good athletes and very good basketball players rack up block and steal rates like what Race is doing this season.
And while Race surely won’t finish the season at 11.2, his track record suggests this is a bona fide trend and he’ll still finish on this esteemed list. Across limited usage as a freshman and a sophomore, Race tallied a combined number of 8.4.
With Race and Armaan playing so many of Indiana’s minutes so far this season, no wonder the Hoosiers have vaulted into the top-15 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Indiana’s team 3-point shooting percentage is 29.3%
If Indiana were to finish the season shooting 29.3% from 3-point range, it would be by far the lowest total under Archie Miller. But there is reason to think that Indiana’s 3-point shooting will tick up as the season progresses.
The reason is because it’s reasonable to expect two things to happen:
- Young players will adjust to the speed of the game and start shooting better.
- Shot selection will get more dialed in to the best shooters taking a higher percentage of the outside shots.
Right now, the trio of Rob Phinisee, Al Durham, and Jerome Hunter — universally accepted as Indiana’s three best outside shooters entering the season — are 10-22 from deep. That’s an outstanding 45.4%.
Even if you throw Armaan Franklin’s 2-10 into the mix, Indiana’s returning shooters are at a respectable 12-32 (37.5%) from deep. Every single IU fan, and Archie Miller, would sign up for that percentage right now.
Here’s the issue …
Newcomers Khristian Lander, Trey Galloway, Anthony Leal, and Jordan Geronimo are a combined 4-24 (16.7%) from deep. That’s obviously putrid, and some of these shots never should have been taken.
But if the two points from above hold — if the freshman improve their shooting and if the shots start being distributed in a smarter way — the early-season performance of Indiana’s vets suggests that this team may actually turn into Indiana’s best 3-point shooting under Archie Miller.
Granted, it’s a low bar (last season’s 32.6%), but it you surround Trayce Jackson-Davis with even just moderately credible 34-35% outside shooting, he’ll have the extra half steps of space he needs to dominate.
So I’m buying low on Indiana’s 3-point shooting. The early-season brick parades are frustrating and worrisome, but likely something of a mirage.
Indiana’s offensive and defensive assist rates are outstanding
Through four games, Indiana is assisting on 62.1% of its made field goals. On defense, the Hoosiers are giving up an assist rate of just 42.2%.
Both numbers would be clear bests under Archie Miller, though it’s reasonable to expect each to regress closer to its historical average as more games are played.
Still, it’s worth considering if either number points to an early-season trend.
I’m not ready to say one way or another on offense, though I do like the increased pace and ball movement I’ve seen. Still, this Indiana team needs to prove it can get consistent guard play and make outside shots before I’m ready to have confidence in its ability to generate assists. So my guess is that’s probably more mirage than trend.
But I do think the improved defensive assist rate is here to stay.
A hallmark of good defenses (think Texas Tech and Virginia) is forcing opponents into a lot of isolation possessions — meaning one player trying to score on his own. The more often this occurs, the lower an opponent’s assist rate will be and, usually, the worse their offensive efficiency will be.
This is because most college players aren’t good enough to consistently score in iso situations against good defenses.
And so far Indiana is showing some signs that its defensive growth is real. Among them:
- The Race Thompson rate stats I mentioned above
- Excellent ball pressure at the top with Rob Phinisee
- More interchangeable pieces to be able to execute switches and playing different styles (like icing ball screens)
- Credible rim protection from Race and Trayce
- A versatile wing defender in Armaan Franklin who can win one-on-one matchups and prevent drives
- Commitment and enthusiasm on defense
- The accumulated institutional knowledge of four years in the same system.
The defensive rebounding is a concern, and probably caps Indiana at a very good defense instead of an elite one, but putbacks are also unassisted buckets, so it’s another reason to think the defensive assist rate is more trend than mirage, and the overall improvement on D may well be here to stay … as long as Rob and Race both stay healthy. #knockonwood
Those are the stats that stand out to me. Do you agree or disagree with my trend/mirage assessments on any of them?
And what other stats stand out to you? Comment below!