Indiana Basketball: Points of improvement for each returning player

Jerome Hunter, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Armaan Franklin, Indiana Basketball. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
Jerome Hunter, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Armaan Franklin, Indiana Basketball. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /
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Al Durham, Indiana Basketball
Al Durham, Archie Miller, Indiana Basketball. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

Joey Brunk

It’s hard not to like Joey Brunk. He’s a high character, high effort guy that gets pumped up during the course of the game like no one else on the IU roster. Brunk was asked to do too much on offense last season, though. He touched the ball in the post — oftentimes from far out as 15 feet– on what seemed like every possession. Having to back down a guy like Kaleb Wesson or Xavier Tillman from that far out and then manufacture a decent shot is a tough task for anyone, and especially for a guy who previously only averaged 3.1 shots per game at Butler.

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That isn’t Brunk’s fault, and Archie Miller lessened his burden later in the season. Brunk is best used as an energy guy who rebounds like an animal and scores off of second chance opportunities. If he finishes the game with the most attempts on the team, it’s usually not a great sign for success.

Brunk needs to do a better job of fighting to get positioning on the low block instead of catching so far out, although sometimes it’s by the fault of play design and not his doing. Brunk also struggled to guard other big men at times. Brunk’s improvement on low post defense would help Indiana negate the impact of some of the excellent centers in the Big Ten, and would be the difference in several matchups next season.

Al Durham 

Durham is going to be a key player next year for the Hoosiers. After a failed experiment with him as the team’s point guard, Durham proved he can thrive as a secondary ball-handler. He is big enough at 6-foot-5 to play small forward if he needs to, and he may need to be prepared to play that position next year if Khristian Lander reclassifies. Durham is a good defender, a good shooter, and is adept at finishing with both hands in traffic.

Al Durham is a very good college basketball player who could be the third to fourth-best player on a championship-caliber team. Unfortunately, he has been put in the position of having to do more than that in the last two years.

If Durham wants to ascend to that next tier of elite players in the Big Ten, he needs to create more offense for himself. With the absence of Devonte Green, Indiana is going to need a guard to step up and score when all else is failing, and Durham can be that guy. In order to fill that role, however, he needs to learn to create his own shot. It’s as much about mindset as it is skillset, and I’d love to see Durham take ahold of the team as a senior and fix the scoring problems the Indiana backcourt has recently experienced.

Justin Smith

Justin Smith is an enigma. He’s battle-tested, experienced, uber-athletic, a great defender when he wants to be, but he’s incompetent on offense. His lack of shooting means his defender sinks deep into the paint, clogging up driving lanes and post-ups for others. Smith lacks the knowledge of when to cut to counteract this, and kicking out to him on the three-point line — even if he’s wide open — often results in the ball just being held and the offense resetting.

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Smith is a 25 percent career three-point shooter. If he could get that number up to even just 33 percent, defenses would have to respect him enough to not completely abandon him. This would open up so many options for the Hoosier offense. Smith needs to work on his spot-up jump shot like his life depends on it this summer to help this team.

I sound like a broken record, but the keyword for Indiana next season is spacing. This team has a chance to be really good, and dare I say fun, but if there is no spacing, next season will be painful once again.