2015-2016 Player Profile: James Blackmon Jr.

  • 10/13/2015 9:00 am in

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’re taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster this month. Today, we continue our look at Indiana’s roster with James Blackmon Jr.

As a freshman last season, James Blackmon Jr.’s offensive prowess put him in rare company. The Marion product made 77 3-pointers, the most-ever for an Indiana freshman. His 518 points rank him third all-time for freshmen behind NBA lottery picks Eric Gordon (669) and Cody Zeller (563).

Still, despite his entry into the record books, Blackmon Jr. has plenty to improve upon on both sides of the ball as he begins his sophomore campaign. Let’s start with efficiency in conference play. While he certainly pumped in points in the non-conference slate, Blackmon Jr.’s efficiency dipped as he struggled in a number of conference games against stiffer defenses — especially on the road.

In games he didn’t have it, Blackmon Jr. often forced up shots, leading to a number of forgettable lines: 2-of-14 (at Michigan State), 4-of-13 (at Purdue), 2-of-14 (at Maryland), 1-of-10 (at Northwestern), 2-of-12 (vs. Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament).

So despite all the 3-pointers made and points scored, Blackmon Jr. finished just sixth on the team in 3-point percentage (37.5 percent) and eighth on the team in terms of effective field goal percentage (51.2 percent) in part due to those rough road games.

To improve, Blackmon Jr. could stand to finish better against length at the rim, where he often struggled. He’d go up with his right hand in repetitive fashion. It lacked deception and made it easier for the opponent to block or alter his shot. If he also shows sharper focus during his time on the court and takes smarter shots in the flow of the offense, it all could have him avoiding those rough performances in his sophomore campaign.

On defense, it’s no secret the Hoosiers struggled in 2014-2015. But even though it was a team wide issue, Blackmon Jr.’s defensive issues weren’t hard to spot. In the aforementioned game he shot 1-of-10 at Northwestern, Blackmon Jr. had a bad performance on defense as well. And while that game was particularly egregious in terms of his defensive struggles, it wasn’t the only game he stood out in terms of awareness, decision making and effort. Defense was a glaring weak spot for a freshman making records on the other side of the ball.

Tom Crean has already said playing time this year will be largely dependent on defense. If you don’t defend, you’ll sit. If that holds true, Blackmon Jr. has a challenge in front of him heading into his sophomore campaign.

Bottom Line: Blackmon Jr.’s training took a bit of a hit this summer after he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in July. Despite the surgery, Blackmon Jr. is now back and 100 percent healthy. With a year of maturity under his belt in Crean’s program, look for Blackmon Jr. to continue to be an offensive threat capable of scoring in a variety of ways. If he improves his offensive consistency and become more tenacious on defense, Blackmon Jr. could become an elite Big Ten player and more seriously test the NBA waters.

Quotable: “The biggest thing is going to be how he does on defense. He has an awareness, more and more, defensively right now. It has been in shorter pockets of time. It hasn’t been over game-to-game or day-to-day yet. I am hopeful he understands that will have a lot to do with his playing time this year. The decision making and the defense will have a lot to do with all of their playing time.” — Tom Crean on Blackmon Jr. last month

Previously: Thomas Bryant, Juwan Morgan, O.G. Anunoby, Harrison NiegoTim Priller, Robert Johnson

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  • sarge

    We all know JBJ can shoot, score and grab rebounds. I want to see him develop into a complete player for us this season. Better decision making, better shot selection and continue to improve on the things he already does well. He will turn some NBA heads if he can become a lock down defender because it was his glaring weakness from last year.

  • straight no chaser

    Great content from Ryan.

    I think the piece hits the nail on the head. Let me begin by saying that I love James, as I do all of our players. But I think, and as the article does, James’ high point production (for a freshman) should always be qualified with mention of his shooting percentages. Stifling defenses? I thought our claim to fame last year was that we were supposed to be so good on the perimeter that we would be “spreading opposing defenses.” Keep giving the ball to your 6th best 3-point shooter, and he will get a lot of points.

    Another concern: Has any issue that has been publicly addressed by Crean (about a player improving in a certain area of weakness) in the last two years ever produced good results? He harped on Hollowell. Goodbye Hollowell. He harped on April. Goodbye April. He harped on Perea. Goodbye Perea. He harped on Stan Robinson. Goodbye Stan. He harped and he harped and he harped. He has now started harping on James, in the very same pattern as when he did about Perea (flashes of good play that needs to become more consistent). Sorry, folks, but all I see is more harping and no coaching results. If the players are to be blamed, then let us start recruiting players who listen. If the coach is to be blamed, then …

    Sorry, but I wish Crean would keep his criticism of players private, because once he starts harping in public, it’s a bad sign of horrible things to come. To me, it usually means he has hit a wall with a player and is just justifying himself to the fan base. There is NO WAY you can’t get a set of talented players to play defense, and to play it well. Benching is not an option, Coach. Figure out a way to do it.

  • WhatsUpKnight2.0

    CTC does have a knack for presenting negatives in a positive manner (ex. ‘he needs to start improving his decision making’ as opposed to ‘he needs to stop taking horrible shots’). and you’re right, at the end of the day it’s just talk. i must admit it annoys me a bit too.

    in JBJ’s case, i don’t think there’s a need to be quite so skeptical. i think we saw more than enough in his Fr. season to know he’s significantly more talented, skilled, and disciplined (and almost certainly more teachable) than the vastly over-hyped players you lumped him in with. i think we’ll see a much improved player this year.

  • straight no chaser

    I didn’t mean to lump JBJ with the other players in terms of talent. It’s more about CTC’s public discourse on issues of weakness. His tone makes it sound as though the players are resisting and being stubborn. It’s hard for me to imagine that James doesn’t have the discipline and talent to learn if he is being taught properly.

  • Young Hoosier

    CBS Sports did a Top 100 players. Indiana has 3 on the last.
    20. Yogi
    37. Troy
    44. JBJ

  • TomJameson

    To be fair though, CTC has been “harping” on the entire team about defense. It wasn’t just JBJ, he called out the entire team and said that ALL playing time was dependent on their defense.

    I don’t like calling out players in public either, but come on, what CTC has said has been said by most sports analysts, and sports writers, and fans in general … AND has been said stritently by the fans on this forum. Nothing new here.

  • straight no chaser

    Yes, but why are we not entertaining the notion that part of the problem is the coaching itself. It’s not like Crean has a reputation for being a great defensive coach. Why doesn’t he bring in a defensive expert to work on the team’s defense? The point you make about him calling out the “entire” team supports my claim even more. I’m not worried about the players’ feelings here for being individually picked on. That’s not my point. My point is how to interpret coach speak. From my observations as a fan, there’s no evidence to suggest that I should blame the players any more than the coach.

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    Wishing JBJ good health , a great 3pt stroke and most importanat of all defensive effort this season oh and hit that open teamate with a pass instead of going to the hoop and ….. you know the rest.

  • Ole Man

    Too high for JBJ.

  • Ole Man

    UH, oh. You did the “no no”.
    LOL!

  • straight no chaser

    LOL, more like the “do do”.

  • marcusgresham

    In Blackmon’s case (unlike the other guys you mentioned,) he has legitimate aspirations of making it to the NBA. Improving his defense was also what he was told would need to happen to achieve that goal, so in this case I think Crean is just using that carrot in front of his nose as a reminder.

  • IULore

    Too low for Yogi

  • IULore

    really? Where would you put him?

  • SilentBob

    I don’t get that at all from Tom, sounds more like a coach honestly answering questions which all coaches do. Crean also compared JBJ to Wade in his willingness to be coach, seek out coaching, and work ethic. So for every negative there is at least one, if not more positives, just depends on your feelings going in to it as what you pick up on.

  • straight no chaser

    It’s not about positive and negative. It’s about a coach who has not proven that he can coach an elite defensive team.

  • SCHoosier

    There were times last year when JBJ found himself on the bench at crunch time when IU was on defense. That..and the NBA’s comments about needing to improve his D ought to be the ultimate motivators for James’ improvement. I hope TC sticks to his guns on the “playing time will be determined by effectiveness on defense.” The matador defense played on the perimeter last year can not be tolerated this season if IU’s goals are going to be met.

  • I wouldn’t put JBJ in the top 100, not with his defensive lapses. He gives up more buckets than he scores. If he turns that around this year, then he’ll be deserving of a top 100 ranking, but I’ll need to see evidence of that first.

    I’d put Yogi top 10.

  • straight no chaser

    What is CTC’s plan if the entire team ends up on the bench. LOL!

  • Drew

    I’d still have JBJ in my top 100, but you are absolutely right that his defensive issues last year make CBS’ ranking of him way too high.

  • SilentBob

    You will get no argument from anyone on that.

  • Young Hoosier

    That’s what it said on the site lol.

  • Bill Graham

    People seem to neglect the fact that this kid is an absolute gym rat. I worked in Assembly Hall last year and this kid literally lives in the practice facility. Also, I think repeatedly hearing, “you need to work on D” from NBA scouts triggered some off season work. I look for him to make a major leap defensively.

    Offensively, I see him as our leading scorer. I feel like Yogi is going to take on more of a distributor role with a TB safety net in the lane. Therefore, I see a lot of kickbacks to James for a 3 (especially if his man is in help-side or digging on TB)

  • Bill Graham

    I agree. D is an issue. I also agree that CTC hasn’t shown an ability to sustain good D (its been the crimson crutch since Knight left) Even during his years at Marquette they struggled defensively. Part of that is pace. We are so quick to score that other teams get plenty of offensive possessions. The other part of that is because we play so fast we bite too much defensively and we get tired. I’d say our biggest defensive priority should be sustaining a lead.

  • Ole Man

    At this point JBJ scores because he shoots a lot; not because he is a great shooter or a great scorer. Those are different things. Me? Somewhere from 70 – 100.

  • straight no chaser

    I don’t think he’s a better shooter than others on the team. What he needs is a better all-around game.

  • straight no chaser

    Per kenpom we ranked #72 in AdjT (adjusted tempo) last year, and #63 and #109 the two years before. I think it is becoming more of a myth that we are quick to score.

  • Bill Graham

    Well 72 still isn’t a slow offense. Also, quick paced and quick to score are two different things. I would look for those numbers to increase based off of some help on TB.

  • Bill Graham

    I completely agree. He was a streaky shooter last year. Hopefully that goes away this year and he becomes a reliable kick out option. Maybe even drive if they close out too hard.

  • oldiugymnast

    He had a bad wheel for most of those bad games however. I get the concerns – and agree on D especially – but I think the streaky was a combination of having an ankle that had so much tape it looked like he had on a cast and frustration because he wasn’t used to driving against elite bigs. I am sure he has developed a runner and some up and unders to get by the bigs by now – and if he is in good shape health wise, I hope he will at least try to keep his guy in front of him.

  • curtis south

    James was a freshmen! You don’t see many freshmen that shoot like James that have a very good back round in defense! Give the kid this year to prove he has some grit on the defensive end! I was frustrated too MANY MANY times with James on the defensive end but I just kept telling myself “He is a freshman” so lets just wait and see what happens with him this year! Trust me I am as anxious as you are too see his defense!

  • CreanFaithful

    Which busts the myth touted by many (not saying you) that IU can only score in transition.

  • SilentBob

    While I’ll agree the tempo thing is blown out of the water, the vast majority of teams who have higher rated tempos play in conferences that only get one team into the NCAA each year. Only one Big Ten team played at a faster tempo (Minnesota) and only 5 power conferences teams that played in the NCAA tournament last year played at a higher tempo. But Kansas played at a higher tempo and had the 10th best defense according to kenpom so…

  • SilentBob

    Of course I’d imagine the defenses ability to force quick turnovers or shots would effect that. Would be interesting to see a stat showing what offenses pushed the ball up the floor the quickest and which offenses left the most time left on the shot clock on average

  • straight no chaser

    Okay, yeah, technically I think AdjT boils down to time per possession (relative to your opponents). Technically, you can have more tempo and be slow-paced (unlikely), and, conversely, you could have slower tempo (more time per possession) but be fast paced. Maybe the latter is where we are. If we have slower tempo but are fast-paced, then you are right, we are burning more calories per unit of time on offense, and our legs are tired on defense. I wonder if there are measures out there that capture pace rather than time of possession. Of course, I could be wrong on all of this. Someone? Any stat nerds out there?

  • straight no chaser

    If I’m not mistaken (see my post below) AdjT correlates with precisely that (time per possession). Adjusted means it measures the time spent per possession relative to your opponents.

  • Joe Pop

    “but why are we not entertaining the notion that part of the problem is the coaching itself”

    Are you kidding me? that’s pretty much what every comment section on this site turns into.

  • Joe Pop

    that’s a fair criticism, but you still have to be a really good scorer to get 15 pts a game as a freshman in the big ten.. look at Eric Gordon’s stats his year: FG 43.3% 3PT 33.7% PPG 20.9

    I’d say 70-100 is right on for JBJ

  • TomJameson

    This list is looking forward, otherwise how can you have an incoming freshman be on it at all? Since defense has been an entire off-season avowed focus, and JBJ was told by the NBA advisors that he HAS to improve his defense, I believe his defense will be much improved. Probably deserves this preseason ranking.

    The one that counts is the post-season rank!

  • straight no chaser

    Well, yeah, ya know, the “we” as IU basketball, as in coaching staff, as in … LOL!

  • mckillio

    There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to see JBJ do too well so that he can come back again for 2016 and takeover PG responsibilities.

  • Joe Pop

    thanks for clearing that up

  • b_side

    I guess it depends on how you define elite. Top 10?

    He’s had some teams perform “well above average”, but not a lot. According to Kenpom, here are Crean’s best defensive efficiency rankings:

    2002 #13
    2007 #36
    2008 #27 (Crean’s last season at Marquette)
    2013 #28

    I think the capability is there, but certainly not a strong suit. For some context in 2014-2015 among other offensive powerhouses, Wisconsin was #54 and Notre Dame was #101.