Final Stats (31 games): 5.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 47.0% FG, 65.2% FT, 36.0% from three.
Thinking back on the season, I was under the impression Derek Elston only saw significant minutes the last few games of the season. This assumption isn’t quite true: Elston logged 20 or more minutes in games against USC Upstate, Maryland, Kentucky and Purdue inside Assembly Hall.
But against Ohio State at home? Six minutes. At Penn State? Seven minutes. Against Iowa in that disappointing loss at home? Nine minutes.
And this brings to mind one word to describe Elston’s season: sporadic.
When the freshman did see time on the court, he was a joy to watch; Elston is the type of player that always seems to be in the right place at the right time — putting back misses on the offensive end, snaking behind the defense for a clean look … Elston has a knack for the game and usually finds himself in the mix in a good way.
So why wasn’t this kid playing more all season in a year where playing time was certainly there for him?
Well, Tom Crean had a short leash with Elston. He’d pull him quickly if he lapsed defensively. If he failed to box his man out, he’d be taking a seat on the bench.
Elston’s turning point of the season? Feb. 25 against Wisconsin at home. The game Crean was ejected from. The game Elston saw significant run in the second half with Crean not on the sideline. It that 78-46 loss, Elston went for 12 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes and Crean praised his solid second-half play at his post-game presser.
From there, Elston shined. In 24 minutes against Purdue, Elston went for 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and seven rebounds; he scored a season-high 17 points (6-of-11) and snatched eight boards in a win over Northwestern; and in IU’s last game of the season in the Big Ten Tournament, Elston had a near double-double (10 points on 5-of-9 shooting, season-high nine boards) in 25 minutes.
Bottom Line: As I wrote in my college PER post, Elston was the most efficient and productive player per minute on the team this season. It probably took too long for him to start seeing the minutes he did, but maybe it also took him most of the season to develop into the player he was capable of being. Either way, Elston deserves to play just as much as he was at the end of this season next year, and a lineup featuring Elston, Verdell Jones III, Mo Creek, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls — though undersized — is one that provides multiple scoring threats and better ballhandlers, something that will suit IU quite well come next season.
Filed to: Derek Elston