It’s difficult to pinpoint, precisely, the reason for the inconsistency of Derek Elston’s playing time as a freshman.
Perhaps it was the mental lapses he suffered regularly, as most freshman do, on defense. Or maybe it was something we didn’t see behind the closed doors of practice in Assembly Hall.
Whatever the case for the sporadic minutes, Elston was arguably Indiana’s best player down the stretch as he delivered 40 points and 24 rebounds in the team’s final three games. (The efficiency numbers don’t lie, either.)
Those late-season performances, coupled with his versatility at 6-foot-9 to play multiple positions, make Elston the prime candidate to take the biggest step forward of any Hoosier as a sophomore.
That aforementioned versatility affords Tom Crean the flexibility to run with a variety of lineups, depending on the situation.
If Crean elects to go small with three guards and Christian Watford, Elston could find himself, for stretches, guarding an opponent’s five. Sure, it’s not ideal, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching Crean coach for two seasons, it’s that he’s not one for always trotting out a traditional lineup. (Tijan at the top of the 1-3-1, anyone?)
On the other hand, it’s not inconceivable that Elston will also log his fair share of minutes at the three if the matchups align correctly and Elston proves capable of staying in front of opponents on the perimeter.
Hypothetical scenarios aside, the optimism for a large step forward for Elston stems primarily from the eye test that he passed with flying colors when he was on the floor as a freshman. He mixed it up in the paint. He knocked down 3-pointers. He showed, at times, a solid midrange game. He displayed a solid handle for a kid of his stature. He battled, admirably, on the glass. And in all, he was Indiana’s most efficient player from a statistical standpoint.
Bottom line: Elston might not start or finish the season in IU’s starting five, but his play will earn him considerably more minutes than he saw as a freshman. Given how well he played at times last season when given the opportunity and how desperately Crean is seeking grit, intelligence and toughness, look for Elston to emerge and accomplish big things as a sophomore.
Quotable: “In the Big Ten in early practices, I didn’t even feel involved. But I finally put my foot down and said I’ve got to start doing something, and like you said, my minutes went up, and then I got some confidence back, and then I started to roll with it.” — Derek Elston.
Filed to: Derek Elston