That’s A Wrap: Justin Smith

  • 03/26/2020 7:50 am in

Welcome to “That’s A Wrap,” our player-by-player recap of the 2019-2020 Indiana Hoosiers. Today: Al Durham. Previously: Armaan Franklin, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Damezi Anderson, Jerome Hunter, Rob Phinisee, Race Thompson, Al Durham

Smith (32 games): 10.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1 steal, .9 assists, 49.2% FG, 26.3% 3PFG in 30.4 minutes per game

The 2019-20 campaign was another season of growth for Justin Smith.

A former top 80 recruit, the 6-foot-7 Smith opted to stick with the Hoosiers in the spring of 2017 when Indiana made the decision to fire Tom Crean after nine seasons.

After spending most of his first season in Bloomington under Archie Miller as a backup, Smith moved to the starting lineup as a sophomore. And as a junior, his role and importance continued to grow.

The Lincolnshire, Illinois native led the Hoosiers in minutes and his numbers were up in nearly every category, including points, rebounds, assists and steals per game.

While he is probably best suited to play the four in today’s college basketball landscape, Smith spent the majority of the season at the three in an Indiana starting frontcourt that also included Trayce Jackson-Davis and Joey Brunk.

Playing Smith at the three had its ups and downs for the Hoosiers. His size and athleticism was difficult for opponents to contain at times and those attributes served him well in transition, which is the strongest part of his offensive game. According to Synergy Sports, Smith scored 81 points in 71 transition possessions, which ranked in the 73rd percentile nationally.

The junior forward was also able to effectively finish in the paint and at the rim. In Big Ten play, he shot 52.3 percent on 2s, which ranked 22nd in the conference. He was 85-for-130 (65.4 percent) on shots at the rim, which was an improvement of nearly three percent from his sophomore season. Smith’s 22 dunks as a junior were second on the team behind 49 from freshman Jackson-Davis.

Defensively, Smith remained one of Indiana’s best defenders on and off the ball as a junior. He was often tasked with guarding the best wings and forwards in the Big Ten, a challenge he has readily accepted since his freshman season. Despite his offensive shortcomings – which we’ll get to shortly – it is Smith’s defense that led him to the pole position for the Hoosiers in minutes this season and made him an indispensable piece for Miller.

When Smith wasn’t successful offensively as a junior, it was often due to settling for perimeter shots and trying to do things off the dribble that aren’t a part of his natural skillset. He attempted a career-high 38 3-pointers and made only 26.3 percent. According to Synergy, Smith scored just nine points on 18 possessions when he was the ball handler in a pick-and-roll. He also scored just 37 points on 56 post-up possessions, which ranked in the 24th percentile nationally, per Synergy.

Bottom Line: There’s no denying Smith’s importance to Indiana after he led the team in minutes and finished third in scoring and second in rebounding as a junior. He’s arguably Indiana’s best defender and his contributions there were a major reason the Hoosiers were set to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016 before the season was halted early due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indiana is set to return all five starters next season, but it will be interesting to see how roles might change in 2020-21. If Smith is to remain the starter at the three, it will be vital for Miller to figure out a way to create more floor spacing. It was a common occurrence to see defenses pack the paint against Indiana and dare Smith to take shots from the perimeter.

Quotable: “I thought Justin Smith — I told him this after the game — I think he played the best college game of his career regardless of any numbers that he had. I don’t even know what he had, I just thought he was a real calming force for us. I thought he was a calming guy in huddles and timeouts. And he was a leader tonight out there and that was great to see as well.” – Miller on Smith after the junior finished with 14 points and five rebounds in 35 minutes in an 80-64 win over Florida State on Dec. 3.

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