Derek Elston is guy that over his first two seasons, well... I just liked better than many of the other Hoosier big men for a number of reasons. I loved his willingness to mix it up inside, his aggressiveness on offense, and his ability to cause deflections with his quick hands. That said, during his sophomore season, he really seemed lost on defense, unable to adjust to foes' offensive schemes, but then we found out the next summer he hadn't been at 100% for the entire year. And after that injury-bogged sophomore season, he put on some weight to help back up Cody Zeller and Tom Pritchard in the paint, and seemed (at least, in the "eye-test") to fit in better with the rest of the team than in previous year. The final home game against Purdue seemed like an example of Elston at his worst, but not enough to spoil a seemingly productive year. So imagine my surprise when I reviewed the stats and found a profile of a player in decline. Let's take a look:
Last season, Derek posted career lows in minutes played (12.3mpg), 2 point field goal (47.4%) and free-throw shooting (55.2%) percentages, as well as steals and both offensive and defensive rebounds. That said, his defensive block+rebounds/possession combo rate was roughly equivalent to Watford, and only trailed Zeller on the team roster. His offensive rebounding prowess fell to fifth on the team as he was again behind Zeller, as well as the threesome of Oladipo, Sheehey and Pritchard for the second year in a row. And this was after leading a good offensive-rebounding team as a freshman. However, this may be explained by his shift outside on offense, which was valuable not only for creating space for Cody, but also efficient as he posted a career-best 57.9% shooting from the arc, up from a mere 17.6%.
Furthermore on the positive side, his assist/turnover ratio has improved steadily, as Elston had 13 assists to 22 turnovers last season, up from 8/25 and 12/37 his freshmen and sophomore years. Also, his block percentage went up significantly from his sophomore year, posting more blocks in less minutes, although not quite reaching his career season-high of 12 which he set as a frosh.
What can we expect this season from Derek?
Well, Derek will be playing a different role with Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin on board to give Zeller a break in the paint. As such, he's reportedly lost some weight over the summer to get more mobile, which should fit his game as a combo forward a little better. I don't expect that he'll shoot anywhere near that 57.9% from three, but if he just reverts to his freshman mark of 36%, that won't get in the way of the rest of the IU offense. He can offset a lower outside shooting clip by reversing his downward trend at the charity stripe, as well as getting back to hitting two-pointers with more accuracy. There's a lot of other areas for improvement in his game, from a statistical standpoint. One would be a continuation of the steady improvement of his assist-turnover ratio, and another would be shoring back up those rebounding numbers. I believe that more than anything, Derek just has to find his role and fit in with the rest of team, who need to maximize the play-making talents of the other personnel (like Cody, CWat, VO, etc.). I think this season, he might just need to take a page from Tom Pritchard last season, and do whatever needs done off the bench to help to the team win. Tom didn't do anything flashy statistically last season, and he really wasn't even all that efficient, but his quiet hard work off the bench helped set the stage for the team to succeed.