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Juwan Morgan, his jump and his importance to the Hoosiers

After a pedestrian sophomore season, Juwan Morgan made the jump and has become one of the most important Hoosiers in a long time.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Indiana Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

While he was a man of many faults, few head coaches in the game were better at finding gems in the rough than Tom Crean.

Famously, Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey were three-star recruits when they came to Bloomington. OG Anunoby, according to 247 Sports, was ranked below Emmitt Holt and just above Grant Gelon.

Coming in just ahead of Oladipo and Sheehey, sandwiched between Jordan Hulls and future-Hoosier Jake Forrester all-time, was a three-star forward out of Missouri that came in the same class as Anunoby.

The 6’8 forward blossomed not quite as rapidly as Anunoby’s ascent into the stratosphere but has become a more integral part to a Hoosier side than the now-Raptor was.

And without Juwan Morgan this season, a year filled with growing pains and painful losses would have been so, so much worse.

On paper coming into the season, Morgan was tailor-made for Archie Miller’s system. Also on paper, Morgan was coming off an improved, but still rather pedestrian season where he averaged 7.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, attempted less than five shots a game and had a usage percentage that was only ahead of Zach McRoberts on the team.

Natural progression would suggest an improvement from Morgan heading into his junior campaign. But with a new system and a new coach, no one could have anticipated the jump he has made in his junior year.

Morgan’s counting stats are impressive in their own right. He’s averaging 16.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. The list of players with averages equal to or greater than those of Morgan’s is just two people: Morgan and Aidin Penava of Marshall. But Penava is shooting (marginally) worse than Morgan this season and is attempting nearly two more shots a game.

A dive into advanced stats, however, shows how important Morgan is to the Hoosiers. His effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and player efficiency rating (PER) both rank him second in the league. He’s fourth in true shooting percentage in the conference. His box plus/minus (BPM) of 10.7 is fourth in the conference.

For reference, that number would rank him just below Cody Zeller on the 2012-13 Hoosier team right now and he’s on pace to finish level with Zeller’s BPM of 11.3. The difference is, obviously, there’s no Victor Oladipo on this year’s team.

His 26.2 usage percentage is a stark jump from last season, but his PER and true shooting percentage numbers have both improved as has his win share numbers.

And all of that hasn’t even put into context his player during conference games. He’s been better statistically in every counting stat in Big Ten games this season than his overall numbers.

No one in the conference has more than five games this season with 20 points, eight rebounds and 50 percent field goal shooting. Morgan has six in conference play alone.

And even more, over his last nine games, Morgan is averaging 20.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists on 59.8 percent shooting. But every metric, as the season has progressed, so has he.

Even with how great Morgan has been, it’s still hard to quantify how important he has been to this Hoosier team. He’s often been a release valve on offense. Morgan has produced 425 points this season through Saturday’s game against Iowa, an average of 15.2 points produced per game. Only Yogi Ferrell produced more points per game since that 2012-13 season and Zeller.

Morgan will almost certainly earn First Team All-Big Ten honors this season, deservedly so. In the list of Hoosiers most important to their team, Morgan would high upon that list. Without him, a Hoosier team that has struggled to create offense would be even more miserable. Indiana’s 16-12 record would easily see single digits in the win column this season sans Morgan.

Fans are guaranteed three more games with Morgan, barring either a Big Ten Tournament run or a postseason appearance. After that point, his future is uncertain with the NBA presenting itself as an intriguing option. If he were to leave, the Hoosiers would have a monster hole to fill next season. But considering how far Morgan has come this season, the idea that the NBA is a possibility is just one more example of how important, valuable and impressive Morgan has been this season.

And another example of a diamond in the rough.