When someone has as high of expectations as Romeo Langford had walking onto Indiana University’s campus last fall, there is almost certainly just one way to go. Langford was the recent of a string of top Indiana recruits to don the cream and crimson a la James Blackmon, Jr. and Cody Zeller. Unfortunately, his one season in Bloomington played out more like the former than the latter.
Langford did little to help his own case, struggling from the onset this season. He wasn’t healthy but he wasn’t efficient. The end result was disappointment not just in Langford’s season but in Indiana’s as a whole. Deciphering how much of that blame falls on Langford’s lap and how much was the rest of the team is what could make or break NBA general managers and scouts jobs.
As opposed to how the Juwan Morgan profile was broken down, we’re going to look at different aspects of Langford’s game and look at both the pros and cons:
If the majority of Langford’s season was underwhelming, the overwhelming part was what he showed in the pick and roll. Per Synergy, it was the most common play type of the season for the freshman with 144 possessions, one of only two play types he had over 100 possession in. And he was elite in that category, finishing in the 90th percentile at 0.993 points per possession.
There’s many areas that make Langford so dangerous in the pick and roll. He was an elite finisher at the rim, hitting 63.6 percent of his shots at the rim, putting him in the 87th percentile on the year. As shown above, he has an ability to weave through traffic and finish around and even through contact. In general on pick and rolls, Langford was in the 96th percentile on taking the ball to the basket at an absurd 1.45 PPP.
He was at his most lethal in high pick and rolls, which was his most common pick and roll location. On 53 possessions off the high pick and roll, he finished in the 93rd percentile. He was in the 98th percentile in taking it to the basket off high pick and rolls.
He’s also an efficient mid-range shooter, something he showcased at times off the pick and roll. On medium range shots, considered between 17’ to the three-point line, Langford shot 51.6 percent on 31 attempts, ranking him in the 91st percentile.
He also has an ability to pass out of the pick and roll. Indiana didn’t have many great roll guys on screens and the highest IQ player they had and likely best roller, Juwan Morgan, wasn’t often used as a roll man (only 29 rolls to the basket on the year, per Synergy).
In the few instances the two did connect for a pick and roll, Langford showed some passing chops hitting the roll man whether it be on a roll or a slip. Langford had 39 passes to the roll man this year resulting in 1.077 PPP. In this play, Langford and Morgan both read the big hedging the screen early late in the game and Morgan is able to finish at the rim for a clutch basket.
In general, Langford was a willing passer out of pick and rolls, passing out of them 98 times on the year. The problem was Indiana’s rather putrid roster around him was unable to maximize those passes. On 53 passes to spot up shooters, Indiana shot just 33.3 percent and tallied only 48 points, for example.
All this isn’t mentioning the fact that almost all of his drives to the rim are to his right. He hardly ever drove to the basket to his left hand. Similarly, he’s a straight line driver. At times, he’d fall into the routine of putting his head down in attacking the basket and get himself into trouble when Plan A didn’t work. His length often bailed him out in ways that won’t work in the NBA as effectively.
How does all this translate to the NBA? Well it’s likely to suspect pick and rolls will be the best way to maximize him early in his time in the league. Ideally, he’d play next to a point guard who can play off the ball. His handle isn’t tight enough nor is his ability to initiate an offense good enough to be considered a lead guard. A situation like Phoenix or Chicago, though, where he could go to teams that run heavy doses of high pick and roll. Situations like Atlanta or Cleveland, teams with established young point guards, could still work.
The elephant in the room whenever discussing Langford is his shot. While he was above average at the rim and in the mid-range, he was putrid behind the line. On 125 three-point attempts, Langford shot just 27.2 percent. On 117 spot up opportunities, he finished at 0.855 PPP and in the 42nd percentile.
It’s not as cut and dry as the numbers lay it out to be, though. Langford suffered a thumb injury in late November and played through it before getting surgery after the season. It’s not a complete excuse for his shooting woes as his jumper will need work regardless but it certainly a matter that weighed into his poor shooting.
The motion still involves a too much of a slingshot motion at times, comes across his body and finishes over his head. It’s unorthodox to say the least. The hardest thing is that there’s so much movement in it that it’s not a replicable form. There’s a lot of works that needs to be done to the jumper to fix the mechanics.
But at the same time, Langford wasn’t always a terrible shooter. In high school, he was a 36 percent three-point shooter his senior year and a 35 percent shooter for his career. It could have been a matter of confidence, it could have been a matter of the injury causing issues or it could be that his mechanics were really just that off. The answer is likely some combination of the three.
With all that in mind, Langford’s scoring potential should still be a positive. He’s already a two-level scorer that has shown an ability in the past to knock down threes consistently. If that aspect of his game can be worked out, he becomes a player with NBA wing size and the ability to score at all three levels. Those guys are a hot commodity.
Another aspect that hasn’t been mentioned is his free throw rate and how much he lived at the line. It’s not an apples to apples comparison but his free throw rate of 49.1 percent was lower than James Harden’s rate last season of 44.9 percent. His free throw percentage of 72.2 percent is also another strong indicator that his jumper isn’t a lost cause.
This doesn’t completely cover everything about Langford but it addresses the two areas of his game that are most prevalent. He still has issues to work out defensively but he has a 6’11” wingspan that can make up for that. His effort level wavered at times but he also has a smoothness to his game that makes it look like he’s not trying at times. He also played the most minutes for Indiana this season and had a usage rate north of 25 percent.
Langford is a flawed player who had many of those weaknesses exposed this season while being the lightning rod for criticism after coming in with high expectations. Fair or foul, he absorbed it all and still put up impressive numbers. If he can apply that same drive to improving his game, he could recoup the value he once had and turn into a big time scorer in the NBA.