Indiana men’s basketball has already had an exciting offseason, during which Mike Woodson has finally started to build a roster his way. The Hoosiers have added a lot of star power, athleticism, and length already, but still have one scholarship open on the roster.
So how will Mike Woodson use it?
The most obvious, popular demand this offseason has been for a shooter, with Indiana fans clamoring over transfers like Dalton Knecht or Nicolas Timberlake to replace Miller Kopp, one of the best shooters for the Hoosiers over the last two seasons.
Count me among those Indiana fans who would have loved either Knecht or Timberlake, but I am skeptical about the idea of absolutely prioritizing shooting over any other attribute, especially given the way Indiana’s offense has worked over the last two seasons.
First of all, there’s the fact that Indiana already had four above average shooters in its regular lineup last year before the Xavier Johnson injury, which forced Jalen Hood-Schifino to take a higher volume of three-pointers that dropped his percentage down to 33.3%.
Miller Kopp led all Hoosiers with 142 attempts last year, which was an improvement over his 108 the year before, but would have placed him in third place on Tom Crean’s 2016-17 roster. That year, James Blackmon Jr. took a whopping 215 threes, followed by 189 by Rob Johnson.
In Big Ten play, it’s simply way more valuable to have a player who can both make shots and create off the dribble, which is something a guy like Miller Kopp never did on a consistent basis. Even going back to the Crean years, Nick Zeisloft - a similar shooting specialist - would finish the season with fewer attempts than guys like Yogi Ferrell or James Blackmon who could get themselves some open space.
Sure, you could argue that Woodson, a coach with decades of NBA experience, should be able to draw up plays that find his shooters more, but this isn’t what’s worked in the conference. For all his flaws, Crean had multiple top ten offenses nationally that still saw more three-point attempts and makes from the versatile guards that could score in multiple ways.
For that reason, I think Mike Woodson’s priority should be adding another ball handler, whether they be a shooting guard or true point guard. Of course it would be great if this mystery player can also shoot, but handling the ball and beating guys off the dribble would be the two most important traits I’d look for in that last open scholarship, if I were head coach.
Adding depth to the backcourt would also protect Indiana from injuries, which prevented it from reaching its potential last season. Trey Galloway is fine as a defense-first starting shooting guard, but if Xavier Johnson were to miss time again, he and Gabe Cupps would likely be charged with running Indiana’s offense on their own.
For all of Galloway’s strengths, beating a guy off the dribble to initiate the offense is not one of them, at least not consistently, and Indiana would be best off not relying on him and a four-star freshman to handle things when Xavier Johnson needs a breather.
In an ideal world, this would not be a player with a ton of eligibility remaining. I like the talent Indiana has in C.J. Gunn and Jakai Newton on the wing, but making the backcourt a little too crowded could force one of them to the portal before realizing their potential at Indiana.
Asking Mike Woodson to go get somebody who checks all the above boxes may be a tall order, but the work this staff has put in this offseason allows them to be picky. As things stand, Indiana will likely have one of if not the most talented frontcourt in the conference alongside an honorable mention All-Conference point guard. The Hoosiers can stand to be picky.
Adding guys from the portal can be dangerous for team chemistry, which is another reason I would anticipate Mike Woodson being selective with this open roster spot. The talented bigs he’s brought in this offseason will anticipate being featured heavily in the offense, and would not appreciate bringing in a shooter who expects a touch every possession.
At the end of the day, backcourt depth is really the only remaining area of concern for Woodson and company, so adding either a shooter or initiator would help lighten the burden on Indiana’s current group. I’ve made my case for adding a facilitator over a shooter, but I have all the faith in the world in Mike Woodson to put the Hoosiers in the best spot to win this coming season.
He’s earned the trust.