Entering year two under Archie Miller, there are plenty of questions arising for Indiana basketball. The health of De’Ron Davis is intriguing, Romeo Langford’s situation is obviously unique, but the biggest question coming into 2018 is who will be Indiana’s point guard?
The Hoosiers lost Josh Newkirk upon graduation at the point guard position for 2018, but return junior Devonte Green, sophomore Al Durham and add freshman Robert Phinisee.
Through the first 24 games of last year, Newkirk was the Hoosiers starting point guard. In the last seven games, Green took over as the starting point guard and was serviceable for Indiana as they limped to the finish line.
With Green grabbing the majority of minutes toward the end of last season, one might presume that he’s a shoe-in to be the starter entering his junior year. And while he may be a front-runner for now, there’s plenty of heat on his heels with Durham and Phinisee looming in the background.
For as much as Indiana fans loved to rip on Newkirk’s play last season, Green was very similar to Newkirk in offensive metrics a season ago when you reflect back on the big picture.
Both Green and Newkirk were labeled as “significant contributors,” according to KenPom, meaning they were being used 20-24 percent of possessions when on the floor. Newkirk also played 57.5 percent of minutes last year while Green played 55.5 percent.
Take a look at their final stat lines compared to each other by the end of the season:
Newkirk Stats: 31 GP/24 GS, 7.1 ppg, 2.8 ast, 2.1 reb, 37.8% FG, 30.5% 3 PT, 1.8 TO/game, 0.48 steals/game
Green Stats: 31 GP/12 GS, 7.6 ppg, 2.5 ast, 1.9 reb, 36.4% FG, 33.7% 3 PT, 1.9 TO/game 1.03 steals/game
The two were almost identical with offensive production, but the one major plus that Green brings to the court is his defensive ability.
A prime example of Green’s defensive contributions was on display last season against Northwestern. He came off the bench, shot 1-for-7 from the field with four points, but had five steals in a win.
Indiana is undersized tonight against Michigan State so that makes the quickness of its guards crucial on defense. Here's how Devonte Green excelled against Northwestern. #iubb https://t.co/xRNMOolY8N pic.twitter.com/aJE5E3y8VN
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) January 19, 2018
“When he played well last year, our team was a lot different,” Miller said. “We had some really, really good wins and we had some really, really good performances when he played well. When he didn’t play well or we didn’t have that other guard on the floor at times, that’s when I thought we really struggled.”
But what about when Green showed flashes of greatness offensively toward the end of the season? Yes, Green showed major signs of improvement after he flipped a switch in his mind post-Purdue loss at home. Green played four minutes against the Boilermakers, was invisible on the stat sheet and then went off for 20 points two days later at Ohio State.
As Green started the final seven games of the season, there were great outings and there were mediocre outings. The 19 points against Minnesota and 18 points at Iowa with a game winning assist are obviously highlights. On the flip side, the three points, four turnovers game vs Illinois, the four points, six turnovers game at Nebraska and zero point effort in the regular season finale against Ohio State were lowlights.
“I think the one thing that he came to grips with at the end of the season was I’m going to dive in and embrace and I’m going to do what I’m supposed to do here, and let’s just see how it works,” Miller said. “With a six- to eight-week period of time from the end of the season, he did a great job not only on the floor but he did a great job in the weight room, he did a great job in the locker room.”
Green Stats Last 7 Games: 7 GP/7 GS, 8.5 ppg, 3.3 ast, 1.9 reb, 47.8% FG, 52.3% (11/21) 3 pt, 2.8 TO, 1.14 steals/game
With 31 minutes of tight defense and six assists, @ChefBoyArGreen played an important role in keeping Indiana in the game tonight. Archie, Freddie, and Juwan all gave their point guard praise. #iubb pic.twitter.com/XK2bcggWy1
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) February 4, 2018
The biggest thing for Green is to find consistency in his game on both ends of the floor. If he can do that, he may get the bulk of the minutes at point guard.
“If you ranked our players top to bottom in consistency, it would be very hard for me to tell you that Devonte didn’t have as consistent as an off-season as any guy,” Miller said. “He’s got a great opportunity to have a great role on this team, and he’s just got to embrace what we’re asking him to do.”
Coming into his second year with Indiana, Durham has gained high praise from Miller throughout this offseason. Miller even said if there were one player who was game ready in mid-October it would probably be Durham.
“If we had to start a game today, you know, who’s ready? Who’s engaged? And I really like Al,” Miller said. “I really think Al is doing a great job. He’s talking, he’s communicating.”
Miller eased Durham into his role during his freshman campaign a season ago. According to KenPom, Indiana used him at shooting guard 42 percent of the time. When he was on the floor though, KenPom labeled him as a “limited role” as he was used on 12 to 16 percent of possessions.
"I really like Al. I think Al's doing a great job. He's talking, he's communicating."
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) October 11, 2018
Durham Stats: 31 GP/9 GS, 4.8 ppg, 1.2 ast, 1.9 reb, 40.9% FG, 28.6% 3PT, 0.8 TO, 0.35 Steals/game
Eight of the nine games Durham started came in a stretch from November 29 to December 29 in non-conference (and two early Big Ten games) as Miller looked for the right combination. The struggle offensively, scoring wise, and on defense to create turnovers was prominent for Durham, but the big plus with him is that he did not turn the ball over.
The Lilburn, Georgia native averaged less than a turnover per game last season, and that carried throughout Big Ten play as well.
Durham Big Ten Stats: 18 GP/2 GS, 3.6 ppg, 0.77 ast, 1.7 reb, 40.0 FG%, 32.0 3PT%, 0.83 TO, 0.38 steals
If Durham can increase his scoring and passing ability in year two, he might be the right guy to run the Hoosiers offense.
“I just tried to amp my game up completely from last year,” Durham said. “Bring certain things to the table that I just wasn’t comfortable with last year, just making sure I was expanding my game all around, even in the weight room, on the court, and just bringing different things to the team, just so we could be a better team as one.”
Phinisee has a legit chance to be the Hoosiers starting point guard at some point this season, but don’t expect it to be in the season opener against Chicago State.
Phinisee comes in as a four star recruit, ranked No. 136 in the nation, No. 22 at point guard and No. 4 player overall in the state of Indiana according to 247sports. Two of the other three players ahead of him in the state rankings are his teammates Romeo Langford and Damezi Anderson.
So what can we expect from Phinisee in year one? It might be a little unfair to compare him to Yogi Ferrell during his freshman year in Bloomington, but looking at Ferrell’s numbers in year one, it’s not out of the question for Phinisee to come close to that production.
Yogi Ferrell Freshman Stats: 36 GP/36 GS, 7.6 ppg, 4.1 ast, 2.8 reb, 40.3 FG%, 30.3 3PT%, 2.1 TO, 0.77 steals
Phinisee won’t start every game, but in terms of points per game and assist totals with the number of quality options he has around him, it’s not absurd to think he can’t average seven and four like Ferrell did.
Ferrell was a much more highly touted recruit coming in (No. 21 national, No. 3 point guard, No. 3 in Indiana), but Miller loves the basketball IQ that Phinisee brings to the court.
“He’s got a high IQ. He’s really intelligent. He’s competitive. He’s 185 pounds as a freshman, which gives him an added advantage in strength defensively,” Miller said. “I think off the ball defensively watching him here early he’s got a chance to help our team.”
Miller also praised his defensive efforts in practice so far, which might lead to more minutes and potentially a starting role to come.
“Defensively he’s a college defender early in his career,” Miller said. “Sometimes what gets you on the floor early in your career is you don’t mess up on that end.”
Phinisee has even caught the eye of senior captain Juwan Morgan in practice when going up against Green.
“Usually Devonte has been faster than the other guards, but Rob is just as quick laterally and just up and down,” Morgan said. “I think they build off each other because Devonte is more of a street baller and Rob is more fundamentally sound.”
"I think they're both taking things from the other to add to their games."@juwanmorgan talks about the battle between @ChefBoyArGreen and @robphinisee1 at practice every day #iubb pic.twitter.com/Wg3NBNvGy8
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) October 11, 2018
With Phinisee’s recruiting rank coming into this season (No. 22 point guard) let’s check out how some fellow Big Ten point guards fared last season in year one.
Wisconsin’s Brad Davison (No. 108 National, No. 23 point guard, No. 3 Minnesota) and Illinois’ Trent Frazier (No. 109 Nationally, No. 24 PG, No. 7 FL) played major roles on their respected teams a season ago as freshman.
Here’s how the two fared statistically by the end of the season.
Davison Stats: 33 GP/29 GS, 12.1 PPG, 40.5% FG, 35.5 3P%, 2.5 ast, 2.3 reb, 1.7 TO, 1.2 steals
Frazier Stats: 32 GP/16 GS, 12.5 ppg, 40.5% FG, 34.7 3P%, 3.1 ast, 1.8 reb, 2.2 TO, 1.7 steals
Both Davison and Frazier landed spots on the Big Ten all-freshman team last year after coming in ranked very similarly to each other and Phinisee this year.
Averaging 12 points per game will be tougher for Phinisee given the abundance of options he’ll have on offense, but don’t be surprised if he puts up similar or better numbers than these two in all other categories this year.