De’Ron Davis is an elite college basketball player in the year 2008.
Now in 2018, Davis fills the role of a dying breed. With an immense amount of talent, it seems absurd to even be having this conversation. But where does Indiana’s 6-10 center fit in head coach Archie Miller’s system?
Without question, the role of the back to the basket center has completely changed in the NBA. It all starts with the Warriors usage of Draymond Green and has expanded with the development of Morey-ball and the Houston Rockets’ dependence on taking more than 40 percent of their shots from three-point range.
Teams are going small, focusing on stretching the floor and going up-tempo. It’s a change that has fueled the NBA, and now it has seemingly invaded the college game.
Just this past year, the eventual national champion, Villanova, depended on three-point shots for 47.5 percent of its shot attempts according to KenPom. In 2008, the eventual national champion, Kansas took a three on 29.3 percent of its field goal attempts.
It’s an indicator of just how much college basketball has changed in the past 10 years. It’s a change that is hard to get used to, but also one that certainly isn’t lost on Miller.
Last year, after Davis was lost for the season with an Achilles injury, Miller made the switch to small ball and found success with Juwan Morgan playing center.
“I think at times we excel a lot at it,” Morgan said. “Especially when teams want to play fast, we’re able to get up-and-down, and I wouldn’t say I practice at it, I would just say that it’s something that once De’Ron went out we kind of had to do it, and when you have to do something, you find a way to do it.”
Morgan saw slightly increased success in his new role averaging 2.2 points and 1.2 assists per game more in Davis’ absence. The team as whole looked more fluid at times. At other times, the Hoosiers sincerely missed his presence in the post.
This is where things get interesting for Davis this upcoming season. There is clearly some sort of role on the team for him, but it all comes down to how dedicated Miller becomes to the evolving college game.
Indiana’s addition of graduate transfer Evan Fitzner points to Miller pushing the tempo and spreading the floor, as Fitzner fits the mold of a prototypical stretch four in today’s game.
In order to fit Indiana’s potential tempo, Indiana’s center is going to need a level of athleticism that may evade Davis after returning from injury. Davis has said he expects to be back for the first game of the season, but that doesn’t answer whether he will be completely healthy by that time.
“Well, really De’Ron is taking it slow,” Miller said. “He was here all spring and summer doing his rehabilitation. He wasn’t really cleared to start running until maybe June I would say, so he was slow in terms of his recovery…a lot of times when guys come off these injuries, you really don’t get a chance to see them maybe recover and feel good about themselves in almost a year. So you’re looking at January 1 when he did it, and to me, he’s on schedule, but in terms of looking like a De’Ron that played in November and December a year ago, he’s not there yet”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) September 26, 2018
In addition to the athleticism that is needed to play up-tempo basketball, Miller is looking for players that can show defensive versatility. With the prevalence of pick and roll action, Miller wants to switch defensively and that’s not a concept that suits the typical back to the basket center.
“It’s actually one of the things we talked about a lot in the off-season is being able to play a smaller lineup and being able to do more complementary switching, so to speak, on the ball, not as much off, but definitely on the ball where we’re not in rotation as much, just dealing with the certain styles of play that we see throughout the course of the season, especially in the Big Ten,” Miller said.
Miller also didn’t need to explicitly say that he planned to utilize defensive switching this upcoming season. His recruiting class really says that for him.
The incoming freshmen for the Hoosiers screams versatility.
Jerome Hunter and Romeo Langford both come into the program as shooting guards that can guard nearly every position on the floor, if needed. Hunter comes into the program as a 6-8 two guard and Langford is 6-6. Along with that duo, Jake Forrester comes into the program as a center that is athletic enough to guard the perimeter. With those talents now on the roster, it’s hard to see Miller not taking advantage of the versatility he has.
So, where does that leave Davis?
In today’s basketball landscape, the only way back to the basket center find their way on to the floor, is if they can at least establish a few skills that they’re close to elite at. Davis may lack the ability to spread the floor, but what gives him an opportunity to play are the two assets he has over everyone else on the roster.
According to Synergy Sports, last season in 64 post-up possessions, Davis scored 72 points.
The reason behind that would seem to be Davis’ size and extensive pot repertoire. If he can continue to master that part of his game, it will be hard to not utilize him in the right situation.
Protecting the Rim
Before arriving at Indiana, Davis blocked 441 shots in his high school career (4.1 per game). That total was the most by anyone in the state of Colorado since they began keeping track of blocked shots in 1982.
That success protecting the rim has continued at Indiana, as last season he had a block percentage of 8.8 through 15 games.
- Against high powered offenses
Based on Miller’s sentiments, it looks as if Indiana will look to play up-tempo throughout the season. With that in mind, there are times during the year where that style won’t be as advantageous. What Davis provides Miller is the opportunity to slow down games when he needs to. Against teams with strong offenses, Davis can help cut down the number of possessions in the game.
Last season, Davis arguably had his most vital game of the year against Duke when he did exactly that. Duke’s offense was potent, and Davis was able to slow down the game with 16 points. He also had a 30 percent usage rate, indicating how prevalent he was in the Hoosiers’ game plan.
- Matching up against taller, talented centers
It sounds simplistic, but against teams that not only have taller than usual centers, but that rely upon them, Davis will have to play thanks to his defensive prowess. Centers like Ethan Happ (Wisconsin) and Jalen Smith (Maryland) can force a team to adjust its style in hopes of neutralizing them.
- Off the bench
There is more than one reason for Indiana to slow the game down, and the most obvious would be with a second unit on the floor. If Langford or Morgan are off the floor, the Hoosiers will want to minimize possessions as much as possible. Davis offers Indiana the chance to do that as he could carry the offense when he comes off the bench.
Games to Watch Out for
Based on the role that seems to suit Davis best, there will be games in which he much more important than others. It’s the beauty of the depth in which Indiana has. With plenty of options at Miller’s disposal, Davis will most likely not be the only player to see varied minutes based on the opponent.
“When you have depth and you have competition level that I think we can have, every day you’re going to have to earn it, and that’s how teams really grow,” Miller said.
With that in mind, there a few games this season where Davis could see major minutes:
-Michigan State (Nick Ward, and a high powered offense)
-Michigan (Jon Teske and a high powered offense)
-Maryland (Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith)
-Ohio State (Kaleb Wesson)
-Wisconsin (Ethan Happ)
-Purdue (Matt Haarms)
-Duke (High powered offense)