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11/03/2022
<p>Race Thompson boxing out against Maryland. (HN photo/Max Wood)</p>
Race Thompson boxing out against Maryland. (HN photo/Max Wood)

Indiana Basketball Player Analysis: How can Race Thompson end his IU career on a high note?

Thompson will once again be a key piece for the Hoosiers

Race Thompson has been labeled as Indiana’s “glue guy” for a few seasons now. The sixth-year senior has been a Swiss Army knife for the Hoosiers thus far in his Indiana career.

In 2021-22 Thompson averaged 11.1 points per game on 57.7% true shooting. Let’s check out what Thompson brings to Indiana’s team.

WHAT THOMPSON DOES WELL

Defensive versatility

As Indiana’s power forward last season, Thompson was asked to do a lot on defense. Thompson’s play on that end was crucial for the Hoosiers’ success.

At the basket, Thompson provided value as a rim protector. He was able to deter shots regularly. Now heading into his fifth season, Thompson has gained superb defensive awareness of what offenses are doing and where to be.

Thompson routinely challenged layups and made it difficult for opponents to score inside. His rim protection wasn’t quite at the level of a great defensive big like Trayce Jackson-Davis, but it was exceptional for his position.

Not only can Thompson protect the basket, but he can switch on smaller players too. Mike Woodson let Thompson switch on ball screens more than we had seen in the past. Thompson held his own more often than not. 

Thompson showed agile footwork when defending the ball outside. He usually stayed with smaller players and finished plays with solid contests when they fired to shoot.

This year, it looks like Thompson may be switching even more. We saw him all over the place in Indiana’s first exhibition against Marian. This switch-everything strategy may be the plan for Thompson going forward.

Having a big that can defend anywhere on the floor is now an extremely valuable skill in basketball. Thompson is reliable as an interior defender and when guarding the perimeter. His diverse defensive capabilities give the Hoosiers options to guard opposing teams.

Cutting

Thompson had his best offensive season last year in part because of what he did without the basketball. Thompson frequently made crisp cuts to free himself inside, which led to easy points.

This team’s offense will continue to run through Jackson-Davis, which means Thompson often has to find creases for himself rather than using on-ball opportunities to score. This year, Thompson may be Indiana’s fourth option behind Jackson-Davis, Xavier Johnson and freshman Jalen Hood-Schifino. When those three draw the attention of defenses, Thompson can capitalize off their gravity and get open shots.

Thompson has grown a keen sense of spacing and where to be on the floor. His positional alertness has made him a marvelous threat for the Hoosiers. He will continue to hold immense value as a cutter this season.

High-post passing

In Jackson-Davis’ profile, we talked about how well he and Thompson worked in the high/low game. Thompson’s passing is often what makes these plays work.

When the ball was thrown into Thompson at the elbow area, he did a tremendous job of making the right play. He and Jackson-Davis have developed amazing chemistry, as they’re entering year three as starting frontcourt partners.

Thompson is a calm decision-maker in the high post, which is necessary for the Hoosiers’ high/low offense. Indiana will run more of that offense this season because of how comfortably Thompson makes decisions around the foul line.

WHAT THOMPSON CAN IMPROVE

Post-up consistency

Thompson got his fair share of post-up opportunities last season. It’s an area he’s continued to improve since he first joined the Hoosiers. He was by no means bad in the post, but giving the ball to Thompson on the block didn’t always generate quality results.

What stands out on these failed post possessions is that Thompson doesn’t have great positioning when he first catches the ball. It takes him several dribbles to get to a spot where he’s somewhat comfortable, and he’s still usually too far out to hit the shots out of post-ups.

It’s not like Thompson doesn’t have any polish down low. He’s shown that he is a serviceable option on the block. Now, it's about consistently gaining position and converting from those spots.

Heading into his final college season, we’ll see if Thompson has shown improvements as a post scorer. With IU already having Jackson-Davis and freshman Malik Reneau as post options, I’m curious to see how many chances Thompson gets on post-ups.

Defensive chasing

While Thompson performed well as an on-ball perimeter defender, he wasn’t great when the ball left the perimeter player’s hands. At times, Thompson was too eager to guard the paint, which gave his man open looks from outside.

Watch how former Iowa forward Keegan Murray continually got open when Thompson was guarding him off the ball last year:

These open Murray 3s were a byproduct of Thompson wanting to protect the basket. When Thompson is guarding typical power forwards, this defense usually works. But when guarding excellent shooters, he can’t afford to roam away from them. Once he’s guarding talented shooters, rim protection has to be a last resort, not the top priority.

Shooting

Thompson has ambitions to stretch his game to the 3-point line. Last year, he made 27.3% of his 3s on 1.6 attempts per game. It appears Thompson wants to become a true “stretch four” going forward, although he wasn’t a very good shooter last year.

Thompson wasn’t able to be the perimeter threat that he wanted to be last season. It looks like he exerted a lot of energy at the beginning of his jumper, not leaving much left for the top of his shot.

The jumper fell more toward the end of last season. Thompson drilled 42.3% of his 3s in the final 16 games after making just 13.8% in the first 20. There’s a chance that he figured something out with his shot later in the year.

In Indiana’s first exhibition, Thompson was 3-for-4 from downtown. If he diversifies his scoring arsenal to go along with his diverse defense skill set, Thompson could launch himself into All-Big Ten territory. 

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THOMPSON IN 2022-23

This season is the curtain call on Thompson’s Indiana career, and this is projected to be Indiana’s best team in his time with the program. Thompson will continue to be a two-way force for the Hoosiers this season.

Thompson is a player that has improved every season since his career began. If he continues that growth in certain areas this year, he’ll become one of the better players in the Big Ten. 


This is the sixth preseason player analysis. Check out all of the deep dives here.


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