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Top-10 offseason storylines for Indiana basketball: No. 4 James Blackmon Jr

This is the seventh in a series looking at the top-10 offseason storylines for Indiana basketball heading into the 2016-17 season. This piece is about the importance of junior guard James Blackmon Jr., an exceptional shooter who had his sophomore season ended after 13 games due to an ACL injury.

As we’ve detailed previously in this series, being efficient from 3-point range has been a key marker for Indiana having a successful basketball season.

The player at the forefront of that entering this season for the Hoosiers is James Blackmon Jr.

A 6-foot-4 junior who was a McDonald’s All-American out of Marion High School, Blackmon entered college as one of if not the top 3-point shooter in the 2014 high school graduating class.

Blackmon has grown during his time at IU and enters his third year as a very important part of the 2016-17 Indiana basketball team.

Blackmon was shooting 46.3 percent (37-for-80) from the arc before suffering his second ACL injury 13 games into his sophomore season, which kept him out the rest of the year.

Blackmon has been cleared for a couple of weeks for full contact basketball, IU coach Tom Crean said.

Blackmon’s shooting from distance will be important as will defensive improvement.

Blackmon previously had noticeable struggles defensively, so improving on that will be important for him this season.

Blackmon put his name in for the 2016 NBA draft to get feedback from NBA teams, and a portion of that feedback was to improve laterally, improve defending ball screens and improve being an impediment to drives, an NBA scout tells

IU coach Tom Crean said he sees this as a team that could pressure more, including three-quarters court, and has the ability to do more switching.

“We’ve got to have a team of guys that can switch,” Crean said.

After the Maui Tournament and loss at Duke, Indiana’s 2015-16 season changed, in no small part because its defense improved.

Some of that came from improvements in awareness, communication and ability to “sniff things out,” Crean said.

Thomas Bryant’s improvement with footwork and guarding pick and rolls took major jumps, and players such as OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan really began to use their length.

Obviously, IU had significant losses in the backcourt, so Blackmon becomes even more important on both ends of the floor.

Of Indiana’s 345 made 3-pointers last year, returning healthy players — not counting Collin Hartman who had knee surgery — accounted for 111 of those.

Blackmon’s 37 made 3s in 13 games last year was the highest rate of made 3s per game of any IU player.

In Crean’s offense, being able to move without the ball and move the ball are important along with the ability to make shots from the perimeter.

In 2013-14, Indiana wasn’t able to make shots in each spot it needed to and wasn’t able to threaten the defense enough — especially playing to the corners — and the Hoosiers struggled.

Last year in winning the Big Ten regular-season title for the second time in four years and 22nd time overall, Indiana was sixth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomery’s calculations.

The Hoosiers also were fourth nationally in 3-point percent.

Of Indiana’s field goal attempts last year, 40.8 percent were 3s.

All of that demonstrates how important being productive from the arc is for Indiana, as it is for a number of college basketball teams.

All of that points to how important James Blackmon Jr. will be.

Crean said the keys for Blackmon are “get confidence, just confidence and back playing.

“I’m not trying to make light of the situation at all with this group, but I’ve not seen them go up and down (the court) since playing North Carolina in Philadelphia. …

“So it’s him making the game simple, him getting better at moving without the ball, him being ready to shoot, not everybody coming out and trying to show how much better they are at things they’ve worked at because they are. We have added some real skill. I have no doubt.

“Now we have to transfer that to live, and the best way to do that is to make it as simple as possible.”

The offseason storylines series

No. 5: OG Anunoby's next steps

No. 6: Style of play

No. 7: The freshmen guards

No. 8: Depth and lineup options

No. 9: The De'Ron Davis impact

No. 10: Missed Time Top Stories