There's a lot of ammo to suggest James Blackmon Jr. had a pretty big season in 2016-17.
Leading scorer for Indiana (17.0 ppg), fourth leading scorer in the Big Ten. Top 3-point shooter in the entire league as show by the fact he was the only Big Ten player to make more than three trifectas a game. And he made those threes at a 42.3 percent rate. No doubt he belongs in the conversation when discussing who might be the best shooter in the country.
What makes all those accomplishments more remarkable was the fact that this past season began only 10 months after Blackmon underwent serious knee surgery.
But you can't ignore the fact Indiana lost 16 games. Everybody takes some of the blame there. Certainly the coach has, losing his job a few weeks ago.
For Blackmon his next job is in question. Is it in the NBA, overseas, in the NBDL? Or might there be a senior season? A return could help him win over a fan base that that has been skeptical despite his scoring and the hard work he's put into two major rehabilitations.
Why so skeptical? Two main reasons-- Blackmon Jr. has always struggled to guard. Not blessed with a lot of lateral quickness, Blackmon sometimes exacerbates the issue at times by not bringing full intensity to that part of the game. To his "defense" -- he was better this year than his first two seasons.
The second issue has been the lack of evidence to suggest he makes his teammates better. Sometimes scorers are that way and that can be fine on the right team. But this past season Indiana needed more in this regard following the loss of a four-year starter at point guard.
To that "point"---as he had in his prior two season, Blackmon Jr. had more turnovers than assists.
Here's a look at his full season stats for his first three years in Bloomington. Note that he played just 13 games his second year after going down with a serious knee injury in late December.
Blackmon Jr. has been a consistent scorer throughout his career as the above numbers show. He's also done it by shooting a very respectable rate from the floor.
Best game(s): Blackmon Jr. had a number of big games but his January 21st performance against Michigan State really stood out. That afternoon he just murdered the Spartans, leading Indiana to a 82-75 victory, arguably Indiana's best conference win of the season. That day he missed just five of 16 shots, knocking down six 3-pointers in a 33-point effort that matched his prior career high. He also only had two turnovers that game.
Best attributes: His silky smooth, short release jumper is his best attribute. It also comes with a tremendous feel, putting him a cut above other shooters. Unlike a lot of shooters, Blackmon also is a very capable driver, forcing defenders to slack off him some.
Blackmon is a surprisingly good rebounder. Has been all of his career. That goes right against the argument that he doesn't always play hard.
Biggest areas of needed improvement: More intensity and focus on defense would be more welcome here than with a typical player. He doesn't quite have the alertness in this part of the game as he has when he's hunting a shot or rebound.
One other part of his game that he has to continue to work on is his ball handling. It's still a bit of an adventure when he looks to dribble against full court or trapping pressure.
Numbers worth knowing: Indiana had won three straight when Blackmon had a leg injury during a game at Michigan on January 26th. Indiana ended up losing that game badly and six of its next seven games.
Notable quote: After losing at IU, MSU coach Tom Izzo: "I was nice to him when I recruited him, I don't know why he did that to me. He was unbelievable. He made drives, he made shots."
Comments: Blackmon was a reliable scorer all season long for Indiana. Outside the Michigan game where he got hurt, he missed double figures just one other contest.
Leadership wise, Blackmon and his fellow juniors did not fill the void left from last year's graduated class and the void from Collin Hartman's inability to play this season. As the top scorer with plenty of experience, he bears a lot of that responsibility.
Once again Blackmon has declared for the draft but not hired an agent. That means he's leaving the option of playing one more year of college. If he does return, he could change a lot of minds, especially it if comes with a increased focus on the defensive end and in looking for teammates as he draws attention offensively. Maybe a different atmosphere under a new coach can help make that happen and have him end his Indiana career in a much better way.
After Big Ten tourney loss to Wisconsin:
After Big Ten tourney win over Iowa: