(Photo Credit: IndianaHQ)
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At the end of last season, those who followed Indiana closely realized that the point guard position would become the biggest question mark to answer during the offseason. Article after article, the entirety of the season was littered with analyst commentary mentioning the inconsistent play of IU’s point guard position.
On August 19th, a true point guard out of Lafayette committed to Indiana and joined Archie Miller’s first recruiting class. A once Tom Crean target, the current staff was able to pluck the Lafayette native out of Purdue’s backyard.
Archie Miller himself also has a unique bond with the point guard position. The Pennsylvania native served as the floor general for five years (due to a back injury, Archie redshirted his sophomore year) under legendary coach Herb Sendek at North Carolina State. Miller’s role as a true point increased over the course of his career at NC State, eventually earning him a primary starter role during his fifth year.
Phinisee is a guard out of McCutcheon High School (IN). At the time of his recruitment, the junior in high school measured 5’11” and weighted around 160 lbs. Number 10 on the Indiana roster is currently listed at 6’2”, 182 lbs.
A heralded player, he averaged 29.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 3.7 steals during his senior campaign and was a finalist for Mr.Basketball Indiana. As a sophomore, Rob led his team to the Class 4A semi-finals where Romeo Langford and the New Albany Bulldogs went home with the state trophy. Recruiting sites graded Phinisee as a four-star player in the 100-120 rankings for 2018.
When Rob Phinisee puts on the candy stripes and walks on the Branch McCracken court in Indiana’s home opener against Chicago State, he will know that the fans do not have unreasonable expectations for him to direct the team on the court. At least, not right away.
While inconsistent during many points of the previous season, Devonte Green retains his status as the primary point guard going in. We have heard a number of stories about Devonte’s improvement during the offseason and his changed mindset, which now supposedly aligns with Archie Miller’s philosophies. We are all waiting to see that translate in game-time scenarios.
The expectation for Rob going into his freshman year is that he will be serviceable point guard from day one. His style of play uniquely contrasts Devonte’s “street ball.” Phinisee, on the other hand, runs the court with a calmer, more calculated demeanor. Although he nearly averaged 30 points per game during his senior year of high school, Rob’s number will be called because he has displayed the ability to be a pass-first guard and facilitate the offense.
“Robert, being a young guy, has come into practice and he’s been very impressive,” Archie stated in an interview during Big Ten Media day in Rosemont, IL. “Physically, he’s been able to hang in there.”
Defensively, Archie Miller has said that Robert Phinisee is impressive off the ball. Prior to actually coming to IU as a student, Phinisee visited numerous times during his senior year. When asked what he was doing? Studying.
Over the course of his time at Indiana, there are no signs that he will not ultimately take the lead role as Indiana’s primary point guard. Robert is a high IQ, intelligent basketball player, and he wants to understand the system to the best of his ability. As we have seen in recent postseason successful teams, a veteran point guard might be the most important ingredient in order to visit the tourney depths.
How will Robert contribute to Indiana?
Calm Command of the Floor
Although he may not be the fastest east-to-west ball handler, Rob’s calmness and collected feel to the point guard position was a big reason why Archie Miller pushed so hard for Phinisee to wear the stripes. He had an average assist to turnover ratio of 2.41 during his senior year.
Phinisee’s high basketball IQ enables him to see plays unfold on both the offensive and defensive ends of the ball, as you will see in the following clips. His game is characterized with calculated passes, above average shot selection, and precise body maneuvers to both cut towards the paint and also to spread the defense for a potential three.
Finishing with contact, one of Phinisee’s specialities, typically brings to mind “bull in a china shop” imagery. Just think back to Troy William’s drives. Contrastly Phinisee slices into the paint with composure and with intention. He uses his body as a tool to ward off defenders and open space on the floor his shots.
Phinisee runs the offense but does not find any open teammates. With his head up and monitoring the development on the court, he moves in using a left handed dribble given that his defender is on his right-hand side. This enables him to shield the ball away from the opponent. The drive continues into the paint, but Phinisee is greeted by three defenders. On the way in, he spotted a teammate moving towards the right corner. Already knowing that his teammate should be open since he pulled in three opponents, Phinisee does a quick pivot move and finds his open teammate for a three. Splash.
After bringing the ball across the timeline, Rob makes a twitchy hesitation move which is enough to distract the defender for a brief moment. Phinisee locate a spot in the paint that he wants to occupy and drives towards that spot. A defender attempts to get in the way, but Rob finishes at the rim using the left side of his body to create enough space to deposit the bucket.
A simple hesitation move to the left to shake off the first defender, and a deliberate drive to the right. Here Phinisee uses a simple move and with his stride, he only needs one dribble to the right in order to grab the easy bucket for his team.
Rob runs this set for McCutcheon and calmly dribbles the ball to let his teammates move about. He picks up on a teammate that is looking to peel away from his defender. With a quick pump down to the paint, followed by an actual pass into the paint, Phinisee finds his open teammate for the effortless score.
Arguably Phinisee’s highest rated areas are his defensive capabilities. Phinisee combines his understanding of the game, as well the expertise on how to position his footing in order to gain very clear advantages against opposing players.
The ability to react quickly to his surroundings and context of the play enables Rob Phinisee to predict where his opponents will attempt to drive the ball. In turn, this allows him to get the defensive stance to be most effective.
The opponent bringing up the ball finds a seam and speeds past Rob. Knowing that he was a few steps behind, Rob uses his body to lightly ride the ball handler into the top of the elbow. Phinisee’s lateral agility allows him to regain positioning on the defender and he takes advantage by constantly pestering him with his body – all while making sure his hands are in the clear from a referee whistle. The result of the play is a turnover as the opponent misreads a crossing teammate.
Putting it all together, Phinisee here shows his abilities on both sides of the court. In fact, the more you watch the following clips, the more impressed you get. Rob sees that his man-to-man assignment is about to receive a pass. Instead of jumping for the steal, he immediately reacts by preparing himself to get in proper position. With hands up, Rob moves from about a step and a half to the left of the defender, all the way across get to the Rob’s right side of the ball handler’s body. By doing so, the defender is unable to continue his penetration.
As a result of Rob preventing the drive, the opponent seeks other options and finds a streaking teammate. With his uncanny ability to see the play develop on the defensive end, Phinisee again utilizes his lateral quickness and jumps onto the second ball handler. Deja-vu-like, the scenario unfolds with Rob sliding over into position on the defender with his hands up, and prevents what would have been an easy lane to the bucket. The opponent has no other options but to send the ball back out of the paint, and the teammate misses. Of course, none other than Rob brings down the board.
Continuing the same play, Rob brings the ball towards center court. He shows off his two-way abilities by sending a perfect 40-foot pass from his own elbow to the opposite paint. The ball travels past four defenders who are unable to cut in between pass to an opponent. Unfortunately Rob’s teammate gets blocked on the shot, but McCutcheon retains possession.
Here is the two-way play in entirety. A beautiful work of art.
Even when the player he is guarding does not have the ball, Rob’s peripheral vision is constantly surveying and homing in on the rock. He seems to know where the ball is at all times, and he pairs that with opportunistic double-teams or steal attempts. During his high school career, he has been successful doing both.
His abilities for both on-ball and help defense will thrive in Archie’s packline scheme.
The play starts with the opposing team running a set. The ball briefly gets to Rob’s assignment, but that player quickly returns it back out to the wing. After the pass, the player that Rob was guarding moves towards the paint and Rob follows closely behind. At the same time, he has an idea of what the wing player wanted to do and is watching from the side of his. He sees the drive and moves off of his assignment and uses his hands to block the driver’s shot. Although it could have been called a jump ball, the referee sees a travel and sends the ball the other direction.
An opponent sees an opportunity to drive coast to coast, all the way to the rim. Phinisee follows along, but has four teammates between him and the ball handler. No problem. His eyes track the ball and as the opponent shoots, Phinisee elevates for the aerobatic rejection. This is just another glimpse of Phinisee’s potential. The play does not stop there. The opposing team rebounds the ball and the shooter circles towards ball, and uses his teammate as a pick in attempt to peel off Phinisee. A few steps behind, Phinisee follows the shooter, but pokes at the ball along the way while also defending against the pass. The harassment and prevention of the pass is enough for the opponent to called for the five second violation.
What still has room for improvement?
One area that Phinisee needs to watch out is potentially overhelping on defense. Now that he is playing at the Big Ten level, the dependency on Phinisee to guard multiple players on the court to accommodate for lesser skilled teammates no longer exists. During his high school years, if Phinisee was helping on a double-team, in the back of his head he knew could easily dash back to his own assignment.
At the speed of college ball, Phinisee has to understand that opposing guards can be extremely quick. A sliver of defensive lapse could be just wide enough for a defender to make a move to the rim at full speed. While help defense is certainly needed and in fact it can be a core tenet of Archie’s packline, Phinisee needs to step up his court awareness and dial it in to collegiate play.
Phinisee must have the scouting report against the ball handler bringing up the rock at the beginning of the clip. Phinisee quickly helps the right wing when the ball reaches him, but lays off the defense as the ball swings across to the other side. At this point, Phinisee begins to sag into the paint, leaving his original assignment wide open.
Rob starts off on help defense guarding a player that is not his man-to-man assignment (in this case Number 3 of Zionsville). Phinisee quickly reacts to the pass that goes to his counterpart, but loses focus fairly quickly as the ball swings all the way around the court. He begins to sag towards the rim like the previous play. Trying to signal his teammate to see his openness Number 3 of opposite team flails his arms in the air. Unfortunately that teammate does not catch on and fortunately for Rob, he is not exposed.
Again, it is worth teeing off this point by mentioning that Robert Phinisee scored nearly 30 points per game during his high school season. In fact, he shot 36% behind the arc and 56% in front of it. These numbers are generally reflective of his entire career at McCutcheon.
That being said, Rob will need to understand how create space while shooting and also improving his consistency. Defenders in the Big Ten are larger, stronger, and faster, and the freshmen will not have the same luxuries of high school where they can shoot over opposing players. Even 6’6” Romeo Langford will face off against lengthier shooting guards and wings.
Phinisee’s release is quick, but he can be inconsistent at times. Rob will surely be spending lots of time with the automatic return machine.
Rob finds unoccupied real estate on the floor and decides to move in. He pulls up at the top of the elbow for the mid-range shot, but he hesitates just enough so that he has to double clutch the ball. The shot misses, but luckily he is able to grab the rebound by outhustling his opponents. On the way back up the second time, he gets fouled and gets to the charity stripe.
Rob shoots a rhythm three-ball. His form and release are good, but unfortunately the shot just does not go in. Indiana can surely benefit if Rob can become more consistent in these types of three balls when the defender is giving you the space to shoot, at no cost.
Indiana’s program will greatly benefit by having Rob as a multi-year player. Phinisee adds value by immediately serving as a pass-first true point guard that at a defensive level not typically found in freshmen. As he develops, understands Archie’s system, and matures with age, Phinisee will be a familiar household name and will get significant portions of playing time. The expectation for his future consists of him growing as a leader and facilitator on the team with his high basketball intelligence, and also being the backbone of deep tournament teams.