From Sixth Man to Star? Examining Indiana’s Will SheeheyPosted by Jonathan Batuello on November 4th, 2013
It’s easy to see why Hoosier fans loved Will Sheehey last season. He came off the bench and brought a tenacity and scoring touch that helped Indiana maintain or push a lead when its stars took a breather. The then-junior’s stats were solid, which ultimately earned him the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year award and an invitation to play at the World University Games (where he averaged more than 10 PPG in 17 minutes of play a game). All of this got him enough notoriety to be listed No. 76 on CBSSports.com’s top 100 players list, ahead of teammate and Big Ten all-freshman Yogi Ferrell. But that’s all last season because Sheehey is about to step into a completely new and bigger role, as is the rest of Indiana’s team with the departures of Christian Watford, Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Jordan Hulls. Sheehey is no longer a third or fourth option when he will hit the court, but likely the first or second along with Ferrell and Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh.
How Sheehey responds to this change in roles will have a huge impact on the Hoosiers this season. Sheehey is the team’s elder statesman now, so his leadership will be important, but he is also Indiana’s top returning scorer and rebounder. This puts pressure on him to continue to produce on the offensive end as teams focus on stopping him. Can he adjust to defenses no longer sagging off him to handle 1,000-point scorers and high NBA Draft picks? Last season he was mediocre from the three-point line at 34.6 percent from the field. He’ll likely need to bring that percentage up, but he’ll still need to use his underrated athleticism to attack the basket and find those easier mid-range jumpers. Last season he took 35 percent of his shots inside the paint and made them at a 70 percent clip. He also has an ability to run the floor that most people don’t realize, as you can see here with what he did against Minnesota. Even without another known outside threat for the Hoosiers (although Ferrell did make six three-pointers in the team’s first exhibition), Sheehey should use his driving ability and not settle for trying to fill a void with four or five threes a game. When he does get hot, though, Indiana needs to give him the ball. Last season, he set an Indiana single game record by going 9-of-9 from deep against Purdue, so when he’s feeling it he can take over a game.
On the other end of the floor, Sheehey will now be asked to become Indiana’s top defender. He won’t be Victor Oladipo, but he will draw the task of defending the opposing team’s top offensive threat. This adds another layer to the load placed on him, so it will be interesting to see if he can handle it. It remains to be seen if he can serve the dual roles of stopping a talented offensive player at one end and still provide a spark on the other. He’s shown the ability to do it in spurts, but can he do so for a full game?
Comparisons aren’t always great, but if history repeats itself, Indiana likely won’t see Sheehey becoming a full-fledged star this season in favor of continuing his solid play in extended minutes. Three years ago, Aaron Craft won the B1G Sixth Man of the Year award and then moved to honorable mention All-B1G player the following season. This ascension was performed by Purdue’s DJ Byrd, who won the same award two years ago. Byrd may be a better comparison as he went from an energetic scoring threat as part of a Purdue team with future NBA players to needing to become a star. He continued his strong play for the Boilermakers but never ascended to stardom when teams focused on stopping him. Sheehey has a more well-rounded offensive game than Byrd, but it’s still a big step from role player to primary scoring threat. If he adjusts to the new role and takes the difficult step from that of a very good player to one of a star, it will have a great impact on Indiana’s season and give the Hoosiers a chance to once again challenge at the top of the Big Ten.