Final Grades: Breaking Down Trayce Jackson-Davis' 2020-21 Season at Indiana

Throughout the 2020-21 college basketball season, Indiana sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was usually the best player on the floor every night. So we start with him in the first part of our "Final Grades'' series.
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This is the first of a 10-part series reviewing Indiana player performances during the 2020-21 season.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – We've been busy firing a coach (Archie Miller), fantasizing about a coach (Brad Stevens) and hiring the right coach (Mike Woodson), so it's been a crazy busy month and change on the Indiana basketball beat.

But there's still work to be done in putting a bow on the 2020-21 season and my annual "Final Grades'' series is always one of the most popular – and most debated – things we do. So, better late than never, here we go again, starting with Indiana sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Here's a breakdown of his season, what I liked and didn't like, his best game and future prospects and – of course – his final grade. 

There's also a terrific video chat with Hilltop30 Scholarship Fund winner Haley Jordan, so check that out as well:

Trayce Jackson-Davis by the numbers

  • Games played: 27 of 27
  • Games started: 27 of 27
  • Average minutes: 34.2 (first on team)
  • Points per game: 19.1 (first on team)
  • Rebounds per game: 9.0 (first on team)
  • Assists per game: 1.44 (fifth on team)
  • Blocks per game: 1.40 (first on team)
  • Field goal percentage: 51.7 (183-for-354)
  • 3-point percentage: 0.0 (0-for-0)
  • Free throw percentage:  65.5 (150-for-229)

What I liked

Trayce Jackson-Davis had a target on his back in every game this season. He was the focal point of every opponent's scouting report, yet he still led the team in scoring and rebounding. His 19.1 points was seventh nationally among power-conference players, and his 9.0 rebounds ranked fifth in the country in the same category. That's darn impressive.

The 6-foot-9 forward from Greenwood, Ind., the 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball winner, has quick low post moves and is a great finisher with his left hand. He did a nice job of splitting double teams when he needed to, and found space in a compact offense better than most.

You could count on him to score, and get to the line. He was the Hoosiers' leading scorer in 18 of their 27 games. He scored in double figures every game but one – he had only nine in the March 2 loss at Michigan State – and he had 10 double-doubles. (He also had four games with nine rebounds)

The scoring jump from his freshman year – 13.5 points per game to 19.1 – was impressive. So were his leadership skills, especially with four freshmen on the roster who were new to college basketball and were trying to learn as they go in a weird COVID-infected year. He was also much better on the defensive end, quick enough to cover screen-rolls and becoming a better shot blocker.

Lastly, what I liked most is that he stood there and answered all the questions when asked, even after the toughest losses. This was a very frustrating season for him, for many reasons, but mostly because he wants to win so bad. He stood tall, as a star should.

His frustrations with Miller and others emerged at times, but he always bounced back from it, always played hard and was always a terrific team leader. He came to Bloomington as a mature freshman and he grew up even more as a sophomore. 

And what he's done since Miller's firing has been really impressive, too. There's no doubt that he loves Indiana, and he wants to restore that past glory. You've got to love that about him.

Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (left) and Michigan State's Marcus Bingham Jr. (right) fight for position on Feb. 20 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (left) and Michigan State's Marcus Bingham Jr. (right) fight for position on Feb. 20 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

What I didn't like

There were two issues that concerned me the most about his season – free throws and finishing around the basket with his right hand.

Let's start with the free throws. Jackson-Davis made just 65.5 percent of his freebies during the 2020-21 season, down a good bit (68.5) from his freshman year. But he did a great job of getting to the line, taking 61 more free throws than he did a year earlier – and in five fewer games. 

Nationally, he finished No. 1 in the COUNTRY in free throws attempted (229), and his average of 5.56 made free throws per game was No. 3 in the COUNTRY, and No. 2 among all power conference players, behind only Cameron Thomas from LSU. 

Sure, he left a meat on the bone with the lower percentage, but you also have to look at points per possessions when he made it to the line. That 1.31 points per trip is still very good. For example, Gonzaga was No. 1 in offensive efficiency at 1.197. So, let's not ever forget that getting there is what's critical. And don't be surprised if he gets that over 70 percent next year.  

Jackson-Davis at center this year had to often battle against guys who were three or four inches taller and 20 or 30 pounds heavier. He never backed down from the challenge and tried to score over or around them often. But he still doesn't have enough control with his right hand unless it was a dunk or a right-at-the-rim layup. It needs more work, to be sure. 

I'd also like to see him have better touch when using the glass, with either hand. He needs the get the ball up higher and softer on the glass. Sometimes I thought his bank shots were too horizontal, which makes it too tough to go in. That's something he'll be spending a lot of time on this summer, too.

It's minor, and it's nit-picking, but it's all part of his game.

Best game

Not surprisingly, there were several Jackson-Davis performances to consider for his best game. He was great against Stanford at the Maui Invitational in Asheville, N.C., scoring 31 points in an impressive 79-63 win over Stanford that came a day after a 22-point loss to Texas. He was also brilliant in the overtime loss to Florida State, with 25 points, 17 rebounds and 9-of-12 made free throws.

His best game, though, came against Michigan State on Feb. 20 in Bloomington. He literally could not be stopped that day, scoring a career-high 34 points. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo doesn't like to double-team interior players, and Trayce made him pay in a big way. 

What's amazing too is that he was 11-for-17 from the field, and several of those misses came early right at the rim. He could have had 40 that day for sure. We saw it all from him that day. 

Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) scores two of his 34 points against Michigan State on Feb. 20 at Assembly Hall.  (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis (23) scores two of his 34 points against Michigan State on Feb. 20 at Assembly Hall.  (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Future prospects

For all the good things that have happened since Mike Woodson was hired as the head coach at Indiana, nothing is more important that Jackson-Davis deciding to return to Bloomington for another year. It's huge. 

He's been Indiana's best player the past two years, and in a more wide open and free-flowing offense, he could really explode next season. There's no doubt he's going to be one of the favorites to be Big Ten Player of the Year, and he's a legitimate first-team All-American contender. That's how high his stock is in my book.

Woodson said he was going to take it upon himself to get Jackson-Davis better with his right hand and also add a bit of a perimeter game to his repertoire. When that happens, he's going to be a real offensive force. He was considered a late second-round pick at best this year, and he could easily be a first-round pick next year because there's no doubt he will put in the work. 

The sky is the limit for the 6-foot-9 forward. I do wish there was one more big-bodied center to help him next year, but with Iowa's Luka Garza, Illinois' Kofi Cockburn, Minnesota's Liam Robbins and Rutgers' Myles Johnson all gone, wrestling down on the blocks should be much easier next season anyway.

Final grade: A-minus

A-MINUS: There was so much to like about his season to earn this A. The minus comes almost solely from the free throw shooting, which simply has to be better. That 65.5 percent is just too low.

But all the rest of it added up nicely, and he certainly had the best season of any Hoosier, and it wasn't even close. He made nice strides from a year earlier, and with his announcement that he's coming back for his junior year, the sky is the limit.

VIDEO: Watch our breakdown of Trayce Jackson-Davis

Previous 'Final Grades' stories

  • TRAYCE JACKSON-DAVIS: Sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was Indiana's leading scorer and rebounder this year, and there was no question he was the Hoosiers' best player. Here's his grade. CLICK HERE
  • ARMAAN FRANKLIN: Sophomore guard Armaan Franklin made great year-over-year strides and emerged as Indiana's best perimeter threat on both sides of the floor. CLICK HERE
  • RACE THOMPSON: Redshirt junior Race Thompson fought through injuries at the end of the season and battled in the post all year during his fine season. CLICK HERE
  • AL DURHAM: Senior guard Al Durham was up and down, but he conclude his career as one of 53 Hoosiers to score 1,000 points all-time. CLICK HERE
  • NEXT UP: Indiana junior guard Rob Phinisee.
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