Just like last year, Terrence Shannon Jr. was the first domino to fall in the summer for the Illini. Shannon Jr. announced he was returning to the Illini on the deadline day for the draft. After being one of the highest rated transfers last offseason, Shannon Jr. is one of the highest mocked players in the upcoming NBA Draft returning to school. He came to Champaign to be the lead guard and excelled. Shannon Jr. averaged career highs in points, rebounds, assists and minutes per game. Even if he is the same player he was last year it’s a massive boon for Illinois, giving them one of the best players in the Big Ten. Any second year improvements would give them one of the best players in the country.
Last year was Shannon Jr.’s first time playing primarily on the ball. He came on the court from day one.to Illinois to do just that, and he excelled in many facets. Shannon Jr. was All-Big Ten First Team for a reason. He was the engine for the offense every game he played. He provided elite rim pressure both in the half court and in transition. It’s certainly up in the air how much more the Illini can play Shannon Jr. off the ball this year. Doing so could allow him to reach a possible best of both worlds.
Shannon Jr. provides the Illini with a guaranteed productive scorer. He averaged 17 points per game last year while always drawing the opposing team’s best perimeter defender. What is interesting is how his scoring profile changed with the career high in scoring. He graded out in the 78th percentile in Pick and Roll per Synergy Sports, after being in the 11th percentile the year before. That was also with almost double the possessions. His Free Throw Rate also jumped, which for a 79% free throw shooter got him over five points per game. He was one of the most fouled players in the country, giving him a nice baseline to his offensive game.
Shannon Jr. also improved as a playmaker. His turnover percentage decreased even with the increased usage. While not great, his 21% turnover percentage on Pick and Roll possessions was down from 32% his last year at Texas Tech. He also increased his efficiency in off the dribble jump shooting, going from 33rd percentile to 88th. These jumps allowed him to have 20+ point outings in 11 of the 30 games he played in. These include his 29-point explosion against UCLA in Las Vegas, 26 in the mad comeback against Northwestern, and 20 against Arkansas’ elite defense in the NCAA Tournament.
Like any player in a brand-new role, there were some growing pains for Shannon Jr. His catch and shoot numbers plummeted, going from shooting 49% on catch and shoot jump shots to 32%. Part of this is likely due to the lack of playmakers creating good shots for him, but with the Illini missing on RayJ Dennis there won’t be an elite offensive hub to help in that regard this year either. He also saw a slight decrease in transition efficiency, going from 89th percentile to 72nd. This is likely due to the much more controlled and slower Big Ten style of play, as well as playing on a worse defensive team.
He also struggled at times to consistently assert himself as a scorer. He could score 15 points in 5 minutes, and then 5 the rest of the game. They all count the same, and Shannon Jr.’s explosive nature helped the Illini power back from large deficits over and over. However, the fact they could fall so far down is partly because of the inconsistency from their offense and the lead scorers. Shannon Jr. is always in attack mode. When he gets the ball, he takes it hard to the basket. While this is what you want from him, tempo control doesn’t mesh with that kind of If Shannon Jr. can improve on his consistency in his second year it would go a long way toward remedying Illinois offensive issues.
You cannot score more than 17 points per game in the Big Ten without being able to really take the ball to the basket. Along with the ability to power into and through contact for free throws, Shannon Jr. thrives around the rim:
His ability to get downhill also seriously tilts defenses. Especially when he can get going left, he does a nice job of hitting the long skip on his drives:
Creating these corner looks is super valuable, but it’s the only read he will make making plays on drives usually. Very rarely does he hit the roll man, mostly due to a lack of change of pace and patience in the action.
Shannon Jr., like most athletes of his caliber, is best in transition. When it’s just a little guard back on defense, he can get to the rim at will without the worry of making a read, or a help defender coming over. He also generates transition opportunities at a high level, as a shot blocker and in the passing lanes. He had just two games all year without a steal or block:
As mentioned above, Shannon Jr. greatly improved as an off the dribble shooter. This allowed him to become a legit threat in isolation, as defenders had to press up allowing him to leverage his elite burst to get downhill:
Preferably you want Shannon Jr. playing downhill, but to maximize the efficiency of his attacks, this threat from deep is necessary.
With Illinois unable to secure a proven point guard in the portal, it’s likely Shannon Jr. will once again be the primary option in the halfcourt. Many Power 5 transfers have a big jump in production in their second year. A jump from last year would move him from All-Conference tier to All-American tier. The lack of a point guard consistently generating good looks and keeping everyone in rhythm certainly affected the shooting last year, Shannon Jr. included. However with more proven shooting coming from the portal, there should be more room for Shannon Jr. in the half court.
The recipe for the Illini is simple. Shannon Jr. and fellow draft pullout Coleman Hawkins have to consistently play like NBA players offensively. Developing a more effective two-man game between them would go a long way. It rarely felt like the Illini had multiple stars hitting at once, and most of that was due to the fact they didn’t play off each other. Both players get another year in the lab together this offseason. A boost in synergy as well as skills would be huge for Brad Underwood.
With Ty Rodgers seemingly in line for the majority of the ‘point guard’ minutes, the defense projects strongly again. Rodgers can take on difficult matchups in a way that Jayden Epps and Skyy Clark couldn’t, maybe Shannon Jr. can save more energy offensively. Overall, Shannon Jr.’s return is a massive win for the Illini. In an offseason where the culture came into question, having the best player turn down a sure NBA opportunity provides stability on and off the court. Now it’s time for him to show why he came back.
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