Robbie Hummel: Back In Action But Not the Same Player?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 1st, 2012

As North Carolina’s Dexter Strickland held onto his foot in extreme pain two weeks ago against Virginia Tech, every Tar Heel fan knew that their chances to get to the Final Four decreased immediately.  Purdue fans can relate to that feeling.  They experienced the same drop in their heart rate on February 24, 2010, when star forward Robbie Hummel tore his ACL in Minneapolis.  To make matters worse, the Basketball Gods were really upset with West Lafayette because Hummel injured his knee again just before the 2010-11 season.

Robbie Hummel's Resurgence Is Worth Rooting For

The Baby BoilersE’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Hummel couldn’t finish what they had started out to do as freshmen in 2008 – to play during the last weekend of the college hoops season.  It couldn’t happen due to Hummel’s injuries. Hummel returned to the court after an 18-month strenuous rehabilitation process.  His buddies are gone but he remains one of the top scorers in the conference – averaging 15.2 points per game.  His offensive production hasn’t changed much from the 2010 season (15.4 PPG) but there is just something different about him on the court. He looks the same and he generates enough offense but his arsenal of moves has been affected by the injuries.

Hummel’s trademark offensive move has always been around the three-point line behind the top of the key or along the baseline from the corner. Reggie Miller would be proud of his relentless movement without the ball. After catching the ball in his favorite spots, he has three potential ways to score:

  1. Shoot immediately
  2. Pump fake; take a quick step away to the side and pull up for a shot inside the arc.
  3. Pump fake; let the defender step in towards him (otherwise lower the shoulder) and drive all the way to the hoop.

Let’s try to understand how these options have changed since not just one, but two, knee injuries.

The Deep Ball

His overall three-point shooting has been consistent since the injury – 35% in 2012 compared to 36% in 2010.  So the first option’s effectiveness hasn’t changed over the intervening years.  But he does more than shoot threes; he has always been versatile and tough to guard due to his pump fakes, quickness and strength. Players had to respect the deep ball but couldn’t get up on him too much because he was quick enough to blow past them despite his size.

The Pull-Up Jumper

Hummel ought to think about making one of those Tom Emanski-esque infomercials about how to pump fake after coming off a screen.  He sells the pump fake as well as any player we have seen in recent history in the Big Ten.  The fake combined with a quick pull-up shot has always been one of his lethal moves.  But that part of his game has been affected by the injuries.  He doesn’t always get the same lift off the court that he used to. Anybody who has played basketball or has watched enough games understands that legs are a shooter’s most important asset. When a player shoots flat jumpers towards the end of the game, most of it can be dedicated to tired legs.  One doesn’t need a medical degree to recognize that Hummel’s two knee injuries negatively affected his lift off the floor.

The decreased effectiveness of his pull-up jumper is exhibited from his two-point shooting percentage so far this year.  Hummel is shooting about 43% from within the arc compared to 52% in 2010 and 50% during his sophomore year in 2009.  When he tries to force the shot during key possessions, it ends up flat.  He used to be a menace during the last five minutes of a game because he could shoot over the defender or drive towards the hoop, but he has been overly reliable on his jumper after the surgeries.

Fewer Possessions in the Paint

The biggest change in his offensive game since the surgery is his lack of production in the paint.  The quick first step is gone and so is his ability to zip past his defenders.  As a result, he doesn’t get to the free throw line as much.  To back up the observation, we can compare his free throw rate over the years – 23.7 (2012), 41.2 (2010) and 30.5 (2009). Because he is usually away from the paint during most offensive sets, his offensive rebounding has also been at an all-time low.  Despite grabbing roughly the same amount of total boards during a game – 6.0 in 2012 vs. 6.9 in 2010 – his offensive rebounding percentage has dropped.  It dipped from 6.3% in 2010 to 5.0% in 2012.  Did he turn into a Vince Carter who just forgot how to attack the paint and fell in love with the lazy jump shot?  No way.  He has too much discipline to ever settle for lazy jumpers, but the injuries have clearly affected his first step.  He can’t seem to get much separation against good defenders anymore.  These are the same defenders who would have been left in the dust by the Robbie Hummel from 2010.

As a result of the changes explained above, most of the Big Ten coaches don’t lose sleep planning their defensive strategy against Purdue.  A few seasons ago, if they put a power forward to guard the 6’8″ wing, he drove to the basket because he was too quick.  Trying a quicker but smaller guard didn’t work either because he used his height to drain mid-range shots over them.  Defenders such as Michigan State’s Draymond Green can actually hang with him now because he can’t take them off the dribble.  He is not challenging the opposition enough in the paint, so a team like Michigan can get away by saving Jordan Morgan for defensive rebounds and instead use a smaller guard like Stu Douglass to defend him.  During last week’s Michigan game, Evan Smotrycz was glued to Hummel for the most part. His 2010 version would have made John Beilein pay for putting a slower guy on him by just muscling his way into the paint to get easy buckets or get Jordan Morgan in foul trouble.  But unfortunately, he lacks that explosion now and doesn’t cause the same mismatches as he did during the seasons before the injuries.

Ok, enough comparisons to his game before the surgeries.  Robbie Hummel’s return to a full season at Purdue can’t just be measured based on his offensive statistics.  If it weren’t for his effectiveness this season, Purdue would have been in a rebuilding mode. Who would be the go-to guy without him in the lineup? Lewis Jackson can drive to the hoop but his defenders just step back due to his inconsistent shot. DJ Byrd is a bruiser – he plays tough defense and can hit the open three-pointer but he can’t create his own shot either.  Kelsey Barlow is a great on-ball defender and Ryne Smith needs somebody else to feed him off the screens so he can drain the deep ball.  There is nothing more frustrating than to watch a good defensive team that struggles to find scoring during tough stretches during the game.  Purdue would have been that team without him.  His leadership and reliability can’t and shouldn’t just be measured using numbers.

Hummel’s journey through West Lafayette may have taken a slight detour but his impact on the program is still historic.  The Boilermakers finished with an uncharacteristic record of 7-21 during Gene Keady’s final season.  Painter’s first year wasn’t a cakewalk as they went 9-19.  But Hummel’s arrival along with the other Baby Boilers has turned the program around.  His perseverance through the rehabilitation process conveys a strong message that Matt Painter strives to instill into the program every season – tough, gritty and hard-nosed basketball.  Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, Robbie Hummel has helped get this legendary Big Ten program back on track after a slump during the early 2000s.  And for that, the entire Big Ten fan base is happy to see him back in action.

Deepak Jayanti (247 Posts)


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One Response to “Robbie Hummel: Back In Action But Not the Same Player?”

  1. […] as stacked as the past but Hummel will get them into the postseason again. One of the TYS writers examines how his game has changed since the knee surgeries. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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