Purdue’s Frontcourt Needs a Competent Backcourt

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 27th, 2015

There is hope in West Lafayette — Purdue fans haven’t been this optimistic during a preseason since Robbie Hummel roamed campus back in 2011. The reason for all those good feelings is because the Boilermakers return the bulk of an NCAA Tournament roster that lost an excruciatingly close opening round overtime game to Cincinnati. Matt Painter’s squad really put it together at the end of last season, winning nine of its last 12 regular season games, including an impressive victory against Illinois that effectively cemented its place in the field of 68. With virtually all their important pieces returning and joined by the services of a top 20 freshman, why did the coaches slot Purdue as a borderline Top 25 team? It’s because despite an impressive group of big men populating the frontcourt, the Boilermakers must address serious concerns about the legitimacy of their backcourt.

Raphael Davis is the lead scoring guard (10.7 PPG) in a backcourt looking for firepower. (Mike Fenner, Indianapolis Star)

Raphael Davis is the lead scoring guard (10.7 PPG) in a backcourt looking for firepower. (Mike Fenner/Indianapolis Star)

There’s no doubt that the strength of this team lies with its big men, starting foremost with senior center A.J. Hammons — the Big Ten’s leading shot-blocker for two consecutive seasons, member of the All-Big Ten Second Team and All-Defense Team — and fellow seven-footer Isaac Haas, who showed well in his freshman season, averaging 7.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG in fewer than 15.0 MPG. Add into the mix five-star freshman Caleb Swanigan (assuming he is ruled eligible), and Purdue likely boasts the second-best front line in the Big Ten behind only Maryland. However, with the notable exception of Swanigan, these players aren’t agile enough to create scoring opportunities for themselves on the blocks. Rather, they need to be fed from the perimeter to score on a consistent basis — around 70 percent of Hammons and Haas’ shots at the rim come from assists. Therefore competent guard play will be integral for Purdue to reach the full potential of its frontcourt.

Getting the ball inside the paint was performed by committee last season, as Purdue ranked second in the conference in assists without any individual averaging more than 2.7 APG. The losses of Jon Octeus (graduation) and Bryson Scott (transfer) removes almost four assists per game from the lineup, but Painter was able to lure transfer point guard Johnny Hill from UT-Arlington (3.4 APG) to mitigate the situation. The guards also have issues with their scoring, as Raphael Davis was the only member of the backcourt to average double figures (10.7 PPG). More specifically, a stark lack of perimeter shooting made it difficult to create space underneath the basket for Hammons and Haas. The Boilermakers shot a chilly 32.7 percent from the arc last season, ranking 245th nationally (12th in the Big Ten). The pie chart below shows the share of three-pointers made last season and lists their percentages by name.

purdue 3pt shooting

As you can see, Kendall Stephens was the only Boilermaker to shoot better than 35 percent from deep last season. Incoming freshman Ryan Cline is reportedly a pure shooter who proved he can perform by winning the MVP at the prestigious 2014 Adidas Super 64 Tournament — Painter hopes he can provide some firepower behind the arc right away. Sophomore Vince Edwards has also shown the potential to fill it up, such as when he scored in double figures in four of his first seven games — including games of 25 and 26 points — but the Middletown, Ohio, native returned to Earth during the rest of season and finished the year averaging 8.8 PPG. If Edwards — or really, any of the guards on the roster — can become a consistent scorer, it could provide enough perimeter offense to open up the frontcourt. A more potent Purdue offense to go along with Painter’s typically stellar defense could transform the Boilermakers from a high-middle pack Big Ten team into a legitimate challenger for a conference title.

Alex Moscoso (170 Posts)

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