It would probably be a bit of a stretch to say that the days of needing a dominant, back-to-the-basket, seven-foot behemoth to win at the highest levels of basketball are over. That said, the game is seemingly getting smaller and quicker, and there are fewer teams who function with a traditional center. The teams last year in the Big Ten that went the furthest all had size, but you could hardly say that Cody Zeller, Adreian Payne, or Mitch McGary played like normal fives. Purdue is not one of those teams, however, as its second leading scorer and leading rebounder in 2012-13 is a projected first round draft pick by the name of A.J. Hammons. Hammons is not a new age pick-and-pop big man, as evidenced by his grand total of zero three-pointers attempted so far in his lone year in West Lafayette. He is, however, a 7’0″, 251-pound load on the low blocks who will be the determining factor as to whether Purdue can rebound from a 16-18 season coming on the heels of six straight 20-win campaigns before that.
My colleague already covered how Purdue desperately needs to improve from behind the arc. Guards like Ronnie Johnson, Terone Johnson and transfer Sterling Carter need to improve from distance, but the Boilermakers need to take advantage of Hammons and keep getting him the ball if they really want to be successful this season. Hammons was 12th in the league in usage rate last season, tying teammate Ronnie Johnson at 24.9 percent. For Purdue to improve, he needs to be around the 27 to 28 percent range. For some perspective, Trey Burke was nearly at 30 percent last season. A team’s best player should be using the most offensive possessions, even if he is not a ball-handler. This may be a bit too simple, but big guys like to get the ball. If they’re to be expected to bang bodies all game long , they’d like to get rewarded for their troubles. If they are rewarded, they will be more inclined to be more active defensively and generally more engaged when it comes thankless tasks like setting screens and help defense.