After the first 14 games of the season, Purdue now sits at a solid 10-4 entering Big Ten play. We've seen some really good stretches of Boiler Basketball, and we've seen some pretty sloppy games where the team's youth and growing pains have been exposed. But hey, if you would've told me around this time last year that we'd be sitting at 10-4, I'd be happy. With that being said, I think it's time we hand out some awards to the guys who've really stepped up their play this season.
This post is going to focus on the fist segment of the season with two more following around the middle and end of conference play. Now, let's see what the Boilers' individual accomplishments are:
Most Improved Player:
Nominations: Ronnie Johnson, Jay Simpson, Terone Johnson, & A.J. Hammons
This is a tough call and could easily go a couple different ways, but I'm going with Ronnie Johnson on this one and Jay Simpson in a close second.
Ronnie has been playing tremendously this season and has really polished his game from last year. He's also shown that he can play alongside Bryson Scott, and Johnson has been great at moving without the ball when Scott is on the floor. Ronnie has cut his turnovers down this season to 1.8 from 2.6, is making better decisions as a passer and a scorer, and has matured a lot since last year. (Note the statistics can't be relied on too much due to the small sample size of the 14 games). His defense has also been good this season, but there are still areas to improve in that field as well.
It's going to be fun watching this guy during Big Ten play, as he's developing into one of the premier guards in the conference. What I'd like to see from him going forward: Continue on making better decisions, share the ball a little more, and don't rush plays/shots. There are times when Ronnie starts to move a little too fast for his own good, which can lead to a turnover or forced shot. If he can improve in his decision making, passing, and slowing things down, then this will make for a great Big Ten season.
Offensive Player of the Year:
I'm going with Terone Johnson on this one. Terone has been our most consistent scorer throughout the season, just like everyone had been predicting. Terone passed the 1000 points scored mark earlier this season and continues to add to it with his 13.9 points per game. There are still times where TJ takes some really dumb shots and forces up some ugly floaters. Unfortunately, I think that's something we're going to have to deal with during conference play because of the mindset of "I've gotta score" that Terone has. I trust TJ going forward and am happy we can have a guy like him to consistently go to for a basket.
Defensive Player of the Year:
No contest here, it's gotta be Hammons.
Hammons has been a force in the paint all year long with his shot blocking, taking up space, creating turnovers, and altering shots. He has been the defensive anchor on this team and is looking like he's about to pick up some steam rolling into conference play after his dominant performance against Ohio State. Hammons will continue his dominant role as a defensive presence for Purdue this season, but he's gotta stay out of foul trouble; something he has struggled with this season.
Here's a pretty awesome statistic: Hammons had 67 blocks last year. In fourteen games, Hammons has 50. Hammons could easily win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year this season if he keeps this up.
Another tough one to chose, but I'm going with Bryson Scott on this one.
Scott gives us another ball handler, which we desperately missed last year, and instantly contributed to this team with his excellent play on both ends of the court. BS has an insanely high motor, and is always looking for ways to improve his game. I've been loving what he can do on offense and the dude is not scared at all to drive into the lane.
His decision making needs to improve; he can take some bad shots and has had a few very sloppy turnovers. That will come with time, though. We'll need Bryson's intensity and defense with a very guard heavy conference.
NBA Jam Award
This award goes to the guy who comes out gunning the instant he steps on the floor and always has the threat of catching on fire. At the beginning of the season it would've been harder to give this one out between Sterling Carter and Kendall Stephens. But now Stephens has clearly showed that he can pull up from almost anywhere on the court.
Defenders absolutely have to respect Stephens' range once he sets foot on the court. His consistent presence from behind the arc is something Purdue hasn't had since Ryne Smith, and it's so fun to watch. I'm totally fine from Stephens pulling up from just about anywhere on the court, and his jump shot is a thing of beauty. Defenders are starting to respect his shot more and will be playing him tighter, so Stephens going to have to really utilize screens and fight for open space during conference play.
An award handed out to an electrifying play-maker that can do it all on both ends of the court. Definitely gotta give this to Basil Smotherman, who has now won himself over as my new favorite freshmen.
Smotherman is what I wanted Jacob Lawson to be: an athletic freak who is going to wow us with his dunks and defense. Except Smotherman is showing way more than that. He's great at moving without the ball, has great body control when going to the rim, and has made some big buckets going down the stretch. Smotherman has worked his way into Painter's starting line-up and it appears it will be that way for the rest of the season. I'm extremely pumped to see what Smotherman is going to bring to the table for the remainder of the season.
This concludes Part I of the awards. Stay tuned for Part II in a couple weeks.