Yesterday I touched on the six players that will no longer be part of the Purdue basketball program. In short, they leave under a cloud of failure. Purdue can and should be a perennial NCAA Tournament team, but has missed the event for the past two seasons, so something went wrong.
They are gone, however, and only five scholarship players will return. All five will have to play much larger roles next season if Purdue is going to turn things around immediately.
A.J. Hammons - C - Hammons is by far the most important returning piece, as he is a potential NBA talent and one of the most physically dominant centers in the country, let alone the Big Ten. He has proved his worth in multiple games, but he has lacked consistency. That consistency is the difference between him returning next season for the Boilermakers and jumping to the NBA right now.
Hammons is the top returning scorer at 10.8 points per game and rebounder at 7.4. He is one of the league's best defenders at 3.1 blocks per game, but was still considered a second round pick at best. He can have huge games, like the 18-16-4 assist-5 block game he had against Ohio State. He can also, unfortunately, be a complete ghost, as he had 11 rebounds but did not attempt a single shot from anywhere on the floor against Washington State. Twice on the season Hammons did not even attempt a field goal.
If Hammons wants to go to the next level Purdue will benefit greatly as a result. He needs to be an automatic 15 point, 10 rebound guy in 2014-15. Many people think he will improve with the departure of the Johnson brothers. Dakota Mathias along with Kendall Stephens give him some shooters to kick the ball out to as well.
Finally, Hammons has to cut down on the turnovers. He led the team with 78, often as a travel or a ball slapped away because he brought it below his waist in the post.
Best Game: Definitely the Ohio State game at Mackey Arena. He was unstoppable that night, and had we chosen to defend better it would have been a season-turning victory.
Rapheal Davis - G - I am a big fan of Ray D's attitude and I hopehe can emerge as a team leader more in 2014-15. He has said all the right things and it is clear he is a hard worker, which honestly, is the number thing we ask for as Purdue fans. His season was uneven, however. He only averaged six points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He didn't shoot the ball well, but was Purdue's best free throw shooter among the regular players at 78%.
In the past we have seen flashes of his scoring potential, and that must become more regular in 2014-15. Ray can hit the three, but is not incredibly reliable at only about 30% for his career. He does have a very nice midrange game and last season's Notre Dame game is the best example of what he can do.
Fortunately, Ray got better as the season closed. He reached double figures in five of the final nine games of the season and he showed more efficiency in scoring. I think we need him to be a regular double figures scorer that will be more consistent from three along with being a team leader. I know he'll put in the time in the gym, but it has to pay off. If Purdue makes next season's NCAA Tournament it could be because Davis becomes the Big Ten's most improved player.
Best Game: Davis had a fantastic 18 point game at Iowa and almost led us to a nice road upset. This was part of his closing stretch that showed a lot of promise.
Kendall Stephens - G - Stephens was a bit like D.J. Byrd last season in that he was Purdue's most consistent, and sometimes only, three-point threat. That was great... until teams figured it out and took him away. Once he was covered up his top weapon was taken away. Stephens was also a bit of a liability on defense, as he needs to get bigger and stronger to battle with other Big Ten guards.
Still, Stephens was 64 of 173 from long range and will be the only returning player that hit more than 10 triples. He'll once again be the top long range shooter, only Dakota Mathias is expected to provide a second option from long range. I would like to see Stephens become more of a versatile scorer with a midrange game. He is also solid at the free throw line, and as the son of one of Purdue's all-time greats he knows what it takes to succeed in this program.
He averaged over 8 points per game and that can still go up.
Best Game: Kendall had a career high of 19 against Michigan State as he got into a three-point shooting contest with the Spartans. Unfortunately, he was just one man and they bombed away on us relentlessly.
Bryson Scott - G - We're betting a ton on Bryson being much improved in 2013-14. I love the kids attitude as he plays angry all the time, something we desperately. Unfortunately, he can't get away with bulling to the basket on every single play at this level. That worked for over 2,000 points in high school, but in the Big Ten teams quickly figured it out.
Still, I think Scott can be a premium defender in the Big Ten and if the game slows down for him as it should he'll be better offensively. We need to lock him in a gym and have him take nothing but jump shots all summer. That part of his game has to develop. There needs to be more distribution and more of a threat for a jump shot and far less. "head down, drive" from him.
Fortunately, there are a lot of things to like about Bryson. When I got to talk to him after a loss at Kokomo last year I was impressed by his tenacity and general attitude towards the game of basketball. He shot only 35.9% from the field this past season and I know it pisses him off that he shot that poorly. He shot better from three (5 of 13, 38.5%) than he did from elsewhere on the floor.
Best Game: Bryson dropped 18 and went 2-for-2 from three against Oklahoma State down in Orlando, showing he has some promise as a scorer. He knows he can put points on the board, so once he figures out how to do it at this level, watch out.
Basil Smotherman - F - I once described Smotherman as "Kelsey Barlow with the give-a-shit always turned on." Well, let's look at their freshman year stats:
Smotherman: 5.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 58% FG, 37.1% FT
Barlow: 3.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.6 apg, 44.2% FG, 46.6% FT
By almost every metric, Smotherman was better. He is not the distributor Kelsey was, but he is already much more active on the glass and it cannot be discounted that Smotherman's athleticism allows him to have a play or two per game that gets the crowd on its feet and behind the team. He made such a play in the Big Ten Tournament and nearly injured his knee. As it was, it knocked him out of the game.
I see Smotherman as a great run/rebound/defend guy who's sheer athleticism causes problems for opponents. Kelsey was never a great scorer, but when he was the only guy that could ignite a crowd by driving and dunking on Jared Sullinger while putting his nuts in his face. Smotherman is that type of player without the negatives that Barlow sometimes brought. He has a lot of upside in that.
Best Game: Let's go with 11 points and five rebounds at West Virginia. It was the best victory of an otherwise forgetful season and Smotherman played a large role in it.