I saw a FanPost the other day mention that much anticipated arrival of the five freshmen and once again, I could not help but get excited about their addition. Sure, it is not exactly the Michigan Fab Five of the early 90's, but we have a promising young group of guys, one at each position on the floor, that look like they can grow together as a cohesive unit.
We're going to rely on all of them very early on. We have no choice but to rely on them with only five scholarship players returning. Coach Painter has shown in recent years he is not afraid to go deep into the bench, so a 10-man rotation would not be unexpected. Even an eight man rotation would still mean three of them, at minimum, would play extensive minutes.
So what is the best and worst case scenario for each:
P.J. Thompson - Point Guard
Best Case - In the fall of 2008 the expectations around the program could not have been higher. The Baby Boilers were entering their sophomore season after coming within a game of winning the Big Ten as freshmen, and we were adding a small but quick point guard with a knack for distributing the basketball.
Unfortunately, injuries meant that the 2008-09 season was the only full year where we got to see the full compliment of Baby Boilers play with Lewis Jackson. A foot injury cost him the first half of 2009-10, and we got about nine games (and looked fantastic in those nine games) before That Night in The Barn ended what was the perfect lineup for us.
That's probably Thompson's best case scenario. As a freshman LewJack averaged 5.9 points and 3.3 assists against 2.1 turnovers as Purdue's lone true point guard. That is where we are with Thompson. He needs to come in and settle into a role where he can distribute and still score at the rim if he needs to like LewJack did in his first year. It helped that he had some great shooters on the outside (Robbie, E'Twaun, Keaton Grant, etc.), so the development of Kendall Stephens and Dakota Mathias will be important. I do think Thompson is a better shooter than LewJack was as a freshman, but he is just that: a freshman
Worst Case - The worst case is that his foot injury that limited him in the All-Star series flares up and prevents him from really gelling with the rest of the team. Purdue might have to go with Bryson Scott and while I like Bryson, we saw what happens when we have a drive-and-score first point guard and the results were not good.
Also, P.J. needs to be calm and confident at the free throw line. If we're nursing a lead he is the most likely player to get fouled and head to the line. LewJack shot only 58% from the line as a freshman, so a similar effort from Thompson would not be a good thing.
If we see more Bryson Scott than P.J. Thompson at the point it will mean one of two things: Either Scott has greatly improved, or Thompson is really struggling. We desperately need a calming presence of leadership at the point and, unfortunately, that puts a lot on the shoulders of a freshman.
Dakota Mathias - Shooting Guard
Best Case - Purdue has had only one true threat from long range each of the last two seasons. D.J. Byrd gave way to Kendall Stephens, but now with Mathias and Stephens we have a pair of guys that can spread the floor and hopefully open things up in the middle. Mathias has to be able to defend well enough (and Kendall too, for that matter) to play both of them at the same time, but we now have at least the option of having two shooters on the floor.
In a dream world, Stephens and Mathias team up to make defenses pay when Thompson/Scott drives the lane and kicks out of Hammons passes out of a double team. Other players have to improve a bunch, but Mathias could be a guy that takes advantage of teams having to pay attention to everyone else on the floor so he ends up with open looks, much like an older Ryne Smith.
Worst Case - Speaking of Ryne Smith, the young Ryno was almost exclusively a decoy as a freshman. In fact, coach Painter once mentioned that he should have redshirted him. Mathias is a similar player to Smith and not just because they're both from Northwest Ohio. As a freshman Ryno played only 5.3 minutes per game and was only 5 of 17 from long range. He just did not have the confidence to shoot like he did in his final two seasons. That's probably the worst case for Mathias.
Vince Edwards - Small Forward
Best Case - Coach Painter made Edwards the focus of the class and I can see why. He is a versatile player that can give Purdue size at the three while not sacrificing scoring, rebounding, or distribution. Purdue doesn't really have a small forward that can do that right now. Rapheal Davis likely has the position as the de facto leader, but can Edwards play well enough to have both on the floor at the same time?
Both Edwards and Davis need to become more of a threat from three. Davis has had his moments, but he seems to have only a spot, the corner, where he can hit with any consistency. He is a bit like Terone Johnson in that regard. Terone was only effective when he could step into the three off the pass, and his shot looked much better in those situations. Davis' three-ball only looks good from the corner.
Can Edwards be more effective from all over? His best case is either seizing the four position so he can play with Davis when we want a small, quick lineup that can shoot or if he pushes Davis to start at the three.
Worst Case - Of all the players coming in, I think Edwards has the smallest downside. I think he is going to be a very successful player and I like the toughness and unselfishness he has shown late in his high school career. He always put up big numbers, but in his team's second-to-last game it was his assist that led to the win.
Ultimately, Edwards' worst case should be that he becomes a minor contributor.
Jacquil Taylor - Power Forward
Best Case - I'll admit it, I know the least about Jacquil Taylor among the five freshmen. I have seen P.J. Thompson play in person and I saw lots of video on Edwards, Mathias, and Haas, but Taylor came from a private New England school that did not get a ton of press. I honestly don't know what to expect from him. I don't know if he has much of a shooting touch or if he is more of a bruising power forward.
Coach Painter has been reluctant to go with two true big men in the past and the game of basketball has leaned more recently to four guys who can play on the perimeter with one true big. If Taylor is more of a traditional power forward that clogs the lane for Hammons. Haas, so hopefully Taylor has some touch and range on his shot.
I'm not asking for Robbie Hummel, who was ridiculously dangerous as a four because he could shoot the three very well, rebound, and defend other fours. That's just asking too much. I do want Taylor to be an effective guy that can give us some versatility to play with multiple bigs at once.
Worst Case - Some have said Taylor would have been a five-star talent if not for his knee injury earlier in his career. The worst case is that he becomes another player like Jay Simpson. I love Jay and love that he will still be around the program, but his body just would not let him stay on the floor for any length of time. Be it because of his body or because he is behind everyone else, Jacquil's worst case is being the 10th man.
Isaac Haas - Center
Best Case - Haas has a ton of promise and, in all likelihood, is going to serve as an understudy to Hammons this year before taking over in the middle when Hammons goes pro after this coming season. Why does it have to be that way, however? Haas was a triple-double machine in high school and I have seen in his Tweets that he is a motivated individual. He is going to come in from day one and provide a 7'2" boot up Hammons' butt because he wants to play right now in his own right. That's a very good thing.
I want Haas to push Hammons every single day in workouts from now until the end of the season. I want Hammons to have to give maximum effort because he knows that if Haas passes him, it will cost him millions in the NBA Draft. I want Haas to also be able to show his stuff any time Hammons needs a rest, giving us a glimpse of what to expect in a post-Hammons era.
Worst Case - Maybe he put up huge numbers in Alabama because Alabama HS basketball sucks. It's one thing to do what he did in Indiana, where there is talent all over the place. It's something completely different to do it in a football mad state when you're basically the biggest kid on the floor by far.
I am not saying Haas is the second coming of Matt ten Dam, mostly because Haas actually has basketball skills. I am saying that the jump in competition will probably be the largest for him.