6'4", 197 lbs
According to Kenpom's tracker, in our last five games, Dakota Mathias was featured in seven of our 10 most used lineups. That's the same amount that Edwards and Hammons shows up, and just one less than Davis and Octeus. You can go back even further to see when he became a major part of the rotation. Before the January 17th game against Penn State he had not recorded twenty minutes in a game, after that game where he was on the court for 23 minutes, he only failed to reach 20 minutes twice, both the games against Indiana, in fact.
In all seven of those lineups, he was predominately the lowest usage player on the court. Percentage of possessions used(%Poss) assigns credit or blame when a player's action ends a possession - made shots, missed shots not rebounded by the offense, or committed turnovers. Dakota Mathias's %Poss of 14.5 was the third lowest on the team, just above defensive specialist Basil Smotherman and offense limited P. J. Thompson.
Of course, there's nuance to these advanced metrics. %Poss only accounts for ending a possession, good or bad, and doesn't speak to the quality of ending a possession. As well, it doesn't account for hockey assists - the pass before the pass that gets the assist - or general off the ball goodies or spacing that smart players who can shoot can provide.
Dakota came in with the reputation as a smart player and a big time shooter. What we saw on the court did not translate onto the stat sheet. His Assist Rate(ARate) was the lowest of anyone on the team under seven feet at 13.5%. Assist Rate is the percent of baskets made while the player was on the court that he assisted on. Of course, there's a caveat. Purdue was a very good passing team last year. We were 37th in the nation in assists per game at 14.9 a game despite playing with the 179th fastest pace in the country.
Oh, and we were a terrible shooting team last year. It's much easier to get more assists when you make more baskets. We were 238th best shooting team from beyond the arc last year at 32.7%.
The expectations and numbers of players don't always meet, the same way the eye test and numbers don't always coincide. Dakota Mathias looks like a good shooter. He seemed to make a lot of whip-smart passes all over the court when he was on the court, but the numbers don't back it up. So which is true? Our head or our hearts?
Both, and neither. Dakota struggled last year with injuries, minor ailments that limited his practice time to almost nothing, and if you've ever been really good at something, you'll know that it needs a lot of practice to stay that way. We saw it before with Robbie Hummel before the knee injuries. When he was forced to wear the back brace and miss practice after practice, he all of a sudden forgot how to shoot free throws and his shot all over the floor was affected. It's possible that the same thing occurred with Mathias this year, only he had his injury plagued year as a freshman so we didn't have anything but a high school pedigree to fall on.
The injuries are an asterisk that allows you to forgive the shooting percentages, and think this year will be a dramatic improvement. I believe he will be much closer to 40% from three next year than 30%, but there are limitations in his game that can't be excused away by injuries.
It's not a coincidence he played less than twenty minutes in those two Indiana games. That Indiana lineup was a collection of lightning bolts without the thunder. They were short and they were fast and they played that way. That's never going to be Dakota's strength. He'll struggle against quicker guards, on defense and offense. He might have some nice handle and great vision, but he is not going to be able to drive on most college guards. He shot the highest percentage of his shots from beyond the arc on the team, and this team includes Kendall Stephens. He never even looked to drive, and that's the skill on offense that we'll be looking to replace with Jon Octeus gone.
Even if he raises his assist rate, his shooting percentage, and gets healthier, he still isn't going to be a point guard. He's best used coming off screens and making a quick decision with the ball. He's a complimentary piece that should make everyone else look better, but he's not a focal point of the offense, and he's not the type of player that can consistently initiate the offense.
Our shooters will get better this year, including Mathias, and our inside game should be stronger than ever. Dakota appears to be finally healthy and will be a big part of Purdue taking a step forward, especially on offense, but healthy doesn't mean he becomes a different type of player, just better at what he is.
Which is nice, because what he is is a very good basketball player.