There's a dark horse for player of the year considerations in the Big Ten and he doesn't play in our post.
Saint Charles, IL
6'6", 197 lbs
2015-16 projection: Starting guard/ sixth man
Now, you're probably a little curious about that first statement. Am I a homer? Am I drunk? Delusional? Just a moron? While I'm sure you think a few of those apply already, there's some history that makes my statement not as crazy as it seems.
Do I think Kendall will actually be a contender for B10 player of the year? No, of course not. He's probably not even a top four player on his own team - which should make you feel really good about this year - but everything is lining up for this to be a break out year for the junior.
Yes, Kendall dealt with injuries his first two years. Yes, Caleb Swanigan - obligatory Biggie mention - will create more space than ever for Purdue shooters, as will Hammons and Haas in the post. Yes, Johnny Hill's ability to get to the rim will create drive and kick opportunities that should lead to a lot of open three. Yes, Mathias, Edwards, and Davis are all very capable, creative passers, and all of these things would lead you to think there'd be a modest uptick in Stephen's play but most important might just be the number three.
As in, the third year in Coach Painter's motion offense is usually the year that everything clicks. Painter has said that it usually takes 2 to 3 years for players to master, and that's particularly true for shooters. The motion offense relies on a list of rules that dictates when and where you move depending on how your defender is guarding you. The more you play with these principles, the more it becomes habit, and when things become habit you no longer have to think about where you need to be. It becomes instinct to make a v cut when your man is sagging off you and you're a pass away from getting the ball for an open jumper.
What happens when you don't have to worry about where you are on the court or where you need to be? You can focus on your shot instead. You can see the hoop, and know, more or less, when you'll be open before you're open. A few of those rushed threes with no room go away, a few of those balls that went in and out just go in, and all of a sudden you're shooting a career high from three.
It's not a fantasy. It's history.
Ryne Smith came into his Junior year shooting 29% from three on 81 attempts. His junior year saw him go 56 for 127, almost tripling his made triples while shooting 14% better from three.
D. J. Byrd, another catch and shoot player dependent on the motion offense to create him looks, saw a similar spike in production from year 2 to 3. In his sophomore year he was 38 of 112, a 34% mark from three. He switched those numbers around his junior year. He shot 43% making 65 of 151 three point attempts.
Kendall Stephens will not double his three point production from his freshman and sophomore campaigns. He made two less threes last year than D. J. and Ryne made in their freshman and sophomore seasons combined. Kendall has been the major perimeter threat for this Boiler team the last two years, roles that Smith and Byrd didn't grab until their Junior years, but Kendall is also a better athlete who has the potential to expand his game in ways that neither of those players could.
But as shooters, the three players took similar shots, and so it's not unfair to assume that Stephens will also improve, and quite possibly in a dramatic fashion. If he does? That's a whole lot of threes at a very high efficiency. He's going to turn heads and when you score that many points on a team that could be as good as this Boiler team can be, you're going to get some attention from the press.
The motion offense is not complicated, but there's a lot of nuances, quick decisions, and intricacies required to run it. It takes time to master, and history tells us that that time is two years.
It's appropriate then that our countdown of number 21 marks three weeks from the start of the season when it'll be his leap in his third season from three that could be the difference between a great season and a special one.