At a little before 6:00 am this morning, my girlfriend woke me up in something of a start. The fire alarms were going off, and there was a dull smell of smoke in the air. For the second time in as many months, one of the shared apartments in my building had tried to burn the place to the ground through careless indiscretion through baking or some other calamitous, perhaps more damning thoughtlessness - they were nowhere to be found when we had to call the fire department.
As always, we are fine, and humans suck, but some of them can dunk and I'm already up, so let's talk about them.
Caleb Swanigan, as you know, is the most highly touted recruit of Coach Painter's tenure at Purdue. He was a five-star power forward/center hybrid with a wide body, good hands, and a ready-made post game full of moves and counter moves that would make him an absolute force in the Big Ten. He became the first Purdue freshman to start the year with back to back double-doubles. He's averaging on the year: 9.7 points, 1.8 assists, and 9.2 rebounds a game despite playing with two of the best big men in the country and one of the best rebounding 3's in the nation in Vince Edwards. Oh, and he's shown some range by nailing a three in 5 of his first 6 games this year.
And yet, he's not been very good. Despite his high number of assists, his turnover to assist ratio is just over 2 to 1. He's shooting less than 40% from the field and making 59% of his free throws.
Still, it's his shot selection that has to have you most alarmed. You like to see a true freshman not be afraid to be aggressive, but Swanigan has been borderline irresponsible with some of the shots he's put up this year, particularly as competition has improved. In Swanigan's last three games he's shot a combined 10 for 30 while turning the ball over 13 times to just 4 assists in that span. Those passing numbers are still way better than Haas' freshman campaign, but Swanigan hasn't combined a high turnover rate with getting to the line frequently or making a high percentage of his shots. He's only gone to the line four times in the last three games, making only one of those attempts.
The numbers are obviously not good, but I went back and rewatched the Lehigh game last night and made some notes to help figure out what is going on with out true freshman big man.
Swanigan started the game by firing up a three that was neither that open or in rhythm. I'll have more on this later.
His first turnover really wasn't that damning. Haas' defender was fronting him and Swanigan made a nice pass into the post, but a help defender timed it perfectly and was able to deflect the ball away. Later, catching the ball on the right block, Lehigh sent a quick double team his way and he instantly recognizes it and makes a cross-court pass to an open Hill on the left corner who immediately travels with the ball.
In what was a replayed moment in the game, Swanigan got the ball on the right block early in the shot clock and gave a little shimmy before attempting a turn-around, fading jump shot that drew no iron and no glass. He had at least two more of these exact plays later in the game that he air-balled as well and they all came early in the shot clock.
Swanigan missed a more conventional fifteen foot jumper from the right side before taking his first trip to the pine.
Swanigan's first made bucket was off of a drive that started at the left elbow that he took straight down the left side of the paint which was occupied by Haas, forcing Caleb to pull up and attempt an off the dribble, step back to the left of sorts jumper. It went in flush, but it was not a good shot by any measurement. He was guarded fairly well, and it showed a lack of awareness in where his big man was by dribbling right into him. It shows his potential to score, sure, but there's better ways to get baskets.
Caleb's made three wasn't much prettier. At least it was in rhythm, he caught it at the top of the key and clanked the ball off the back of the rim, but it luckily died and fell into the hoop. Three points.
On a possession towards in the end of the first half, Ryan Cline swung a pass to Caleb in the left corner where Swanigan made a slight hesitation move before hoisting up another rushed air ball. I believe Swanigan's foot was on the line for this shot, making it an even more unforgivable shot.
To start the second half, Purdue ran a little pick and roll where Swanigan popped out instead of rolling and he had an open look at 3 left of center that he missed. This was an in-rhythm, wide open 3 which I'm fine with.
Following the missed 3, Caleb has a series of turnovers that start to make the game real ugly. He catches a ball on the left-block and attempts a Lebron-esque turn-around/step-back jumper that gets stripped before he can even hoist it up. Then, after trailing on a semi-transition play, Dakota finds Swanigan trailing open at the top of the key. Caleb catches it, attempts some kind of fake before setting his feet, and then shuffles his feet as he attempts to drive to the hoop for a very easy travel call.
To make matters worse, he then attempts his Hammons impression by shooting a turn around jump-hookish looking shot from about 8 to 10 feet out that once again air-balled. Almost immediately after, Swanigan was put to the bench for a longer than normal turn in the second half, not returning till after the halfway mark of the second half.
And in finale, Swanigan attempts a left handed hook(pictured above) from the right block that could not have looked worse. I'm okay with not seeing him take this shot again for the rest of the year, not only did he not look to have much touch with his off-hand, he also wasn't able to garner any separation from the defender to make it any easier.
So, what are we left with? A true freshman big man, to be honest. What I didn't include in my play-by-play run through were most of his good plays, which were all based around Caleb's ability as a passer. He has been fantastic at feeding Haas inside when the other big man has position. At 6'8" and just enough of a jumper to not be totally abandoned, Swanigan will continue to be the easiest access post to yummy post-up looks for Isaac when the two share the floor.
But Swanigan is forcing a lot of shots. His jump shot isn't to the point where it can justify all his trigger-happy, quick shots from deep. Caleb was supposed to have an arsenal of post-moves, and he may have them, but he has not shown any ability to get to them against college competition. He tries to do too much and has seemed to forego overpowering people in the post, and trying to hit them with finesse turnarounds that are ill-advised and not coming anywhere close to the hoop. He had a handful, if not more, air balls just in the game against Lehigh.
While his rebounding numbers still look good, and he's really good at sealing off, it's not enough to cover up for how many wasted possessions he's been responsible for of late. His greatest skill is passing right now, and he needs to find the patience to not force his when he's got a man one on one - because he's not shown an ability to score in isolation. Instead, he needs to focus on the things he's been doing well and continuing to get others involved.
Against Pitt tonight, look for Coach Dixon to not double on Caleb, at all. He'll be happy to trade one on one turn arounds for open 3's, and if Caleb doesn't show better patience, it's going to cost him playing time and his team a win. You can get away with taking ten bad shots against a team like Lehigh, but on the road against a quality opponent it will absolutely kill you.
A few quick hitters:
Ryan Cline, occasional brilliance
The prettiest play of the night was on a Cline pick and roll where Edwards set him a pick, and Cline drove hard to the right side. Both defenders followed him towards the paint and he took an extra dribble to really pull them in before firing a blind pass over his head to the waiting Edwards at the top of the key, forcing a defensive rotation from Dakota Mathias's defender. Edwards waited a half second, then swung the pass left to the open Dakota for a wide open 3. More pretty basketball like this, please.
Kendall be cold
Stephens is now 1 for his last 12 from deep. Hopefully, the third-year sharp shooter will not be put into Painter's doghouse again. He's not going to keep missing this much, especially when he has shown an improved shot selection this year. The lids going to come off the basket for the kid, and when it does, the fireworks will be beautiful.
Dakota Mathias' off-ball defense
For whatever physical limitations Mathias has, which there are many, he is pretty good at chasing guys off screens. He does a good job getting his hips through a screen and sliding into position. He's still going to get blown by off the dribble or pick up the foul, but against shooters who run off screens, he's been pretty impressive.
The long arms of Stephens
He's still surprisingly slow, and unable to dunk, but Stephens just missed having a couple steals last game by being ahead of the offense and making on the fly, brilliantly timed rotations to thwart easy scoring opportunities. He's got go-go-gadget arms, he got a nice block against Lehigh, and he uses them well off the ball to interrupt passing lanes.
Thompson is really fun
Speaking of interrupting passing lanes, P. J. Thompson has been brilliant this year. I've been expecting him to have a fall off, but the kid just keeps coming. He was really good at helping in the post while denying the obvious passing lane out to his man. He keeps his arms wide at all times on defense. He prods in at the big man before jumping out to take away the pass, chewing up time, and holding off any kind of whip-smart passing that could open up lanes or shooters.