A.J. Hammons hasn't even started a game yet for Purdue. He missed the first two games becaWE'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK ABOUT IT, OKAY? Even so, he might be the Big Ten Player of the Year because when he is on, there is not a soul that can stop him in college basketball right now.
In making a case for Big Ten Player of the Year let's look at Purdue's last POTY: JaJuan Johnson. That's probably the easiest place to start this comparison:
JaJuan Johnson 2010-11: 20.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1 APG, 2.3 BPG, 49.4% FG, 80.9% FT, 29.4% 3FG
A.J. Hammons 2015-16: 13.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 0.5 APG, 2.9 BPG, 61.6% FG, 72.4% FT, 100% 3FG
Hammons is not quite there on the scoring (yet), but he makes up for it with a ridiculous field goal percentage compared to JJ. One of the biggest differences is in style. JJ was good around the basket, but nowhere near as good as A.J. with his back to the basket. JJ took a lot more jumpers than A.J. as well.
Both were also very good defensive players, but JJ did not quite have the ability to erase shots and po0ssessions like Hammons does. Last night's 7 blocks and several "influenced" shots can attest to that. JJ was the better offensive player in terms of consistency, but he couldn't physically take over games like A.J. On the defensive end A.J. would eat JJ for breakfast.
So who is A.J. up against this early? There are a handful of candidates that have separated themselves from the pack. To win the award you need to either be the best player on one of the best teams in the conference or just go insane for a team that struggles. Since Talor Battle never won this, point A is bigger. For A.J. to have a shot Purdue is going to have to contend. Here are the other players with a shot at the award:
Denzel Valentine - Michigan State - 18.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 7.1 APG
Valentine has an excellent case and gets my vote so far. He has a shot at winning the triple crown (points, rebounds, and assists) offensively, which is more than good enough. He currently leads the conference in assists, is tied for the lead in scoring, and is third in rebounding.
How much will his injury be a factor, however? It is clear that Michigan State is not the same team without him. They got taken to overtime by Oakland for crying out loud. Valentine will miss the start of the Big Ten season, and if the Spartans struggle but recover once he returns it is probably Valentine's to lose. He is having a fantastic year and I hope he comes back 100%. It is fun to watch players like him.
Melo Trimble - Maryland - 15 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 5.7 APG,
Trimble doesn't have the rebounding numbers, but he is one of the league's best shooters as a guard. His athleticism allows him to get to the basket and he is one of those players that can go for 30 almost any night. He is also shooting 85% at the line once he gets there. Being fifth in the league in assists is a major boost to his profile.
Jarrod Uthoff - Iowa - 18.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.2 APG
An argument could be made that Iowa is the 4th best team in the Big Ten, and Uthoff is a major reason for it. He is having a great senior season where is also shooting 46.4% from three and 51.3% from the field. He is third in scoring in the league and 13th in rebounding. He is also tied with Hammons for blocked shots at 2.9, showing strong defensive chops.
Caleb Swanigan - Purdue - 11.3 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.5 APG
Why not Biggie? If he becomes a more consistent scorer in Big Ten play he will be in the discussion. At minimum, he is a strong candidate for Freshman of the Year. He leads the conference in rebounding by 0.5 rebounds over the next competitor (Jordan Murphy of Minnesota) and he has enough assists to show he is a great passer for a big man. It wouldn't surprise me if he has a triple-double sometime this season, and he is the closest player in the league to averaging a double-double.
So there you have it. Hammons faces some very good competition, but he at least has a shot to be the B1G POTY. My money right now is on Valentine if he comes back 100%, mostly because his overall numbers are absurd, but Hammons' defense is a major equalizer.