Today we have the last of the sophomores on the roster, and while he is an excellent contributor, he represents the ceiling of Purdue basketball right now. I will explain in his breakdown.
Kendall Stephens - Sophomore
8.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.6 apg, 35.1% FG, 38.4% 3FG 74% FT
Essentially, Kendall had the same season in 2014-15 as he did in 2013-14. His three-point shooting improved by just 1.4%, his scoring was up by 0.7 ppg, while only his assists (and turnovers) showed dramatic improvement. The aforementioned ceiling, however, is represented in his shot selection. Kendall is basically Ryne Smith 2.0 at this point in that he is not going to shoot much inside the three-point arc. Let's look at some numbers:
Player A: Fr. 5 of 17 from three, 1 of 4 from two. So. 19 of 64 from three, 6 of 13 from two
Player B: Fr. 64 of 173 from three, 16 of 52 from two. So. 73 of 190 from three, 20 of 75 from two
Player A is Smith, and player be is Stephens. Both are almost exclusively three-point gunners. The good news is that Ryno made a big jump in his 3-point percentage from his sophomore to junior years. Since Kendall started at a better percentage a similar jump can pay dividends.
Therein lies the ceiling. Defenses know that Stephens is almost strictly a three-point shooter. He he has not shown much of an ability to create his own shot so far. Like so many player for Purdue, he is almost exclusively one-dimensional. What made the Baby Boilers teams so well is that they had multiple players that could shoot well, create their own shot, rebound, pass, and do multiple things within the offense. That's when Painter's motion offense looks great.
Instead, we have a bunch of players that do 1-2 things really, really well right now, but they are not nearly as versatile as previous teams. A.J. Hammons is almost exclusively a post player, and a damn good one, but can't pull a man away from the basket like JJ did. Rapheal Davis can drive to the basket and score, but can't shoot the three as lethally as E'Twaun did. Kendall is a pretty good three-point shooter, but he is not "leave him wide open and it is three points" Like Ryne was.
Right now the closest thing to a multi-dimensional player that Purdue has is Vince Edwards, who showed in the NCAA game that he has some Hummel in him. There will be more on him later, but what this all means is that we have seen Kendall's ceiling unless he can develop his game better. That's not a bad thing, necessarily, as Ryne Smith had a very successful career, but he had players around him that teams had to defend on the perimeter. Too many times in the past two seasons Kendall has been the only three- point shooting threat on the floor for us. When teams think he is the only three from outside the arc it makes Purdue a lot easier to defend.
It has to be the game at Penn State, where he had 22 points and a critical game-tying three-pointer as time was winding down in regulation. It was an improbable shot and resulted in a critical Purdue road victory. If Purdue loses that game it likely sends the rest of the season into a spiral. Instead, it lit a fire under the Boilers and propelled them to the NCAA Tournament.
Final Grade: B-
Kendall was often a feast or famine player. If he was hitting, he could have an excellent night. He had 24 against IUPUI, 21 against Kansas State, 22 at Penn State (including a huge shot that saved the entire season), and some other big games. He also had five games where he was scoreless. He sometimes could shoot Purdue out of games, as his 1 of 8 performance from long range in the NCAA Tournament (with some wide open looks) did not help in a loss by a point.
I know health was an issue for Kendall. He was never the same after a nasty finger injury in the BYU game out in Maui. He also battled a shoulder injury last season. Imagine how good of a player he could be healthy.
Next year should help. If he can get healthy he won't have to be Purdue's sole option from long range, especially with Ryan Cline coming and Dakota Mathias continuing to develop. If he can start to create his own shot and cut down on the lazy passes (some of which were atrocious) he can have a very good year in 2015-16.