I feel a little sorry for today's player, mostly because he has the most pressure of any player on his shoulders. I think he can handle it, however.
P.J. Thompson - Freshman
2.4 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 1.1 apg, 33.3% FG, 28.6% 3FG, 76.9% FT
A look at the numbers shows it was a pedestrian year for the young point guard, but given the departure of Jon Octeus and Bryson Scott, Thompson will be thrust into the spotlight immediately. Unless the Boilers get another Octeus-type transfer, Thompson is going to be the starting point guard when the new season opens in November. That is a lot of pressure on the young man, but that is why he came to Purdue.
I think what I like the most about Thompson is that he is fearless already. A prime example is the Cincinnati game in the NCAA Tournament. With 40 seconds left against Cincinnati Purdue was trailing by a point, but P.J.found himself wide open with the basketball in the corner. He shot without hesitation. Yes, he airballed it (quite badly), but the fact that he did not freeze despite being a freshman in the spotlight was impressive. P.J. often had that wide open look this year and he was never afraid to take it. Sometimes, like just before halftime against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament, he hit a big shot. Other times, like against Cincinnati, he missed. The bigger point is that he wasn't afraid to shoot. If he improves just a little and starts knocking down those wide open looks with regularity it can open up a lot.
Beyond that, P.J. did not get a ton of opportunities to show his offensive prowess. He played mostly relief minutes for Octeus and moves ahead of Scott because of the Scott-Painter feud behind the scenes. That can pay dividends for a player that is going to play a lot more in 2015-16.
It has to be the NCAA clincher vs. Illinois. The Illini started the game as if they were fighting for the NCAA Tournament lives. The Boilers fell behind early, but Thompson, who had not moved from the bench in the previous games against Ohio State and Michigan State, made a huge difference with his defense. He played 14 minutes, had 7 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and three huge steals to flip the game around. Two of the steals came in the last two minutes just before halftime as part of a critical 8-0 finish to the first half. With three minutes left in the game he hit a critical three-pointer to help seal the victory.
That was the story behind most of P.J.'s three-pointers this year. He hit only 14, but it seemed like each one came at critical times. One of them came in the second half against Maryland when both Isaac Haas and A.J. Hammons were on the bench in foul trouble and Purdue's offense was figuring out how to work without a seven footer. He hit one each against BYU and NC State, and both were close games that ended in Purdue's favor and got them to the tournament. We don't need P.J. to be Ryne Smith from long range. We just need him to be a threat so teams have to guard him and open up things elsewhere.
Final Grade: B
The expectations weren't high and P.J. more than delivered. Since point guards seem to be fleeing Purdue in droves these days, P.J. came in not expecting a ton of playing time and was far from a complete liability. His Illinois game helped get Purdue back into the NCAA Tournament too, so that cannot be overlooked.
Can P.J. double his minutes and pick up the slack for Octeus? Octeus played 977 minutes this year to 407 for Thompson. P.J.'s athleticism and size is not the same as Jon's, but we absolutely need him to become an effective starting point guard in 2015-16. His assist-to-turnover ratio was almost 2:1, so he is already good there, but can that be extrapolated over a full game?
Ultimately, I want to see a smart player that picks his spots to shoot and plays within himself. So far, P.J. has done just that.