There's a dirty secret with Purdue Basketball:
We've not been very good for point guards and point guards haven't been very good for us.
I know, this is completely against the rushing tide of optimism coming in after the Caleb Swanigan signing. (And, yes, that counts as the one mandated Swanigan reference each article needs.) But it's the truth. Don't believe me? Answer this question.
Who is the best Purdue point guard of the last ten years?
Do you prefer the one year of Octeus's steady hand? Or the frenzied four years of Lewis Jackson? (Give me the baptist every day, and twice on days we play IU.)
This isn't an edict against our former Boilers. LewJack was a menace. Octeus helped change our culture back to the better, but Octeus didn't have the consistent jumper to take our offense to the next level and my grandmother has been losing an inch a year for the last decade and still has a height advantage over Jackson in the post.
Also, the motion offense. We run a motion offense. One that is not nearly as pretty as the Princeton offense, but uses similar theories of thought with people constantly entering and exiting the post, cutting and curling around for open jumpers. It's almost antithesis to the offense you'd need for a point guard to record the stats we use to measure success at the position.
The NBA is currently sitting on a point guard pantheon. Steph Curry will face Kyrie Irving in a few days in the finals. Two ball dominant point guards with quick triggers, ridic handle, and limitless range. Russel Westbrook has done unthinkable things to defenses this year. Derrick Rose came back and then got hurt and then came back and then got hurt and then came back a few hundred more times to remind us of his potential. Everywhere, point guards are becoming the symbol for what basketball is.
The motion offense is beautiful in the fact it gives everyone a chance to play the point. Edwards at the top of the key can catch and instigate a drive or kick it to the corner. Stephens can come hard off a screen and shoot or look for Hammons in the post. The ball moves. The players move. Nothing settles. Hence, offense in motion. When it works, it's beautiful. When it doesn't, it looks like a clogged toilet in your favorite frat house after taco night.
Which is why Octeus's transfer was such a blessing. When our offense clogged, for once we had a plan b in the form of high pick and rolls. Hammons was enough of a threat from mid range to pull out his defender and we could fake enough shooting on the perimeter to create lanes for Octeus to get to the rim. Davis is a world class back door cutter. Matthias and Edwards were revelations as passers. Hammons could still dominate the post, and Haas was 8 feet tall.
PJ Thompson was an after thought. A small, bug of a player who showed good energy and someone who had a reputation as a long range shooter. He seemed like a nice kid, a smart player, but someone who was probably out of his depth. Too small, not at all the physical specimen that Bryson Scott was. In a few years, maybe, he'd help us win a few games.
But Octeus is gone. So is Scott. Swanigan is here, and there's not a few years to wait. The expectations will be there from day one. We bring back the defense player of the conference, a three time Freshman of the week, an 8 foot monster, and the top two vote getters for Mr. Basketball in a state obsessed with that round orange ball.
And as great as this lineup looks: Davis, Edwards, Swanigan, Hammons
You play basketball with five on the court. Sure, Davis can get some run guarding the one, but he'll have trouble with quick point guards. Johnny Hill will be a nice addition, but he lacks the range to keep our offense functioning at high velocity. The shot clock lowers by five seconds for this upcoming year, and we'll need a shooter and play maker at the point. Someone able to press up on point guards and take advantage of the towers he has behind him. Someone capable of hitting open threes after doubles in the post. Someone capable of making the right pass and keep the play moving.
PJ Thompson is currently in China, representing his country against professional Chinese and Mongolian teams. He looks like LewJack on the court, but he plays more like Octeus. There's a symmetry to that. Can he harness his quickness and keep the pace of the game? Can he find his shot? Can he harass ball handlers into the turnovers that turn Mackey into a frenzy? In a fill in the blank game, he has the potential to be all the answers.
Whether he will be, remains to be seen. I'm hopeful, but I am sure that Purdue will only reach its ceiling with a major contribution from its smallest player.