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The Underappreciated P.J. Thompson

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It’s time to give our point guard some love.

NCAA Basketball: Morehead State at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

For years we have all heard the cries: “Purdue needs a point guard! Purdue needs to add a 5th year point guard! What will happen without Jon Octeus or Johnny Hill?”

Good news: Purdue has a point guard.

Junior P.J. Thompson is a ridiculously underappreciated player. This is the third straight season Purdue has brought in a 5th year transfer to “solve the point guard problem”. First, it was Jon Octeus, who filled the role beautifully while the freshman Thompson served as an understudy. That first year was a little rough. P.J. averaged only 13.6 minutes and 2.4 points per game. He had just 33 assists, too.

Last season is when he really began to take over. While Hill was brought in as a stopgap solution he clearly had some limitations that Octeus did not. Hill lacked a jump shot, but he could get to the basket and score. P.J. ended up playing more minutes (22.6 to 17.7) and doled out more assists (2.7 to 2.3).

Fast forward to this year. Not only was Purdue adding Carsen Edwards, it brought in Spike Albrecht to help out too. At this point, many players would bristle at being snubbed like this. P.J. didn’t. Instead, he got better. He has allowed Edwards to shift to the two as a starter and with Spike’s back issues Thompson has thrived. He has played 318 minutes and has only nine turnovers. When Purdue’s largest question coming into the season was its backcourt Thompson has been a definite positive answer.

Still, I think a lot of people don’t appreciate P.J. He is one of the smallest guys on the team at just 5’10”, but he plays with a ton of heart. Some people expect a point guard to be flashy, but Thompson simply goes out and quietly does his job. Last season he led Purdue in 3-point shooting percentage at 41.5%, hitting 34 of 82 attempts. That shows that even defenses forget him and he makes them pay. This season he is again over 40% from long range (22 of 54). He has an assist-to-turnover ratio of greater than 4:1 too.

Some will say he can’t handle the pressure in big games. To that I laugh. Purdue has played three ranked opponents so far. Here are PJ’s critical numbers in each:

Villanova: 3 of 4 FG (2 of 3 from 3), 8 points, 0 turnovers (0 assists, however), 24 minutes

Louisville: 4 of 7 FG (3 of 4 from 3), 13 points, 0 turnovers, 1 assist, 22 minutes

Notre Dame: 3 of 6 FG (2 of 4 from 3), 9 points, 0 turnovers, 6 assists, 4 rebounds 34 minutes

He can’t handle the pressure? In 80 minutes against the three best teams Purdue has played, two of them being strong and athletic defensive teams, Thompson does not have a single turnover. He is also averaging 10 points in said games and shooting well over 50% from the field and over 72% form three.

For his career he is well under 1 turnover per game and he has worked his ass off every summer to get better. His shooting was pretty bad as a freshman, but now he is hitting 46% from the field and over 40% from three. He has tripled his assists per game form his freshman season and, of course, there are the turnovers (or lack thereof). One thing I especially love about him is that he is the guy who hurts teams when they lose him. Right now teams have to worry about Caleb Swanigan, Isaac Haas, and Vincent Edwards at all times. They have to watch for our shooters in Dakota Mathias or Ryan Cline. Through all this, here comes P.J., hitting the wide open kickout three or a teardrop runner because teams are so focused on the other four guys on the floor. I love players that can do this.

What’s better is his attitude. Instead of bristling that we brought in Spike he has embraced the 5th year senior and welcomed him. Thompson is the consummate team player that is not going to yell or deliver the huge dunk that changes momentum, but he will quietly stay cool under pressure and gather those around him to calm them down as well. P.J. is the very definition of a team player. He brings this team together and you can even see it off the court, where several of his teammates come with him on Friday nights for a short trip down I-65 to see his brother play at Zionsville.

His brother is a rising point guard in the class of 2019. Isaiah and P.J. would never play together at Purdue, as Isaiah is in the middle of his sophomore season at Zionsville, but I see Isaiah each week and he is probably has more raw talent than P.J. He just needs to learn some of that quiet calm from his big brother because right now Isaiah can tend to play a little too much hero ball and settle for the pull up 25-footer. Isaiah is bigger and quicker though. He can get to the basket and get to the line more than P.J., but still needs some polish. It will come though. He is only a sophomore in high school.

So yes, Purdue has a point guard. We can put that narrative to rest. He is P.J. Thompson. He is not going to be flashy and saucy with behind the back no look passes, but he is going to hurt you if you leave him open and he is not going to make mistakes. Let Purdue fans know him and love him, while our opponents stay completely unaware of him.