We now move on to the critical sophomore class for Purdue, which will make up the core of next season's roster. They represent the 2014 recruiting class that have five members, but there are now four sophomores since Jacquil Taylor redshirted. On the plus side, this group has been part of 47 wins in two seasons and has made the NCAA Tournament each year. They have also gone a solid 24-12 in Big Ten play. On the downside, they have not won an NCAA Tournament game and have been part of a major collapse each time. This entire group needs to evolve a killer instinct and start closing games out.
The first player to review from this group is point guard P.J. Thompson
5.7 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.7 APG
For a sophomore splitting minutes with graduate transfer Johnny Hill P.J. had a pretty solid season. He nearly tripled his output in assists and more than doubled his scoring output. He was also a better shooter across the board while seriously cutting down on his turnovers. He went from 407 to 791 minutes played but only made four more turnovers (23 compared to 19). It ended up being quite a jump for him.
There are some even more impressive numbers. Who was Purdue's most accurate regular three-point shooter? It was P.J. Yes, A.J. Hammons was 54.5%, but he had just 11 attempts. P.J. hit on 41.5% of his long range attempts, going 34 of 82. He was sixth on the team in attempts, but percentage-wise only Vince Edwards (40.7%) was close to him. By comparison, Kendall Stephens led the team in attempts, even with his sabbatical, at 120 attempts and he was still only 31.7%. Kendall made just four more threes than P.J. and it took him 38 shots to make them. Overall, P.J.'s FG shooting improved from 33.3% to 43.8% and he got to the line more, hitting 83% once he was there.
What I am trying to say is that Thompson was a very, very underrated offensive player. His best game was a career day on Senior Day against Wisconsin when he hit on six threes and finished with 22 points and four assists. He had a 7 assist game against Nebraska in Mackey Arena and also had 7 against Butler. He never had a game with more than three turnovers, with the games at Indiana and at home against Wisconsin being the only games where he even had as many as three.
P.J. is not going to be a player that carries the offense for long stretches, but I think he is showing that he has a nice scoring touching. A critical point for him going forward will be his ability to knock down the open looks that he will get within the offense. Teams are never going to key on him. Several times we have seen him with wide open looks on the perimeter. This past season he made some teams pay with them. If anything, we probably want PJ to shoot more. He is one of the most accurate players in the backcourt and he has shown a cool demeanor to take care of the ball.
PJ was 5th on the team in minutes at 22.6 per game and that will likely go up as he enters his third year. If anything, part of Purdue's struggles came from P.J. not getting MORE minutes. One of the many mistakes Painter made was not having a point guard on the floor for much of overtime in the Little Rock loss. He rarely let P.J. play through a mistake, and I think it cost the Boilers more than once.
The biggest things PJ needs to work on this offseason is his ability to handle a press and his ability to create. He is not a "get into the lane and create his own shot" PG. While he is a good shooter, he doesn't have the speed the Lewis Jackson had that allows him to get to the rim. He is still a very savvy ballplayer that needs to learn to take command of the offense. Now is his time. For two years he has had a veteran PG come in to help him learn the ropes. Now PJ is that veteran. As one of the most underrated players on the roster I am looking forward to see what he can do. He can shoot well enough to keep teams honest. Now is the time for him to truly run the offense and be a PG.