We're less than a week from the 2016 NBA Draft. Next Thursday night we will find out where A.J. Hammons will be headed after four long years in West Lafayette. While the team achievements came up short for the most part in his four years (just two NCAA appearances, no wins there, and no Big Ten titles), Hammons leaves Purdue with some excellent career numbers. He was beloved by Purdue fans for the joy he played with on the floor and we, as fans, are happy to send him off to the League. He will very likely be the first Purdue player drafted since Robbie Hummel in 2012, and there is a chance he becomes the first player from Purdue to go in the first round since JaJuan Johnson in 2011.
First, let's look at his numbers:
Freshman: 10.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.0 bpg
Sophomore: 10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.1 bpg
Junior: 11.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.8 bpg
Senior: 15.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.5 bpg
A.J. leaves Purdue near the top of a number of categories in school history. With 1,593 points he finished 17th in school history, just two behind Jaraan Cornell. With 930 career rebounds he is third behind Terry Dischinger and Joe Barry Carroll. At 343 career blocked shots he was second to Carroll by only six. If not for a handful of missed games (and two NCAA Tournament collapses) in his career he would have the record there.
Hammons is only the ninth player in school history to average 10 points or more in all four seasons on campus. He is the 7th with 1,500 points and 750 rebounds and 8th player to have at least 300 points scored in all four seasons. His 132 games played is also in the top 10.
Basically, Hammons' longevity put him near a number of school records, but it was his consistency that had him playing from day one. If you put him on the floor he was pretty much going to give you a 10-6-2 line every night.
Concerning his NBA fate, however, we must look at his senior season, and it was a great individual one. The games where he was a ghost (and he had those early in his career) went away, and there were times where he was completely an utterly dominant on both ends of the floor. That is where he will have value in the NBA. He has the size and post moves to be an old school center, but he is a next level rim protector. Basically, Purdue's deficiencies on the perimeter could be erased defensively because of Hammons. He is a natural shot blocker that swatted everything within five feet of the rim. In fact, there were a few times where he courted a triple-double this season in points-rebounds-blocks. Some of his best games:
Vanderbilt - Hammons went against another NBA prospect in Damian Jones and it was no contest. Purdue won 68-55, and Hammons was light years ahead of Jones. In 15 minutes because of foul trouble Jones had 6 points, 3 rebounds, and five fouls. He was no match for Hammons, who finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 blocks.
Michigan State - Hammons was incredible in an 82-81 overtime win, and even sealed the game by pulling down the clinching rebound and physically ripping the ball away from a Spartan as time expired. The Spartans were a top 5 team all season and came into Mackey red hot. They ran into Hammons, who finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds, 8 blocks, and even 3 assists.
Nebraska - This was AJ's career best game in terms of points. He abused the smaller Cornhuskers for 32 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks. He was 14 of 17 from the floor and they had absolutely no answer for him.
Little Rock - His final game in a Purdue uniform may be one of his most frustrating. For most of the night Little Rock double and triple teamed him, not wanting to get beat inside as Purdue had a huge size advantage. That made it seem like a quiet night for him, but when all was said and done in the double overtime loss (after a huge collapse) A.J. finished with 16 points, 15 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 5 assists. Despite this, Purdue neglected to run the offense through him as it was collapsing and the final play to win the game in the first overtime was not run for him. Purdue basically lost because it did not use him enough in the final five minutes and in overtime.
What was exciting about A.J. is when he played with confidence. You could usually tell, too. If he started into his DESTROYER OF WORLDS routine you could count on multiple blocks with disdain to the fool who challenged him on the defensive end and multiple dunks on the offensive end. He fed off of the Mackey Arena crowd and had some huge nights at home. He had always done that, too. His early career high came on a 30-point night against Cody Zeller and No. 1 Indiana as a freshman.
Some of his negatives unfortunately may be exposed in the NBA. The modern NBA is going away from the big lumbering center, and he fits closer to that camp. He showed some proficiency this year with his jump shot (even hitting 6 of 11 from three), but for the most part he is going to do his offensive work in the post. If I had a criticism this year of Purdue offensively (other than a maddeningly ability to cave against the press) it is that it too often did not push the pace. It waited for everyone to get up the floor and for Hammons to get set up on the block. They then passed the ball around too much waiting to get a good entry pass to Hammons (or his even bigger backup, Isaac Haas). He did improve at getting up and down the floor over time in the rare instances where Purdue pushed, and his defense will be a huge asset for a team.
I really like that he is being projected as a late first round pick because he could be an immediate contributor and role player for a serious contender. Golden State, picking last, could definitely use a cheaper option for Andrew Bogut, who is a free agent after next season. San Antonio, possibly needing to replace Tim Duncan, could use a nice backup for LaMarcus Aldridge and solid post player. Hammons would more traditionally fit into their system, but he could easily adapt and play a bigger five in a versatile lineup for Golden State.