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44 Days to Purdue Basketball: Isaac Haas

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The big man will have big shoes to fill and a larger role this year.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Isaac Haas - Junior

Hokes Bluff, AL

7-2, 280 lbs

Center

2016 Projection: Starting Center

Six days ago, when I wrote the 50 days to Purdue Basketball countdown, I said Caleb Swanigan will be the most important player if Purdue were to make a late run into March. I still believe that to be true, but if Purdue does make that late run, chances are, it will happen with Isaac Haas as Purdue’s best player.

It’s hard to imagine anyone as big as Haas - 7’2” and 280 lbs - having to move out of anyone’s shadow, but that’s just what the giant with soft touch has to do this year. With last year’s defensive player of the year A. J. Hammons’ departure, the kid from Alabama will finally get the chance to start full-time and get the lion’s share of minutes.

While the loss of the best defensive player in the conference the last three years is never an easy one to swallow, the idea of more Haas is tantalizing. Though Haas has only ever averaged 14 minutes a game, he has slimmed down physically since his arrival on campus, and what he did with those 14 minutes last year hints at the potential for a truly dominant Junior year.

Haas raised his field goal percentage last year to 59% after shooting 53% his freshman year. He nearly doubled his assist rate from 4.3 to 7.5 while dropping his turnover rate from 22.1 to 15.7. His development as a passer cannot be overstated. Haas is impossible to guard one on one, so his improved ability to find the open man without turning the ball over, particularly with the bevy of shooters around him, is huge. He also turned himself into a 71% free throw shooter after struggling at the line his freshman year and connecting on just 55% of his attempts from the charity stripe.

He was just .2 points away from averaging in double figures in scoring despite the limited minute work load. The potential for him to explode with increased court time is there. Haas was fed the ball when he came into the game, and has a surprisingly soft touch around the rim including showing off a fade away jumper that when falling, is the most cruel joke God could tell a defender trying to guard him.

What will be interesting to see, is if Haas’s insane usage rate will continue - hard to imagine it will now that he’ll share the floor more with the starting unit - and in what way the rotation with Biggie will work out. Haas ended up finishing almost 30% of the possessions he was on the floor for, by far the highest on the team. There’s no basketball reason for Coach Painter to want to limit his touches even if Haas will be surrounded by more capable offensive players. Haas is by far the most efficient offensive player returning and is single-handedly capable of getting a team’s big men in foul trouble. He averaged drawing 7.8 fouls for 40 minutes of play and you can guess the real number of times he’s clubbed and shoved a game at about twice that.

The question will be on defense. Haas is not the defender Hammons was. He can’t move laterally as well, and doesn’t have the second sense of when to come over and bat the ball away. Despite appearing quicker laterally last year, and having a better sense of the defense, Haas did not show the same statistical improvement on defense that we saw on offense from him. His block percentage stayed at 5%, granted, blocks are not the most accurate measure of defensive impact. Haas’s greatest ability on defense is his ability to alter shots by just standing there with his absurdly long arms and frame, and his inability to get moved from his spot.

The change from Hammons to Haas, is indicative of the difference in this year’s squad and last years overall. There is going to be a step back on defense most likely, but the advantages on offense should be more than enough to make up for it. If Haas continues to score at his career clip while just adding 10 to 15 minutes more of him per game, his numbers could become monster. The more he wears down his opponents, the more effective he should become.

Haas is a half-court offense all to his self and if he continues to improve his touch while navigating the double-teams coming his way, he’ll be the focal point of a potential top-10 offense. There’s no one in the B10, or the country, that’s gonna be able to guard him. He just needs to improve enough on defense to not get in foul trouble, and provide some of the rim protection we’ve taken for granted the last four years.

So, yeah, Haas has some giant shoes to fill, but he already wears size 22. He’s used to it.