It’s not often a true freshman steps onto campus with the chance to change what you think about a position. 6’6” and 220 lb point guard Nojel Eastern is one of those players.
If the World University Games were useful for anything, it allowed us to see how Nojel Eastern can change the game. The freshman is going to turn the ball over a lot this year. That’s just the truth of being a freshman. But when he’s not turning the ball over, Eastern showed flashes of being the kind of game changer Purdue fans have been salivating over for years.
If this Boilermaker team has a weakness, it’s having a guy that can get to the rim consistently. You could have said this about almost every Purdue team in the last decade. Even super speeder Carsen Edwards hasn’t shown much at the rim. He can get there, relentlessly, but his lack of height has made finishing tough for the Texas native.
Nojel Eastern doesn’t have a size concern. At six foot six, with long arms, and a strong body, he’s built to bully his way to and at the basket. He’s left-handed, but it’s hard to tell at the rim. He doesn’t just have a right hand for layups. He showed a consistent and quick floater with his off-hand as well.
His pacing on pick and rolls is beyond his time. He’s a natural at it. For someone his size, he’s deceptively quick and great at using his frame to leverage his body to the hoop when there is only a sliver of space.
He’s a good passer. It always takes a little time to adjust when you go up a level. The players are all faster. They’re all longer. He’ll learn what passes he can get away with and what ones he needs to keep in his pocket.
The question for the freshman is where is his jumper? In Painter’s motion offense, shooting is more important than anything. Can Eastern knock down an open shot? Can he use his size in the mid-range to get clean looks when the offense bogs down?
Defensively he’s a curiosity. He’s not really quick enough to stick with every point guard, but he’s very long. In the World University Games he was very handsy, poking at every dribble. Mostly it resulted in fouls, but there’s a lot more tape on Big Ten guys and if he can anticipate a little quicker, those pokes become steals. His height will allow him to switch freely on defense. He should be an excellent rebounder at his position.
It’ll be interesting to see how much time Eastern gets. He was the first freshman off the bench for Painter. He played the most minutes of any freshman in the World Games. He’s the only other point guard on the team behind P. J. He’s going to get minutes.
He could be absolutely terrific. A game changer. Or he could just show flashes. That’s the fate of most freshman.
But Purdue hasn’t had many players with the potential to redefine the position they play. That’s what Eastern is.
He’s in the perfect spot to do it. He’ll get minutes but he won’t have the burden of carrying the team this year.