Matt Haarms’ freshman season was undoubtedly a success by every measure.
The 7’3” Dutchman came off his redshirt season with low expectations in terms of minutes and production. He was too slender, a tweener, someone likely to struggle with the big bad bodies of the B10. Instead, his length and quickness was a revelation. His 12.8 block percentage was the 6th highest in the country. It more than doubled that of fellow big man Isaac Haas. His lateral quickness allowed him to trap on screens and still get back to his man, or outright switch onto smaller guards while using his length to make any shot around him difficult.
Similarly, the offense looked different when he was on the court. He set surprisingly effective screens, rolled to the rim with purpose, and flash decent touch around the hoop. Sets ran quicker, the ball moved more, and space opened up. His jump shot is still just a mythical thing at this point, but he showed flashes of its potential. There was a pressure Purdue’s offense could put on the opposing team when everyone on the floor was capable of making quick reads, quick cuts, and that pressure often created easy baskets and put back opportunities.
But what makes Haarms so much fun to watch is also what he has to work most on. His energy, his passion, his undying need to block every shot at the rim has left far too many easy put-back opportunities for the offense. Instead of trusting his teammates to contest shots, or just realizing when he couldn’t get to one, Haarms would go flying in the air in desperate means to block the shot and ending up out of bounds or out of the paint.
His man was then free to grab the offensive rebound and score the two points. This is a discipline thing, something that comes from knowing the speed of the game and players. It’s a hard balance. We all love Haarms for his ability to get his hand on shots that didn’t seem possible. He’s lightning quick with great timing, but with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards gone, it will be more important than ever for Purdue to hold down the paint and that means boxing out, not just blocking shots.
Matt Haarms defensive rebounding percentage this year was 14.3%. That’s just barely over Dakota Mathias’ percentage last year and less than Grady Eifert’s. Haarms is not a big body. He will struggle to hold big guys back, but he’s shown and aptitude to fight in the paint. He’s also incredibly long and has the mobility to rebound out of his zone.
In Purdue’s Sweet Sixteen loss to Texas Tech, Purdue gave up 17 second-chance points. That was a theme of Haarms being on the court. Purdue’s going to be a much younger team next year, they won’t be able to afford they same cushion for giving up easy buckets as they did this year.
The good news is this is a pretty easy fix. It’s a mindset, one that should come more natural the more playing time Haarms get - when to go for the block and when to seal off the paint.
As it stands, Haarms is one of the most energetic and loved Boilers in a long time. If he can just grab a few more rebounds he’ll have a chance also be one of the best.
Just don’t change the hair, big man.