Ryan Cline is something of an disagreed upon quantity.
He seems to be, in the eye of the public, either a disappearing act with a decent jumper that can’t play defense, or he’s a really good shooter who does a lot of the small things and is probably better at most things on the basketball court than you think.
Okay, you got me. I’m a Cline guy. I love his game. He blends into whatever the team needs of him. He’s bigger than you think at 6’6” and he’s shown a lot of strength in the post boxing out. He’s a great passer, just not as flashy as Mathias. He doesn’t force shots. He really improved on defense last year. His foul rate dropped dramatically. He was given a lot more responsibility to guard players like Kelan Martin and Miles Bridges when Mathias was on the bench. He expanded his offensive game, adding a slow but effective pump and drive to the basket using the threat of his shot to make up for his lack of athleticism.
He was good from day one. As a true freshman Ryan Cline made a huge three in the second half of Purdue road game against Pittsburgh to keep the game close. Then he hit another. And then another. He nearly single-handedly saved a should have been loss against Penn St. his sophomore year to help Purdue win in overtime.
But, in his career he’s only had 8 games where he scored in double-digits. This is part of Cline’s charm. He doesn’t force shots. He doesn’t need the ball to space the floor. He’s more than happy to swing the ball, cut, stand in the corner, come off a screen and then have the ball end up somewhere else. He’s really good at getting the ball into the post. He’s too tall to get to his passes and you can’t sag back off him to play the pass because he’s a good shooter.
But he had 9 games just last season where he didn’t score at all.
It’s hard. Hell, it’s damn near impossible to be both a conservative jump shooter and a great shooter. It’s not a coincidence that the more Mathias got license to gun, the better his offensive game got. Cline, for his part, was streaky. He started off incredibly cold for the season then got molten hot and finally settled to where one good game would follow a not so good shooting performance.
It’s easy to blame the player or think he’s a bad shooter, but Cline’s entire career has been spent behind Dakota Mathias, one of the best all-around in the Big Ten the last three years. As Cline has improved, so has Mathias. This last year, Mathias was so pivotal that he could rarely be taken out, nor could the other three seniors. It’s next to impossible to be consistent when your minutes aren’t, especially as a shooter.
As Coach Painter alluded to towards the end off the regular season, it wasn’t about Cline as a player.
“Well I think any time you don’t play as many minutes normally it’s something that you did. Its nothing that he’s done. He’s a guy that’s been very productive for us. But the guys he competes with are guys that play more. So sometimes he’ll do some good things and he comes out because I’m putting other guys in. It’s hard to look at it that way when its you. It’s easy when you write a story or I’m the head coach. To say, ‘well I’m gonna put in Dakota Mathias or Carsen Edwards. Then he’s gonna come out when he’s played four minutes and did some really good things. That’s frustrating as a player, that’s really frustrating. But you just try to be as transparent as possible as a coach and be honest about things and he’s done a really good job. They said on the radio, he finally hit some shots. He hasn’t gotten any shots. And that’s kind of part of it, when you’re running things for Carsen and Vince and Dakota and Isaac, Pj Thompson and Ryan Cline need to get open 3’s. We need to generate open threes for them off of double teams, off of penetrate and pitch. That’s valuable because that really helps our spacing. So tonight was huge. Not just for Ryan but for our team also.”
Make no mistake about it, no matter how good the incoming freshman are, this is Ryan Cline’s time to finally get the minutes he’s probably been good enough for since his sophomore year. His one thing for summer? Act like it. Be the aggressor. He needs to be looking to score and create in ways we haven’t seen him do before.
There can’t be stretches where he disappears on offense. He has to be comfortable going back to that mindset. It’s not like it’s new to him.
Cline came into Purdue the second best player in the state, a state champion, the do everything player that was used to the spotlight. He’s accepted his role at Purdue, honed it, but now it’s time to step out of the shadows.
Carsen Edwards will get the headlines, but the senior from Carmel will need to be a guiding a light for a young Purdue team with a ton of potential.