Carsen Edwards is on the short list for player of the year. He’s a preseason All-American and Purdue’s lone returning starter. He shined next to four seniors last year, leading the team in scoring. The question isn’t whether he’ll lead this year’s team in scoring, it’s who will be next to him. To help solve the mysteries of a mostly unknown and young Purdue team, we’re looking into who is going to be Purdue’s second leading scorer and giving some odds.
Odds so far:
It’s a strange life to be a redshirting player. You’re always there. Search through the images of last season and you’ll catch moments of Aaron Wheeler on the sideline, chatting to a player, or walking to the huddle. When you walk into the locker room after the game, they’re there. Usually he was tucked away with Sasha, but it’s hard to disappear when you stand 6’9”.
But for as much as his face is familiar, as much as the tales are familiar about his athleticism and potential, his game is as much of a mystery today as it was when he came to campus a year ago. This means the appeal is the exact same. He’s super tall, super mobile, and can jump out of the gym. He’s the exact model that modern basketball is searching for. A specimen with the ability to play make, defend, and score from any position on the floor.
The old guard has anointed Wheeler as something worth the wait. As the real deal. He came out of Brewster Academy as a swiss-army knife of long skinny limbs and triple-doubles. Coach Painter has had some athletes on his squad, but for the most part the best of his athletes have been somewhat disappointing. Basil Smotherman seemed like the perfect answer to a team that didn’t have enough athletes. That didn’t go so well, obviously.
Jacquil Taylor was an incredible athlete and was held back by injuries. To a lesser degree, Jacob Lawson was supposed to be an athlete that would change the kind of team’s Coach Painter would have. He also transferred.
The lesson, I think, is that Coach Painter’s mentality, his motion offense, his other players, demand you to know how to play basketball. It’s a problem of stereotypes and cliches, but also reality. If you’re both a great athlete and a superior mental player, you’re likely getting tagged a 5-star athlete and going to Duke or Kentucky.
It’s what’s so appealing about Wheeler. He sat out a year, hitting the weight room, learning from seniors about what it takes to make it in college, and how to play basketball. His jump shot will be important. His ability to defend multiple positions, both wings and bigs, will be important.
If Coach Painter hits on a player like Wheeler, all of a sudden his whole roster unlocks. He can go big with Wheeler playing a wing, smothering his guy and controlling the glass while still being able to stretch the floor. If he can defend in the post and hold off his man on the glass, Coach Painter can go crazy athletic while still being long and effective on the defensive end.
And if Wheeler can do those things, he’s going to be hard to take off the court. He will score points. He runs like a gazelle, and Carsen Edwards and Nojel Eastern should be looking to push the ball. The brief moments we’ve seen of Wheeler in the World University Games, his ability to get out and score in transition is already elite.
He will likely have a mismatch every time he’s on the floor. He’s either going to be bigger than his man or quicker. If he can shoot the ball as well, we’ll be looking up at a freshman who could score ten points a game without breaking a sweat. A bit of finesse, some unseen advances during the off season, and a couple nice surprises with his game and that bumps up to 15 points a game.
As long as he doesn’t disappear as we’ve seen some other athletes in the motion offense, points should come for Wheeler, and pretty easily.
Dynamic athlete can sometimes be a dirty word for Purdue fans, but Wheeler has had a year to prepare for his college career to start and all the potential to become a new Mackey favorite.
Aaron Wheeler’s odds of being Purdue’s second leading scorer: 3/2