Many of Purdue’s best teams have been great because of guards that place a priority on defense. Today’s player definitely fits that description and more.
Nojel Eastern - Jr.
Evanston, IL (Evanston Township HS)
6’6”, 220 pounds
2019-20 Projection: Starter
Nojel has always been a very good defender, but his development as an all around player the past two seasons has been borderline astounding. Last season he became an elite defender. He was a guy we could put on an opposing star and tell him to just shut that guy down. The best example was the game in Mackey Arena against Indiana. Painter put Nojel on Romeo Langford, who was averaging almost 17 points per game, and Romeo wasn’t allowed to do anything the entire game. Even at halftime, when Romeo had to take a leak, he needed permission from Nojel first. I also think Nojel held him up from getting on the team bus to go back to Bloomington and the Celtics had to call Nojel first before drafting Langford.
The evolution of Nojel’s offensive game has also been impressive. He went from 2.9 points to 7.5 points per game between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Part of this was a vast increase in minutes, but it also came from him getting more aggressive at going to the basket. He doubled his offensive rebounding average, using his size to get those garbage points on putbacks. He averaged 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists last year, too.
Finally, you have his shooting. Scoring at the rim is vastly different than shooting, and as a freshman Nojel was practically a liability outside of 5 feet from the basket. This included at the free throw line. after shooting a dismal 41.7% from he free throw line as a freshman and starting his sophomore year 3 of 12 from the line he made a huge leap to 65%. In a two game stretch against Michigan State and Penn State he went 18 of 20 from the line to help the Boilers get two huge wins. He gained a ton of confidence at the line, and that helped his offensive game. He could attack the basket knowing that if he got to the line as a result, he could still score.
So how does it look going into this season? With Carsen Edwards gone, Purdue needs to redistribute offense, and Eastern is primed to see his numbers explode. He will have the ball in his hands with a physical mismatch on almost any guard defending him. It also appears he has developed his jumper in practice, too. I know it was only one clip of one shot, but there was a reason Purdue fans lost it last week when we saw him hit a three. It wasn’t that he hit one (he is just 3 of 13 in his career from long range and hasn’t hit one since January 31, 2018 against Maryland), but that it looked really, really smooth too from his previous unorthodox style.
Yesterday he was named to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame’s Julius Erving Award watch list, given to the nation’s top small forward. He is going to play anywhere from the 1 to the 3 depending on matchups and be a huge role in Purdue’s success going forward. I think you could see him average something like 14-7-4 this year, which would be fantastic.