Last season, Matt Haarms was known for his fist pumps, hair flips, and spastic play. In dog terms, he was a Golden Retriever, full of energy, but lacking focus and direction. He would have flashes of greatness, but spent too much time chasing his tail, chewing on the sofa cushions and peeing on the rug.
This season started the same way for Haarms. On occasion he would look brilliant, but he continued to hunt blocks instead of playing sound defense, often times leaving him out of position or on the bench with foul trouble. He was often in poor defensive rebounding position, leaving his undersized teammates to fight it out for rebounds while he was busy trying to recover from an attempted block shot. When you swing wildly at shots, you’re not boxing out or rebounding.
Recently, however, Haarms has found the chill Carsen Edwards famously asked for last season. He’s found a balance between shot blocking and rebounding, and oddly enough, he’s blocking more shots and collecting more rebounds.
Last season, Haarms had a block% (% of 2 point field goal attempts a player blocks while he is on the floor) of 12.8%, which was by far the best on the team (Haas was at 5.8). This season, Haarms is at 12.5% (again leading the team by a significant margin) but over the last few games, he has taken it to another level.
During Purdue’s 8 game conference winning streak, Haarms has put up the following block percentages:
Ohio State: 15.2%
Michigan State: 10.2%
Penn State: 6.7%
Haarms has been a dominant shot blocker over the last two games. He’s always been great, but against Minnesota and Nebraska he was next level.
Here are two examples from the Nebraska game that show Haarms at his best.
This block is classic Haarms. He goes flying out of the screen in an attempt to grab an offensive board, hustles back, and blocks the Nebraska shot at the rim as a secondary defender. It’s a little spastic, but it got the job done.
This block is my favorite from the Nebraska game, because it shows how much Haarms has matured on defense.
First off, Haarms at 7’2, is guarding 6’8 Isaiah Roby 1 on 1. That’s a huge ask for most guys Haarms size, but he is an incredibly athletic 7’2 and is able to move his feet and stay with Roby.
Haarms being athletic is nothing new, but the Chill Haarms is also patient.
First he hedges out on the ball screen and recovers to Roby. Last year, the initial shot fake from Roby as Haarms is recovering probably sends him into the stands. This year he gets into solid defensive position and gets his hands up.
Next, Roby pivots and attempts the up and under. Again, last season, Haarms falls for the up and either fouls Roby or gives up the under. Chill Haarms just continues to move his feet. He waits Roby out, and when Roby runs out of options and tries for the flip, Haarms is waiting and swats the ball away like Roby is a small child.
Last season, Haarms had a defensive rebounding percentage (the percentage of available defensive rebounds a player collects while on the floor) of 14.3%. This season, he has boosted that number to 21.5%. His recent numbers have done a good deal to boost that percentage.
During Purdue’s 8 game conference winning streak, Haarms has put up the following defensive rebounding percentages:
Ohio State: 48.6%
Michigan State: 24.2%
Penn State: 21.4%
This is an example of Haarms’s defensive rebounding improvement.
Last season, it’s not hard to imagine Haarms trying to come over and block the floater and taking himself out of the rebounding picture. Last season, this probably ends in an easy put back for the Nebraska player following his missed shot.
This year, Chill Haarms keeps his feet and is in position to use his height to easily snatch the defensive board. This is a key improvement in his game.
He’s still not 100% consistent, and I could show a clip or two from the Nebraska game where Haarms loses his new found chill and reverts to chasing stupid blocks and getting out of position, but I choose to focus on the positive.
He’s not there yet, but he’s on the right path.