Those might be the only two numbers that matter to Coach Painter’s 2020 Purdue Boilermakers.
The first number, .365%, Aaron Wheeler’s three point percentage his freshman year on 85 three-point attempts.
The second number, .216%, Wheeler’s three point percentage his sophomore year on 97 attempts.
Aaron Wheeler is an elite level athlete. NBA level athleticism and size. He’s 6’9” with even longer arms. He runs like a gazelle. He jumps like spiderman.
His freshman year stats and notes from Purdue’s official notes and season markers is nearly twice as long as his sophomore. After sitting out his true freshman year to redshirt along Sasha Stefanovic, there was a lot of buzz about what someone with his physical tools could do. His freshman year did not disappoint. He wasn’t asked to do much on offense besides make open threes, and he did that admirably. On the side, he’d throw in little highlights of his athleticism.
His sophomore campaign was supposed to be a coming out party. The team lacked experience, scorers, play makers, and well, just about everything. Someone with Wheeler’s physical gifts was supposed to be able to take the extended opportunities and shine.
Instead, his jump shot abandoned him. Like, left for cigarettes and never came back. He went from 36% shooting on a good amount of attempts his freshman year to going 21-97 on three-pointers in his sophomore campaign.
There is very little to explain that kind of drop. He took more than three threes a game and just missed… four out of every five. His shot looked flat, his hand placement inconsistent, and he over jumped on his shot. It looked like his body worked in three different stages on his shot instead of one fluid, balanced, and timed motion.
(There’s a really good shooting coach in Indiana, just about an hour south, that’s been a Purdue Godsent. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to help Ray-D any jump shots for Purdue last year.)
Wheeler is part frustrating - there’s no way to watch a wide open three clank off iron and not exhale in such a fashion - but is also by all accounts an incredible kid, a perfect brand ambassador that has put in the time and work.
For Coach Painter, he’s gonna need that work to pay off and Wheeler’s jumper to return to form. There’s no other viable starting option at the four for Painter. Wheeler is an athletic marvel as we’ve said - he rebounds really well for his lack of weight, can jump out of a gym, and is long and able to cover a lot of ground on defense. He’s a must have next to very much not fast centers. There’s also only one viable forward back up that has any kind of real size and Mason Gillis is a hybrid forward/wing that redshirted last year. He’s an unknown.
Wheeler plays the position of greatest need and has the highest ceilings on the team. Last year, he showed his floor, and Purdue’s squad struggled for it.
Without a real off-season, without being able to train all summer, the question will be what has Wheeler been able to do on his own to becoming a player that can play the 4 for 30 minutes a game. Can he get hot early? It might be as simple as that bit of confidence.
As it is, Wheeler is impossibly intriguing, and desperately needing to realize all that potential. For Coach Painter and the Boilers, their year will depend on it.