Purdue only played one scholarship freshman this season. The remainder of the 2019 recruiting class sat in a redshirt, gaining experience behind the scenes. The one that did play, however, is one that I am extremely familiar with.
Isaiah Thompson – Sophomore in 2020-21
2019-20 Stats: 31 Games played, 0 starts. 18.7 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.67 apg, 35.4% FG, 35.4% 3FG, 67.7% FT 24 turnovers (negative asst/TO ratio)
Overall I think it was a decent debut season for Isaiah. He proved to be a solid reserve guard off the bench that played within the system and could occasionally provide a scoring punch. Isaiah was third on the team in made three-pointers behind Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter Jr. Like many freshmen, he had his ups and downs. In the win at Northwestern he had 11 points, three threes, and generally kept Purdue alive in a game where it was not playing well. He also had 14 in the win over Wisconsin and 14 in the double OT loss at Michigan.
Isaiah is always going to draw comparisons to his brother, but they are slightly different players. Since I do work for the Zionsville paper I got to see his first game as a freshman in high school, the final game of his career, and a lot in between. During that time he was more of a scorer than PJ ever was. His team relied on him to be a player that can drive and score at the rim, get to the foul line and score there, or shoot from long range. I once saw him hit seven threes in a single quarter of a sectional game. In many ways, he was Zionsville’s Carsen Edwards. Obviously Carsen did it on a much bigger stage against tougher competition, but at the high school level I saw Isaiah put on his “Carsen Cape” several times.
Granted, the Hoosier Crossroads Conference is not the Big Ten, but it is one of the top high school conference in the state with plenty of Division I competition. The biggest limitation for Isaiah at this level is his size. He is only 6’1” and has a slight build. Many times this season we saw him drive into the trees and have nowhere to go. That is the difference between playing in the HCC and driving against 6’4” forwards and playing in the Big Ten and driving against 6’9” guys (often with a 7-footer at the back).
I do like his fearlessness though, and that is one of his best comparisons to his brother. PJ always played within himself, but was never afraid to shoot the open threes that came his way or close games out at the line. We saw a little of that this year. When we were trying to close out the win at Iowa who was the player with the ball at the line? Isaiah Thompson. Who never showed hesitation to shoot the open three? Isaiah Thompson. Like PJ, he struggled at times as a freshman with hitting those open looks, but the lack of fear from taking them will pay off in the end. There is a reason I called him “Big Shot PJ Thompson” later in his career. PJ had a knack for hitting a big three right when Purdue needed it. Isaiah can do that eventually, plus a little more.
Let’s look at what his brother did as a freshman way back in 2014-15:
30 Games played, 1 start. 13.6 mpg, 2.4 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 1.1 apg, 33.3% FG, 28.6% 3FG, 76.9% FT 0.6 turnovers
So far Isaiah is tracking ahead of his brother. He was a better shooter as a freshman, but struggled with turnovers more. He also played more minutes and was a slightly better rebounder (I say slightly because we’re never going to rely on him as a rebounder). By the end of his career PJ was making teams pay for leaving him open by shooting 44.1% beyond the arc as senior (60 of 136).
That is what I want to see the most from Isaiah going forward. I think he can be a player that comes off the bench and buries four (or more) threes in a random game. His best was five against Chicago State when he had a career high 17. He is going to get open looks within the offense. We saw that a lot this year. He struggled at times to hit said looks, so consistently knocking them down is key for him. I think becoming a 45% shooter from three in his career is a reasonable expectation. He can be deadly with open looks and he has just a hint (maybe 25% at most) of Carsen to his game. He will never be Carsen because few guys can do that, but I saw him have some Carsen-esque moments where he was just feeling it and he pulled up to bury 25-footers.
The good news is that we don’t absolutely need that from him. We just need him to be a steady ballhandler, hit the open threes he gets, and be a closer at the free throw line. He can also be a decent defender in time on smaller opposing guards. Overall, I really like where Isaiah is projecting and he can be a steady contributor for years to come.