The obvious excitement is that we’re just over three weeks away from Purdue basketball. So for everyone like me who is both excited by the proximity and daunted by the rapid approach, take one last big gasp of air, things are about to pick up in West Lafayette.
For Ethan Morton, he’s just gonna be happy to be able to breathe freely. Mono set back his off-season from the jump. The 6’6” freshman never got an off season. Never got to adjust to the game. Instead, he suffered through mono before getting thrown into hostile waters against Clemson where he had to play 25 minutes and assailed himself well with 5 assists.
After that early stretch where Eric Hunter Jr. was suffering from his leg injury and Ivey was recovering from his ankle, Coach Painter didn’t need much from Morton or he couldn’t ask much from him - it’s unclear which it was more. Coach Painter has a glutton of guards on his roster, of points, of experience, and a Morton that never got comfortable with the college game and speed didn’t have much chance to break into the rotation.
He was a spot player for the Big Ten Conference with his highlights being a couple of made threes on the road against Indiana and Maryland.
His biggest issue on the court was what was supposed to be his biggest strength - passing. Morton’s highlights from high school were full of full court passes, off hand dimes, and keep the ball moving no look passes. In college, he was just late on those passes, not anticipating the length and speed accurately as he tried to sneak passes into the paint or around the perimeter. He wasn’t comfortable attacking on offense, wasn’t viewed as a threat, and was unable to create without committing turnovers.
But he’s still a 6’6” guard who is finally healthy. Who has really good handle for a big guard. Who is capable of guarding multiple positions and rebounding at his position. He cut down on turnovers in Big Ten Play as he started to adjust to the competition - 3 turnovers in his last 17 games.
While Painter still has a bunch of guards and shooters, Morton has the chance this year to be an answer he didn’t have. He’s a much more natural and willing passer than Thompson off the bench as a back up point guard. So much so that he could play for or with Thompson, and help make up for some of Thompson’s problems with measurement.
Thompson shot the ball well. Played with heart. Is a competitor. A whole slew of immeasurables he knocks out the park, but he still a sub six foot guard that doesn’t have his brother’s heft and once switched onto any position besides a small guard, is an immediate problem on defense.
Morton could be the answer for Painter at the back up point guard spot. While Morton is unlikely to make a big splash scoring this year - he was a dynamic scorer and shooter off and on ball in high school - it’s more necessary that he offers himself as a major defensive upgrade on a team that could smother people with length. He is the perfect lead guard to play an all switch defense - he’s capable of guarding wings and guards and not give up too much in the paint when switched on bigs.
He’s also someone who is willing to get the ball into shot makers hands. His potential versatility makes him someone that can play with any lineup.
He might be the biggest answer to how high Purdue’s ceiling can go. If he proves himself to be the recruit he looked like coming out of high school and presses Painter into having to play him, he makes Painter’s program even longer, even more athletic, and even more dangerous.