Brandon Newman was an early season starter and excelled with the opportunity.
He finished the season averaging 8 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists a game, but over the last five games of the season he failed to play 20 minutes, his jump shot left him, and at times he looked like the move to the bench after Stefanovic got healthy from COVID knocked Newman out of rhythm.
Painter’s backcourt is no less crowded this year. Jaden Ivey is all but guaranteed a starting spot. It’d be shocking to see Eric Hunter Jr. not take back over his lead ball handling and defending duty for a coach who values both above anything from a guard.
So that third spot almost certainly comes down to two shooters - Sasha Stefanovic and Brandon Newman. Stefanovic has been doing this for a lot longer than Newman. He lead Purdue in shooting from three again despite a stretch in the middle of the season where the Crown Point native missed games and struggled with coming back from COVID.
One would think this starting job is Stefanovic’s to lose.
But Brandon Newman had an efficient shooting season on his own, 38% from three on 103 attempts, and is possibly Painter’s best two-way wing option. Newman is a long, athletic 6’5” guard/wing that jumped out of the gate in his first collegiate action and looked at times like the secondary shot maker Painter needs for this squad.
His ability to create space on and off the ball, attack on straight line drives, and pull up and back in the mid-range is something Stefanovic doesn’t offer.
But Newman turned the ball over on over 21% of his finished possessions and offered almost nothing on the playmaking for other fronts. These will be two avenues he will need to expand and sharpen his game. He’s not a fluid ball handler. He clearly has a set of trick dribbles and set ups that make his footwork look immaculate at times, but when you get him off those, his shot can get flat and inconsistent.
He came out better than expected, playing over 30 minutes a night routinely, and helped hold the team together while Ivey and Sasha struggled with their injuries, but once Newman stepped to the bench, he was unable to bring the same consistency and energy night to night. He didn’t get better as the season went on.
But North Texas’s upset had to loom large over Coach Painter and the Boilermakers. Particularly how once again in March, Stefanovic’s defensive limitations being picked on again and again.
Newman doesn’t have those limitations. He’s an above average athlete, with good length, who at times really took to the moniker of attacking on the defensive end. He’s the wild card for Painter - useful no matter what, but if he turns into a little more of a play maker, a little better of a shot maker, more consistent on both ends of the floor, and turns it up just a notch, he’s not just a nice piece, but a star.
There’s a lot of points and players in the season that can alter the course of a season, but for Purdue, Newman’s ascendance could be the tipping point for a Boilermaker squad that has the chance to not be stopped by anyone.