I’ll start this off with a confession.
I didn’t think Zach Edey would be this good, this early in his Purdue career. I spent way too much time in the offseason (time is one thing I’ve had plenty of over the last year) angsting over Purdue’s back up center (I told you I’ve had too much time on my hands). I finally came to the conclusion that if Tre was in foul trouble, or even worse, injured, Purdue would have to turn to Aaron Wheeler at the 5, because there was no way Zach Edey would be ready as a true freshman.
I’ll happily admit that I was dead wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked everything about the Edey signing. I watched his IMG Academy highlights and thought “man, in a few years this dude could be a real problem in the Big10.” I saw a gigantic big man with surprising athleticism who was raw as steak tartare. I had faith that big man savant Coach Brantley would climb a step ladder, whisper the magic big man words into Zach’s ears, and by the time he hit the floor as a junior he would be ready to carry the Purdue big man standard into battle like the giants before him.
I underestimated two key things regarding Zach:
- He’s more athletic than I thought.
- Coach Brantley can work magic with a clean slate.
The first point is obvious. Edey doesn’t move like his listed 7’4”, 285 pounds. Some big guys his size (and they’re aren’t many) look like they or always on the verge of falling over because their center of gravity is located somewhere in the middle of their chest and their legs are essentially two long dowel rods with feet attached at the end. Zach, on the other hand, has a solid, athletic build, and moves with a fluidity that belies his size. Big men can look stiff and robotic in their movements, but he has the ability to catch the ball in the mid post, spin effortlessly to his left shoulder, and flip the ball in the basket with ease. The messages from his brain to his feet don’t get to their intended destination any slower, even though they have a longer way to travel than 99.9999% of the population.
The second point takes a little more explanation. I remember my uncle (and current keeper of the Old Oaken Bucket) telling my dad one Thanksgiving that he spends the first year an offensive lineman is in school trying to coach the bad habits out of them. Muscle memory is a blessing and a curse, and if you’ve been doing the same thing your entire athletic career (take Tim Tebow’s funky throwing motion) no matter how hard you try to break the habit, when you’re under pressure, your brain reverts to muscle memory. Since Zach only started playing in 2017, and he received top level coaching at IMG, Coach Brantley could spend the majority of his time with Zach teaching him what to do, instead of teaching him what not to do.
You can see that time in the gym paying dividends late in the season.
I’ve been intending to get to Zach for about a week now, and felt like today would be the perfect opportunity. It appears Hammer and Rails All-Star HaamsTime beat me to the punch and saved me a little leg work in the process. I highly recommend you check out his fan post because he puts everything together in a nice little chart that is above my pay grade.
What the stats show is fairly intuitive if you’ve watched Purdue over the past 6 seasons. When you compare Edey’s freshman year to former Purdue big men Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms freshmen seasons, he’s better in most categories. The three main areas I’m interested in, in regards to Edey, are Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, and Rebounds/40 minutes. Edey has a higher offensive rating, and Reb/40 than both Haas and Haarm, but is behind both in terms of defense.
First, a bit of an excuse for the big man. Basketball has evolved so much over the last 6 years that it’s almost hard to compare Haas and Edey. Centers in 2021 spend most of their offseason watching Dame Lillard and Steph Curry highlights and working on their extended range 3’s. You saw a little bit of that with Haas but not nearly as much. One of Edey’s main problems on defense is closing out on 3 point shooting centers. That’s tough for any big man. Even though he’s off to a bit of a slow start on defense, I think he has the potential to surpass Haas and not be too far behind the 2020/2021 Mountain West Defensive Player of the year Matt Haarms by the end of time at Purdue.
I’ll take Edey’s pick and roll defense, today, over Hass’s pick and roll defense as a senior. Edey is much better at moving his feet and uses his extendo arms to clog passing lanes and make layups a difficult proposition. Haas was often times left in the dust around the free throw line because he didn’t have the lateral quickness to hedge out on the guard, and struggled to change direction fast enough to handle the roll man. Edey doesn’t have the same athletic limitations on his mobility, and will continue to improve that facet of his game over the next few season.
While Haarms is the better shot blocker of the two, I’d almost argue that Zach is the better shot disruptor. Haarms hunts blocks, and at times finds himself on the opposite side of the floor of the opponents lays up, because a basic head fake launches him into orbit. Zach is better at staying on the floor and using his long reach to bother shots. Next time you’re watching a game and he’s on the floor, count the number of awkward looking floaters offered up by opposing guards when Edey is patrolling the paint. Even when they pass around him, he’s good at recovering and making layups coming in from the wing difficult.
He’s not there yet on defense, but I can see some solid clay for Coach Painter and Brantley to work with over the next 4 or 5 years.
Edey is a better rebounder as a freshman than Haas and Haarms were at any point in their Purdue career. Haas’s freshman season was his best per/40 rebounding year at 11.2. Haarm’s sophomore season was his best rebounding year at Purdue (and in his career) with 10.1 per/40. Zach is currently sitting at 12.7 reb/40.
When comparing the 3 recent Purdue big men, Edey is more athletic than Haas and tougher the Haarms. He’s able to pull down rebounds outside of his area that would leave Haas flat footed, and he’s able to go up in a crowd and pull the ball down where Haarms was enamored with trying to tap the ball to a teammate. The more Edey plays, the better he’s going to get a pulling down rebounds, and he’s pretty good at the job now.
There’s nothing fancy about Edey’s offensive game.
He catches the ball close to the basket, keeps it over his head, a drops it in the hoop like a grown man playing on a nerf goal. This is where not having any bad habits coming into Purdue has helped him contribute early. He knows what he’s good at, and he sticks to that part of his game. He’s not going to back you down with the dribble. He’s not going to shoot a hook shot. He’s not going to catch the ball on the move in the pick and roll. He’s not going to make a highlight reel pass.
He catches the ball, and if he can, he dunks it. If he can’t dunk it, he’s going to try and pivot, get closer, and drop it in. That’s the extent of his game, and that’s all he needs.
Haas, for his enormous size, seemed almost afraid to dunk the ball. He had more 2 footers spin out that he should have dunked than I can count. I think his career cost me at least 3 T.V. remotes. Haarms, for his length an athleticism, isn’t strong enough to play in the post. He is better at the top of the key, running dribble hand-offs and pick and rolls. He isn’t close enough to the basket to score on most possessions, which is weird for a 7’3” athlete.
Oh, and did I mention that Edey is smooth free throw shooter with a beautiful and consistent release? That’s going to help boost his scoring number by 5-6 point a game as he is further incorporated into Purdue’s offense.
Zach will never be a skilled “modern” big man, and that’s fine, but he’s just scratching the surface of his potential on offense. Passing is the one area I expect to see improve over the next season. When the double team comes, he should be able to turn, find the open man, and snap off a pass. Right now, when the double comes, he is either going to try and score over it, or pass to whoever is closest to him. After watching the Wisconsin game, I’m sure opposing coaches will be running doubles at him for the rest of the year (and I’m not sure why Wisconsin didn’t) because at the moment, he’s not a good enough passer to make you pay for the hard double. I think he gets that figured out over the next year and once he does....buddy, he’s going to be an even bigger issue for opposing coaches to sort out with the shooters Purdue has lined up over the next few seasons.
Soooo Purdue Comps?
There aren’t many 7’4”, 285 athletic Canadians with limited basketball experience to compare Zach with, but if any team in college basketball has a comp, it’s Purdue. That said, there isn’t a good comp, but I can give you a Purdue center amalgamation.
Edey is an interesting mix of Haas size and Haarms athleticism. He’s still filling out, and isn’t the man mountain that Haas was later in his career, but I think he’ll get there eventually. Maybe not peak Haas, but pretty close. He’ll never be the floor running gazelle that Haarms could be at times, but he’s also going to end up being 40 or 50 pounds heavier than Haarms. He’s already more coordinated than the spastic Haarms, so he loses a little in the speed category and makes up for it with his ability to control his arms and legs at the same time.
If I could predict the future, I would have already retired to a private island after bankrupting Las Vegas, but I think Edey will surpass both his A heavy predecessors by the time he leaves West Lafayette.