Purdue lost a boatload of experience at the point guard position in the offseason. Matt Painter lost Eric Hunter Jr. to the transfer portal, Jaden Ivey (not a traditional point guard of course) to the NBA, and Isaiah Thompson to the transfer portal. That’s a lot of minutes of ball handling to replace. Painter went out and hit the transfer portal hard trying to get the best available player. However, player after player committed elsewhere until Purdue found a transfer in David Jenkins Jr.. Jenkins doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional point guard, though he’s a fine player in his own right. That still left a hole at the point guard position for Matt Painter and the Boilermakers. Enter Braden Smith the true freshman.
Look, playing point guard in the Big Ten is one hell of a tough job. Starting at point guard in the Big Ten is an even tougher job. Starting at point guard in the Big Ten as a true freshman sounds damn near impossible. Yet here sits Braden Smith doing all of those things. The 6’0” true freshman from Westfield, Indiana is truly being thrown head first into the deep end of the pool. It’s sink or swim time for Smith.
He comes off of a great high school career in which he won Indiana Mr. Basketball joining prior winner Caleb Furst for back to back Indiana Mr. Basketball winners on this Purdue roster. Smith wound up the all-time leading scorer and assists leader at Westfield. He also helped them to their first sectional title in 105 years. Those are some accolades to cherish. Unfortunately, as soon as he steps on the floor in the newly designed, and wonderful looking, Purdue uniform it means exactly nothing. There are hundreds of players in college basketball that hold accolades similar or better than what Smith has. Now is the time to earn new honors and forget about your past.
Smith has a huge hole to fill on this Boilermaker squad and Painter seems to have all the confidence that he can fill it. Smith will share a number with former Purdue standout Chris Kramer and I hope that’s not where the similarities end. While defense is a whole lot different these days due to rule changes and freedom of movement implementation there’s still a lot to learn from the impact that Kramer had as a true freshman. Fellow H&R contributor Jed Wilkinson wrote about this earlier and I thought it was worth sharing.
Chris Kramer, Purdue’s first notable young point guard under Painter, started 24 games as a true freshman and averaged 27.6 minutes per game. The lightly recruited Kramer (composite 159th player in 2006) only held offers from Purdue and Ball State. Known for his aggressive hard nosed, in your face defense, Kramer seemed to effuse what it meant to wear the Old Gold and Black for Purdue. The key, however, was Kramer averaging under 2 turnovers per game while handing out 2.5 assists and grabbing 2 steals. Kramer was successful because Painter didn’t ask him to do things he couldn’t do. Kramer bought into the role. He shot just 43% from the field but was a 71% free throw shooter and was the fifth offensive option on the floor. He was trusted to keep the ball moving and chip in on rebounding.
Ultimately that’s the goal for Smith. Take care of the basketball, play hard on defense, and excel where you can. No one is expecting, or even asking, Smith to look like Chris Paul or Steve Nash out there. What Purdue needs is a steady hand who is capable of executing the offense and limiting mistakes. In the first exhibition game against Truman State Smith, who looked a bit nervous to start, grabbed 6 rebounds, doled out 3 assists, and turned it over twice. Unfortunately, he was 0-2 from the floor but when you win a game by over 40 points it’s hard to quibble with offensive performances.
Smith will be asked to take on a huge burden this season there’s no doubt about it. He’s shown the skill, talent, and work ethic, to be able to carry that burden. But the offseason is different than the grind of a regular season. Can Smith hold up his end for 30+ games? That’s one of the main questions this team faces. As Jed said in his article, we’ve got to trust Matt Painter’s track record and hope that Smith is truly what we’ve been told.