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Purdue Basketball: Who is Nijel Pack?

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Purdue hosted potential Kansas State transfer Nijel Pack last Thursday. I’ve watched him play over the last 2 seasons. He’s really good at basketball.

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In a bit of a surprise (at least to me) Nijel Pack, formerly of Kansas State, announced he was entering the transfer portal on March, 31st.

Purdue hosted the star point guard last week.

Don’t get too overly excited yet . He has plenty of options, and it looks like this thing could go on for a while.

Pack, is a 6’0”, 180 pound true sophomore with 3 years of remaining eligibility (in theory, he has the Covid year) hailing from Indianapolis, Indiana. The Lawrence Central High School product, and former 4* point guard, was named the Big 12’s Most Improved Player and First Team All-Big 12 after the 2022 season.

He played on the same A.A.U. team as Caleb Furst and Jaden Ivey. During his initial recruitment Matt Painter was interested, but out of scholarships for his position. Now that Isaiah Thompson and Jaden Ivey have both left the program, that won’t be an issue the second time around.

Purdue Comparison

Everyone at Hammer and Rails wanted me to write this because I also write for Kansas State’s SB Nation site, Bring on the Cats. While I have no “inside information” I have watched Nijel in the vast majority of his games over the last 2 seasons (which, admittedly, wasn’t always fun).

I’ve been trying to come up with a Purdue comparison, and the best I can come up with is “what if Carsen Edward’s shooting ability was beamed into P.J. Thompson?” That’s not quite right, because Pack is a more consistent shooter than Carsen ever was in college and is more athletic than P.J., but you get the general idea.

Pack has the ability to shoot off the dribble, coming off screens, and spotting up. He can initiate a possession as the point guard, or slide over to the 2 and work through screens to find openings. Occasionally, he does both in a single possession. He has a quick trigger, which allows him to get shots up over taller defenders, and unlimited range. In terms of shooting style and ability this reminds me of Carsen Edwards,.

One advantage he has over Carsen is consistency. In his junior year, Carsen shot 30% or below from 3 in 11 games. Last season, Pack shot 30% or below in 6 games. Even though Pack is the more consistent shooter, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t get red hot from outside the arc on occasion. He hit 5 or more 3s five times in 2022, including an absurd 8/12 effort against Kansas. Carsen hit 5 or more 3s 9 times in 2019, but he also attempted 380 3s, hitting 135. Pack attempted 218 and hit 95. Edwards also played in 7 more games than Pack.

In terms of size and on court demeanor, Pack reminds me of P.J. Thompson. Pack is a calm, cool operator on the court. He’s not a guy that’s going to attempt to dunk on the other team, but he will hit a 3 in a defender’s face and not crack a smile. Nijel is a crafty operator in the paint. He uses pump fakes to free himself up to get to his mid range game and has an array of floaters and scoop shots he uses to finish at the rim. He’s a pesky defender that comes up with steals (averaged 1.3 last season) and works hard both on and off the ball.

He is a pure point guard that wants to run the show,

2022 Stats

Nijel averaged 17.4 points a game, shooting 45.5% from the field, 84.5% from the line, and 43.6% from 3, while clearly being the #1, #2, and #3 player on every opponents scouting report. He averaged, 3.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.5 turnovers.

I wouldn’t look too closely at his assist numbers during his time at Kansas State. He is a skilled and willing passer, but he didn’t have many skilled or willing finishers around him during his stay in Manhattan. This season, he played the majority of his minutes at the 2 in a fun sized back court featuring 5’8” Marquise Knowell at point guard. At Kansas State he was the finisher, at Purdue, I think he will be surrounded by other finishers, allowing him to pick and choose his spots to take over a game with his shooting.

Purdue Fit

Purdue has plenty to sell Nijel in terms of fit. The Boilermakers have a clear hole in their backcourt and Pack could step in and fill it. He’s a selfless player that doesn’t require the ball to have an impact on the game. At Kansas State, I sometimes wished he was more selfish with the ball, because a contested Pack shot was often times better than anything else the Wildcats could muster.

He’s a smooth operator in the pick and roll or pick and pop and I love the idea of reuniting him with his former A.A.U. teammate Caleb Furst in that capacity. He was considered one of the best 5 players in a stacked Big 12 Conference this season because he is an elite shooter, and subsequently, offers plenty of spacing when teams try and surround someone like Zach Edey.

He’s not a lock down defender, but he puts in the effort and plays solid team defense. He found himself guarding bigger guards last season because of his diminutive backcourt mate, and held up well. At Purdue, he should be in a much better position, in terms of matchups.

Purdue Questions

Pack wants to play in the NBA, and in order for him to play in the NBA, he needs to exclusively play point guard in college. He’s similar to Carsen Edwards in that respect, but Carsen never made the transition to a pure point guard at Purdue.

Since Painter instituted his version of bully ball, Purdue point guards haven’t dished out many assists. It’s hard to drive and kick or run pick and roll with a giant center standing in the lane with his hand up. The last Boilermaker to average over 4 assists is Ronnie Johnson in the 2013 season with Lewis Jackson averaged 4.2 assists in the 2012 season.

Matt Painter and Purdue will need to sell their ability to develop Pack into a modern point guard, and not a short shooting guard. If Pack wanted to be a 6’0” shooting guard, that opportunity was (and still is) available at Kansas State. I look at Purdue’s recruiting classes, and it certainly looks like Painter is interested in a playing a true point guard with Braden Smith in the 2022 class and Dra Gibbs-Lawhorn in the 2023 class. That might require a bit of an offensive adjustment to pull off, and I’m sure that this will be mentioned by the other schools on Pack’s list. I don’t see Nijel as a player looking to dump the ball into the post and stand around at the top of the key in hopes of a return pass. He’ll want to play an integral part in a dynamic offense. We’ve seen Purdue utilize that type of offense in the past under Painter, but we’ve also seen some peat bog stagnant offenses as well.

If Pack doesn’t end up at Purdue, I think it will have a good bit to do with the current (or recent at least) state of the offense. Lately there hasn’t been much room to breath for a true point guard. Painter will have to convince him that he’ll have plenty of room to operate in offense.

Overall

Nijel Pack would instantly make Purdue a preseason Top 15 team with a high ceiling. He answers the “who do you want with the ball in their hands coming down the stretch” question for a Purdue team that currently doesn’t have much of an answer for that question.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed watching Pack play over the last two seasons at Kansas State. In many games, he was the only reason I was able to remain conscious. Much like Carsen Edwards, I think he’s good enough to force Painter to move away from his all post up, all the time offense, and I think that’s a good thing. It bores me to death and is overly reliant on college officials who are as reliable as fart after a day of sitting in the sun, drinking light beer, and eating pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches (I spent Sunday in Augusta).

I think Purdue is in a good position to land Pack, but it’s not going to be as easy.