It’s Saturday so that means it’s time for the roundtable. I ask a question of the staff and we see what everyone’s thoughts are. There are no right answers, except for mine. Off we go!
We all know Zach Edey is Purdue’s best and most dominant player. So no choosing him here. Who is the second most important player on this Purdue team? Not the second best, but the second most important.
I’ve thought about this a lot and ultimately wound up with Braden Smith. No one else on this team can do what he does. David Jenkins Jr. is ostensibly the backup point guard but he isn’t the same type of player as Smith. If Smith had come in and been unable to play big minutes or even minutes at all this team would be in a very different spot. I can’t seem then being in the top 10 of the nation and certainly not alone atop the conference with a two game lead. He just does everything, he passes, he shoots, he defends. What more can you ask for?
Coming in hot with the hard hitting question this week. I could probably sit here and tell you how each player impacts the game, but if I had to choose the second most important player after Edey I’m going to have to say Braden Smith. The point guard is such a vital role on how an offense operates and can change the whole trajectory of the game. Being able to get the ball down the court and run an offense starts with the PG and we have one of the best. Smith does so well against pressure D, can get the ball inside to Edey (more alley-oops please), not to mention is a very efficient scorer. Shooting 45.9% from the field, 44% from 3 and 88% from the line; he may not be the high scorer every night but he’s usually taking really good shots. He also plays with so much intensity and fire it’s a noticeable shift when he’s on the floor. This team isn’t 18-1 without him.
I think the second most important player has to be Braden Smith. I’m not sure there is another guard that can facilitate the offense quite like Braden. Jenkins and Morton are the next best options at that spot but Morton has struggled mightily on offense and Jenkins is more of a SG than a PG. I think that Smith’s ability to orchestrate helps Edey get more touches (especially via lobs) and ultimately helps Purdue win the most behind Edey. The tandem of Smith and Edey are becoming a massive force to be reckoned with. Throw in the great play of Fletcher Loyer (3rd most important on my list) and this team can do some major damage (beyond what they’ve already done).
I think this answer is pretty easy: Ethan Morton. Morton is the most important piece after Edey on the defensive end as he is the best perimeter defender and can help keep an opponent’s best scorer in check. But, what makes him the second most important player is what he means to Purdue offensively and what Purdue’s ceiling is with him shooting well from behind the arc and attacking the lane.
If Morton can return to his form last year as a 40% catch and shoot 3pt shooter, Purdue is suddenly really, really hard to defend. That ability alone raises Purdue’s ceiling to getting to be a favorite in the second weekend of the NCAAT. His ability to hit shots opens up Purdue’s ability to spread the ball around and prevents opponents from easily doubling off Edey. His defense just makes him that much more important.
Braden Smith is my guy. He’s the player Matt Painter has been missing during his coaching career at Purdue. A point guard who can defend, break down defenses off the dribble, finish at the, throw the oop, dump it off to the weak side big, hit a spotted up shooter, and hit his own 3s?
Yes, more of this please.
What makes him even more valuable is Purdue doesn’t have anyone else on the roster capable of filling this role. Jenkins is a combo guard, Morton is a wing who can pass, and Loyer is a 2 all the way.
Strictly most important? I’m gonna have to go with Braden Smith. Given how he drives the lane better than anyone else on the roster while hitting his open looks while assisting at a high rate, a lot of the offense runs through the freshman. To me, his style of play is most conducive to this offense of any of the guards when it comes to running an offense with the weapons at Painter’s disposal on the wing and down low. The fact that he has the second-highest percentage of time on the court behind Edey shows how he’s one heck of a facilitator on offense while being a pest on defense. It’s the San Antonio native in me, sure, but the reigning Indiana Mr. Basketball reminds me a lot of a prime Patty Mills on defense.
He makes the most of possessions and is situationally aware enough to help the Boilers steal a few more with playing tight defense and poking the ball away. His assist rate and effective field goal percentage are ranked among the top 100 in all of college hoops, and while Purdue is already a good free throw shooting team, he hits almost 90% from the stripe and draws a lot of fouls driving in the lane. This is a tough question because there are so many candidates for the second-most important player and those guys all do what Smith do well, but his aggressiveness in driving as a point guard while being able to throw beautiful cross-court passes to an open Morton, Loyer, or Furst is what sets him apart for me.