With Zach Edey coming back as the biggest puzzle piece, both literally and figuratively, for the Purdue Boilermakers next season, Head Coach Matt Painter will need to put on his most virtuoso coaching performance so far in his career. Never has a Boilermaker team been so deep with talent with the National Player of the Year coming back to a squad that will return nearly 97% of its starts from the previous year (second only to 1998 who returned all six starters from the previous year) while also bringing back what amounts to nearly 90% of the scoring form the previous year as well. There may not be a bigger juggle for playing time amongst players who rightfully deserve more than what they are getting and there is biggest hurdle for Matt Painter next season.
The one aspect that will carry Matt Painter into next season is the heavy lifting he has done through the recruiting process for many of these players. Much has been written about his reliance on personality tests and ensuring that the guys he has coming in are ‘program guys’ who understand the roles that he needs them to play from an early age. We have heard the soundbites from Painter about how hard it is for guys to come in from high school where they were expected to be scorers and suddenly needed to be defenders, passers, and rebounders first. We have also heard from the players how close of a bond the players have at Purdue but will that bond and that reliance in recruiting keep people happy when there are only so many minutes to go around and you likely have nearly half of the minutes during a game eaten up by Edey and the freshman dynamic duo in Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith?
There are only 200 minutes to be handed out each and every game and it appears as though the backcourt of Smith and Loyer will each eat up about 30 of those minutes with Zach getting all that he can handle at the center position. If last year is any indication, he will float around the 32 minutes per game mark. Those minutes are known standards as it appears Loyer will grow as a scoring threat off an incredibly strong freshman season and Smith will likely continue his path to being a strong point guard who controls the tempo at both ends of the floor. But what about the other two positions? Those two likely determine the success of Purdue’s season next year.
The power forward and backup center position at Purdue might be the deepest one in all of the B1G next season. Behind Edey, Trey Kaufman-Renn, and Caleb Furst could easily start at most other B1G programs and be major contributors there at the center position alone. The interesting piece is that both are capable of playing the power forward position incredibly well alongside a player like Edey where Mason Gillis also sits as a 5th year senior. All three of those guys are capable of playing the power forward position but only 40 minutes are available plus the 8 to 10 minutes on average you’ll get with Edey off the floor. There likely isn’t a big change in that rotation next season although with Edey likely to start taking some ‘jump shots,’ what they are asked to do might be a little different. Look for TKR and Furst to take advantage of smaller power forwards in the post if Edey proves to be enough of a threat from 15-22 feet.
This leaves likely the biggest question mark for Matt Painter to figure out for the upcoming season: the small forward position.
There are two really intriguing options for the Boilers in redshirt freshman Cam Heide and incoming true freshman Myles Colvin. Both are unlike anything Purdue fans have seen from the small forward position athletically and should help in situations where Purdue has struggled in the recent past. Heide, who was still recovering from a foot injury into most of the season that prevented a heavy work load, would have likely played a bigger role than most may have believed because of that athleticism. Colvin, is a three level scorer coming into college but needs to prove that ability at an increased level of play. The issue will be helping the young guys figure out defensive rotations and the level of detail that is required at that position on the offensive end.
That leaves a couple of veteran guys floating in the wind a bit in Ethan Morton, Brain Waddell, and transfer Lance Jones and makes no mention of Will Berg. Morton appears as though he will continue to stay with the program even though his role will likely diminish headed into his senior season. He isn’t he scorer needed on the floor but provides a boost to the defensive game plan with his effort and length. Waddell, who surprised as a true freshman in practices before injuring his knee, appeared to still be recovering from that injury last season. Waddell is an intriguing player who flashed at times as a redshirt freshman but appeared overwhelmed at times when opponents decided to get physical with him.
Lance Jones is as good of a program fit guy to transfer in as you could hope. An all conference defensive star at Southern Illinois, Jones will come in and provide relief for Braden Smith and likely be able to play off the ball as well with Smith at the point.
When all is said and done, this coming season will likely look very similar to what Boiler fans just saw in 2022-2023 but the intrigue comes from the athletic ability of Heide and Colvin paired with the growth of Smith and Loyer. If those four gel together in the way that Matt Painter hopes, Purdue could take a major step forward from the previous season that was incredibly successful. The key could be Matt Painter finally figuring out the jigsaw puzzle he laid before himself back with AJ Hammons and Rapheal Davis as freshman. How to use a traditional big man in today’s modern world and that success may very well come down to two freshman again this season.
Expectation of Minutes (estimated):
Point Guard: Smith (31) / Lance Jones (9)
Shooting Guard: Loyer (30) / Colvin/Jones/ (10)
Small Forward: Heide/Morton (32) / Colvin/Waddell (8)
Power Forward: Gillis (20) / Furst (18) / TKR (2)
Center: Edey (32) / TKR (8)