We’re familiar with the Caleb Furst lore.
He’s a former Indiana Mr. Basketball, earning the award his senior year following his commitment to Matt Painter’s squad at the end of his junior year. His style of play offensively is exactly that of today’s multifaceted-by-necessity power forward. Dudes who were 6’10” were not shooting many long twos and threes twenty years ago. This is a kid who, if he was forced to play at the five (and not on a team with Zach Edey), would be a serviceable center on both ends of the court.
After being the main offensive option at Blackhawk Christian in Fort Wayne, he helped the USA U-19’s to a gold medal in July of 2021 before enrolling at Purdue.
Furst started out strong as a freshman, but eventually lost his starting role to Mason Gillis. As a sophomore he split starting duties with Gillis. Mason took over in both the Conference and NCAA Tournament, and Furst saw his minutes drastically cut.
Depending on the opponent, he averages about 16 minutes of court time per game. What can he do to make last season’s 18.3 minutes climb past 20 minutes per game?
First of all: like I previously said in regard to being multifaceted by necessity: Furst is the exact type of guy who can make such an offense flourish.
He’s a shooting threat with the ball in his hands in addition to being a solid passer and knowing where his teammates are supposed to be. He threw away some panic passes last season as the shot clock approached 00.0 seconds, but there were plenty of players guilty of that in the 2022-23 campaign.
Unfortunately, with an offense based upon ball movement and a lineup so full of guys who are capable of being “the guy” when a shot needs to fall, indecision can become an issue for multiple players on the floor when the shot clock is winding down. There were several instances last season where deferential passing led to turnovers and shots from desperate angles, helping lead to a half of basketball played with 26 or fewer shot attempts. For a team with so many proven scorers, as in state players of the year (Commonwealth player of the year for Morton…?), that can’t be the case if the team is to make a deep postseason run.
Furst is the perfect middleman, the perfect facilitator, in an offense like that…but only if he can balance his solid passing with identifying when he could/should take a shot.
He can be a spot-up three shooter, yet between his increase in minutes played between his freshman and sophomore seasons, his three point shooting took a downturn in ‘22-’23. Caleb the freshman and Caleb the sophomore both hit 11 shots from beyond the arc, but that was out of 26 attempts averaging 14.6 minutes per game in year one versus 41 attempts averaging 18.3 in year two.
My first bit of homework for Furst: practice quick releasing corner threes until any desire to hesitate is gone. If someone can successfully close him out, I trust his ability to pump fake and drive toward the rim.
What we love from Furst of which we want to see more: The dude cuts to the basket well and isn’t afraid to use his big frame to finish down low. Should he get cut off after drawing multiple defenders, he knows how to find the open man. His two point FG% did slightly drop from his freshman year, but he was also trusted enough to jump from 58 attempts (of which he made 36) in year one to 109 attempts (of which he made 66). Hitting 60% of your twos is nothing to sneeze at, and personally I see him inching closer to that 64% mark he hit as a freshman.
Homework here: keep working on finishing around the basket against Edey. If you can finish over, around, or through Edey in the paint, you’re doing something.
My main concern with Furst, however, is the huge dropoff in free throw percentage from his first season to his second. If he’s going to have an elevated role in this offense down low, he’s going to be drawing more fouls. Hitting 59.2% of your attempts from the stripe is not so great if you’re a guy who hit 71.7% of them as a freshman. If he has the ball in his hands more often in ‘23 to ‘24 and continues to struggle from the line, he won’t have the ball in his hands for long.
The most important homework he can do to ensure a major role in this offense: practice free throws until your arms are sore.
Last thing: rebounding. Furst is a solid, instinctive offensive rebounder, and when he’s not on the court with Zach Edey, he’s the most likely of five Boilermakers to crash the board and get putback points. I stated before, with his style of play it’s easy to forget he’s 6’10” 230, not 6’8” 215. He’s a physical guy down low and is very capable of keeping up the productivity should the team’s star center need a rest.
Furst is a good perimeter defender at his size, really no notes here as, even if a mismatch occurs on defense, Purdue’s guards are aware enough to switch back to designated assignments as feet churn off the ball around the free throw line. Outside, he can stick to much smaller, more agile guards and forwards to force bad shots. He closes out defenders well with his gift of being athletic and giant.
He does have to become a better rim protector, though. It’s not that he’s a bad one currently, it’s just that given his physical tools, he can become an elite post defender. And let’s be real, he’s not really going to need to be in that role very often with Edey on his team, but we’ll get more into that later.
Homework here: in practice, I want a ton of sets where Edey is out of the equation and Furst is expected to exist as the man in the post for team gold or team black. I want him to show guys around the size of Trey Kaufmann-Renn that he is not to be messed with down low. In the modern NBA, look at the film of a guy like Bam Adebayo. On the shorter side of a center at just 6’9” but with a much longer wingspan of 7’2”, Adebayo’s presence in the paint is key for Miami as he shows his ability to take it to the chin in the post while being a frequent blocker of driving layups.
Next mini-criticism, when Edey’s not on the court, he could stand to be more aggressive in rebound attempts to bring that average of 2.7 defensive rebounds per game up a bit.
Purdue’s got a true do-it-all big man in Caleb Furst, and if I were to assign him any one film study for his overall game:
Matt Kiefer’s senior season.
Kiefer finally put it all together in 2005-2006, being a solid defender down low while shooting nearly 40% from three point land at 6’10” and 233 pounds. Their games are similar and Furst likely has the athletic edge here and is the better inside shooter, but Kiefer’s presence in the paint on defense along with his three point range and modest 64% free throw percentage is about what Furst should be striving for in his junior season.
Furst is in a strange position, one in which he’d be most teams’ starting center with the skill set to do the things he does on the perimeter. Barring something bizarre, he’s not going to be asked to be a dominant post player despite having the keys to do that; he’s comfortable with spot up shots, cutting toward the rim, having the ball in his hands with his back to the basket, and he can guard any 5, 4, 3 and some guards.
My biggest what if for Furst’s ability to impact the team when he’s on the court:
Big 10 refs aside, Edey still doesn’t get called for many fouls (because he knows he can’t touch anyone while people can climb all over him on the other end floor). If Edey plays at a faster pace post-rebound/uses more fouls, this sets up Furst for more playing time to gain experience playing as a true center or paired with TKR in the post. That will pay dividends down the road.