Purdue is 5-0, and looking so much better than last year. Ronnie Johnson looks improved, Bryson Scott looks dramatically better than anyone would have thought, and AJ Hammons & Terone Johnson are starting to get in gear. Purdue is playing as a cohesive unit, and that’s a fantastic thing. Keep this positivity in mind when you read some of the negatives below, because even though I’m pointing out some holes, basketball has a way with surprises. I just want to point out a few things to keep an eye on as you watch our guys take on Oklahoma State and their top-5 NBA prospect Marcus Smart on Thanksgiving. (That link is behind the ESPN Insider paywall, but the headline is "Why Marcus Smart Could Go #1")
Watch some nifty videos by clicking below.
GIF OF THE GAME – WEST LOBAYETTE (trademark @TwitizenJames)
RUNNER UP BECAUSE I COULDN’T FIT IT IN ONE GIF – Great Wall of Hammons + RJ’s handles
THE LESSON – Help the helper. Please.
I don’t like starting my posts negatively, because that really undercuts how positively I feel about this team, but Purdue’s post help defense was really exposed during the Siena game. If you didn’t catch it live, or if it’s a little fuzzy a few days later, the clip above summarizes Siena’s major point of attack. One of their very quick wings would use a pick and roll action to penetrate the lane, AJ Hammons would slide over to help, and the ball handler would drop an easy pass to Hammons’ man for a quick two points. This happened so many times because we failed to execute a defensive action called “helping the helper”, a fundamental incredibly important to our defensive scheme (mostly because our team is built around Hammons). Take a look at the clips one at a time to get a better idea of what I’m talking about.
In the first play, Evan Hymes (who killed Purdue off the bench) gets around RJ, who positions himself to force Hymes away from the attempted pick. Hammons slides over to meet Hymes in the paint (good), Hymes is forced to pass the ball to Hammons’ man (good), and Terone Johnson goes aggressively for the steal instead of bodying up like he should (terrible, awful, horrendous). Good defense turns into easy points for Siena because of this small gamble.
On the next play, Hymes gets around RJ again, and meets The Great Wall of Hammons in the paint. Take a look at a freeze-frame of our defensive positioning as Hymes drives:
Everyone on the court in a Purdue jersey knows AJ Hammons will lock down the paint from every angle. This alleviates a little pressure on our on-ball defender (in this case RJ) because he knows that Hammons will be there if he gets beat, but the other weak side defenders MUST rotate to make this work. In this case, TJ should body up both Hammons man and guard the baseline passing lane, and Bryson Scott (in the corner) should slide to the player up top. Neither weak player moves in time, however, allowing another fantastic play by Hymes.
On the last play, Hymes (surprise, surprise!) blows by Kendall Stephens (aka THE KID) and jumps for a layup. Three, count em, THREE Purdue players (Hammons, Stephens, and Peck) jump up to challenge the attempt, leaving Hammons’ man unguarded for another easy bucket.
I put this clip at the top of the post because cutting to the basket and on-the-fly playmaking are what makes OK State’s Marcus Smart an elite college player and a potential NBA All-Star. OK State also boasts two other experienced All-American perimeter talents in Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash, so Purdue’s defense must be on-point this Thursday. These rotations must be sorted out before we become Smart’s NBA audition tape.
OUR BEST DEENDER – Sterling Carter
I know it’s a small clip, but Sterling Carter has leaped TJ as our best on-ball defender. Carter only got 15 minutes of playing time in the Siena game, but was a hard-working menace defensively…which was a beautiful thing to watch. He’s much stronger than I thought, and has fantastic defensive instincts. On this play, he breaks down Siena’s Marquis Wright for a solid 20 seconds, who resets and calls for a screen. Unfortunately, Jay Simpson is making a disturbing habit of being flat-footed on defense and gets blown by on this particular play. But I’m convinced AJ Hammons makes that play and finishes out a stellar defensive sequence. Carter, TJ (if he stops gambling for steals) and Hammons must work together to slow down Smart (like Purdue did last year with Brandon Paul) and the other perimeter players must stay true to Brown and Nash.
SWAMY SPOTLIGHT – AJ Hammons
Listen…I get it. I know I spend a lot of time talking about Hammons’ performance on a game-by-game basis, but he’s going to singlehandedly make or break Purdue’s season. Like it or not, he has the size and talent to be that impactful to Coach Painter’s success. I wrote a lot about his play in the Siena game, so watch the clip above to get a more visual idea of my points.
The first section of the video focuses on his defense, which was very solid all game even though he couldn’t get going on the offensive side of the ball. This mindset epitomizes the basic philosophy of Coach Painter’s defense, which is a very promising sign. I would henceforth like to dub Hammons’ active defense THE GREAT WALL OF HAMMONS. Watch his “verticality” in these clips…he literally forms an impenetrable barrier with his mammoth body. This defensive activity makes me so happy and (for me, anyway) makes up for the offensive problems later in the clip.
The second section shows you that, even though Hammons had a bad offensive game, he was very active in trying to gain post position (especially when Siena’s bigs were in foul trouble). He didn’t have much luck finishing (2-8 shooting), but earned his points from the free throw line. The segment ends with two grown man moves in the paint, a running hook (though he missed it by not extending his arm enough, his footwork was impeccable) and a beautiful counter move off an inbounds play.
The last section is where most of the frustration with Hammons is rooted. There is often a lack of explosiveness in his post attempts, which I attribute to conditioning. He was blocked in the post several times (which is absurd for a 7’ 250lb manbeast) and ran out of gas at the end of many plays. If you watch the very last play in the above clip again, you can see AJ gets fantastic positioning in the post and benefits from a great entry pass from TJ. His lack of explosiveness, however, prevents the dunk and he gets called for a travel on the putback. For Hammons to reach his potential, he needs to improve his conditioning and capitalize on every easy opportunity.