Purdue Basketball: Early-Season Grades for Each Boilermaker
There's not a whole lot that's pretty about the 5-6 start for this season's Purdue Boilermakers.
Shooting has often been woeful, turnovers have been overly plentiful and some games have been lost that should have been won.
Still, there have been moments from each Boiler that indicate better things steaming over the horizon. Each player's early performance has been closely scrutinized by coach Matt Painter with an eye toward setting a firm rotation for Big Ten Conference play.
Which Boilermakers have made the grade through the season's first 11 games? Let's examine the fall semester report cards for the scholarship players in alphabetical order.
Senior G Dru Anthrop—B
The respected Purdue blog Hammer and Rails described Anthrop best when it said, "He plays every second like it is Game 7 of the NBA Finals." This season has seen Anthrop make the occasional start, and he's had nights where he looked like a very capable Division I player.
For a former walk-on, games like his three-assist, four-steal night against Lamar are moments that he can tell his kids about. Don't expect to see a lot from him during Big Ten play, but so far this season, no one's played harder than Anthrop.
Senior G/F D.J. Byrd—C-
Simply put, Byrd needs a dominant scorer alongside him to draw the defense away. He thrived as the hidden weapon behind scorers like Robbie Hummel and E'Twaun Moore, but his shot has suffered badly as one of the first names on opponents' scouting reports.
Byrd's 20-point first half against Clemson was followed up by 1-for-17 shooting in his next 95 minutes of action, spanning the Clemson game's second half and his next three outings. His confidence in his shot seemed to suffer, and his defense became overaggressive in an effort to make something happen. Witness the two-point, five-foul night against Eastern Michigan.
D.J. found a groove shortly before and after halftime of Tuesday night's win over Ball State. His 13 points against a quality Notre Dame defense should speak to a true upturn in form.
Purdue will need to look elsewhere to find a truly dynamic lead option, however, since it appears that Byrd is simply not that guy.
Junior F Travis Carroll—C+
Carroll hasn't made a lot of bad plays so far this season. He's missed a whopping two field-goal attempts and two foul shots while committing only three turnovers.
The dark cloud for Carroll, however, has been foul trouble. In his first six games, he averaged 12.3 minutes and 2.8 fouls. As a result of all the whistles, he's seen his minutes cut to 8.2 per game over his last five. Carroll simply isn't athletic enough to hang at the Big Ten level, and his recent scarcity of minutes may become more common as conference play begins.
Opponents make plays when Carroll's on the court. According to StatSheet.com, Carroll has a Roland rating (on-court +/- rating minus off-court +/- rating) of -81, essentially meaning that the Boilers are 81 points better with him on the bench than on the court.
If Carroll can become a true caddy for A.J. Hammons, playing 8-10 minutes a game, he can be a valuable piece. Any more minutes than that, however, and Big Ten post players will tear Purdue apart.
Freshman G Rapheal Davis—C+
Davis blew up Notre Dame's defense for 21 points in a nine-minute span, and he did it in nearly every way possible. He penetrated for layups, he hit a three-pointer, and even made some free throws, something that can't be taken for granted on this year's Boilermaker club.
Matt Painter followed up that effort by granting Davis only nine minutes against Ball State, only two of those in the second half. This suggests that Davis has issues in practice that Painter needs to see remedied, because the Boiler backcourt is starving for the kind of scoring punch that Davis brought on Saturday.
Davis has had other flashes this season, putting up respectable numbers against Hofstra and UNC-Wilmington, but those were blowout wins against overmatched opponents. The Notre Dame game was at least against a quality opponent, but even that quality opponent may have decided to put its effort in neutral when Davis went off.
Whatever is keeping Painter from fully committing to Davis as a major piece of his rotation, Purdue fans need to hope it's resolved quickly. Visions of those nine minutes in Indianapolis will continue to dance until Davis can do something else to replace them.
Freshman F Donnie Hale—B-
Hale has been the anti-Davis, making plays against the quality opponents and disappearing the other nights. He carded a combined 26 points and 10 rebounds against Bucknell and Villanova, but has scored a total of 25 points in his other eight appearances.
Hale provides decent rebounding at both ends, but has occasionally gotten hung up on trying to find his shot. After three missed shots and a foul in a one-minute span against Ball State, he was rewarded with a quick hook back to the sidelines.
An ability to help on the glass and on defense will keep Hale seeing 15-18 minutes per game. If he finds his shot, all the better, but Painter won't allow him to short-circuit the offense while he looks for it.
Freshman C A.J. Hammons—B
Painter has closely monitored Hammons' minutes as he continues to improve his conditioning. During his time on the court, however, he's been one of the few constants when Purdue makes its best runs.
StatSheet puts Hammons' Roland rating at 93, by far the best on the team. The team's next best rating is D.J. Byrd's 43, followed by a 32 from Terone Johnson. Hammons posted negative ratings during the team's first three games, but since then he's put up three games of 30-plus and only one negative, that coming in the loss to Xavier.
The conditioning work will need to continue for big A.J., because the Boilers need him to be a second-half player. Hammons has averaged only four points and 2.3 rebounds in the second half of his last four games.
A solid shot-blocking presence who hasn't killed his team with fouls, Hammons needs only to become a stronger, more consistent rebounder. He's already on an All-Freshman caliber path, but there's All-Big Ten potential here as well.
Sophomore G Anthony Johnson—C-
The first of Purdue's three Johnsons, but unrelated to the other two, Anthony Johnson entered college with a shooter's reputation, but has yet to find a consistent groove. In only one game this season has Johnson shot better than 50 percent from the floor, and that was in the drubbing of Hofstra.
For the season, Johnson is shooting only 28 percent from three-point range. That's a scary percentage from a guy who was expected to fill the bench shooter role that John Hart walked away from when he transferred to IUPUI.
Anthony looked like a serviceable combo guard in the opening loss to Hofstra when he dished out nine assists against zero turnovers. For better or worse, though, he'll need to find his shot eventually or face the possibility of losing minutes to a scorer like Davis.
Freshman G Ronnie Johnson—C-
Ronnie Johnson has gotten to operate in the same backcourt as his brother Terone, and the brothers are both showing themselves capable of strong all-around play.
However, both brothers' shots would struggle to splash if they were on the deck of a cruise ship. Ronnie's sickly 34 percent from the floor and 2-for-23 three-point shooting make Terone and Anthony Johnson look like Robbie Hummel by comparison.
At some point, Painter may need to muzzle Ronnie as a shooter and order him to concentrate more on running the offense. The younger Johnson is tied for second on the team with 94 shot attempts, but his field-goal percentage is the worst on the team.
Few teams want their point guard attempting three shots for every assist, but that's where Ronnie is right now. His 32 assists are nearly canceled out by his 29 turnovers.
Better shot selection and better ball-handling decisions will come with experience. For now, Boilermaker fans are hoping Ronnie learns quickly.
Expectation for Purdue's season?
Junior G Terone Johnson -- C+
Similar to D.J. Byrd, Terone Johnson is the top line on the opponent's scouting report and doesn't always fare well under the scrutiny. The elder Johnson brother is shooting career-high percentages from three-point range and the foul line, although when 59 percent foul shooting is a player's best, that's not saying much.
For every good game, like his 19-point, 10-rebound effort against Xavier, Johnson has recorded some clunkers, like his combined 7-of-25 shooting in Purdue's two games at Madison Square Garden.
It's fair to say that Terone Johnson is the best all-around player on this Purdue team. He's the leading scorer, leads in assists per game and stands second in rebounds per game behind only A.J. Hammons. In addition, his defense slowed the roll of Ball State's leading scorer, Jesse Berry, allowing the Boilers to put away a pesky Cardinal team Tuesday night.
If his shot falls on a more consistent basis, he could still make a run at an All-Big Ten honorable mention. The problem with that hope is that if a player's shot isn't falling against MAC competition (9-of-24 against Eastern Michigan and Ball State), how much better will it look against Big Ten defenses?
Sophomore F Jacob Lawson—B
Lawson is the best athlete on the team, a player whose motor outperforms his skill level. He may benefit from the season-ending injury to freshman Jay Simpson, a player who was being counted on for a somewhat similar rebounder/post defender role.
Lawson took the minutes that Simpson would normally see against Ball State, playing more than 20 for only the second time this season. He parlayed that time into six points, two blocks and a career-high 11 rebounds.
With consistent playing time, the 6'8" Lawson can be a strong starter next to Hammons. What remains to be seen is if Lawson, who averaged only nine minutes per game in conference play last year, can have some 11-rebound games against Big Ten competition.
Junior C Sandi Marcius—D
Marcius scored 18 of his 23 points and pulled 10 of his 18 rebounds in the blowout wins over Hofstra and Lamar. He's played a total of 15 minutes in Purdue's last six games.
His respectable performances against St. Mary's and Kansas in last season's NCAA tournament are beginning to look like a mirage.
At this point, the 268-pound Croatian is a space-eater who can pull a couple of occasional rebounds and put a body on opposing centers for five minutes a game. Expecting any more from him is probably foolish hope.
Freshman F Jay Simpson—Incomplete
Simpson has been shut down for the season due to a lingering foot injury that earlier cost him a lot of summer work.
The 6'9" freshman was crushing the boards in his 7.6 minutes per game, putting up the second-best offensive and defensive rebounding percentages on the team. Like so many others, he had his best game against Lamar, carding six points and five rebounds in 11 minutes.
The hope is that he can return next season as a reliable backup for Lawson and Hammons.
Obviously, no Boilermaker has turned in A-quality work so far this season. There is a lot of potential on the roster, but this season is standing on a very shaky foundation. Purdue's six-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances is in serious jeopardy, but patient Boiler fans can see a quick return over the horizon.
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