Purdue's backcourt last season was a work in progress. Heading into the 2012-13 season the team had to find a way to replace their long time starting point guard Lewis Jackson and three point specialist Ryne Smith. Besides those two losses they also had to replace Kelsey Barlow (who was dismissed midseason in 2012) and make up for the loss of leading scorer Robbie Hummel. The end result was a team that struggled to find its identity and to establish consistency.
The offense ended up running through junior Terone Johnson. Johnson, in his first full season as a starter, struggled heavily with producing consistent results. While Terone had plenty of nights where he played lights out, he had just as many nights where he straight up disappeared from the offense. With Terone being Purdue's main scoring option, his inability to score consistently became detrimental to the team at times. This was evident in the fact that the team went 3-6 in games where he scored less than ten points (two of those wins were versus Penn State, the other versus Hofstra).
At point guard was true freshman Ronnie Johnson (Terone's younger brother), who started 28 games in his first year at Purdue. Ronnie's season was similar to his older brother Terone as he struggled to find consistency in his production. While slightly more expected considering his inexperience, Ronnie struggled with his shooting and committed far too many turnovers. With the offense not playing very well last season, turnovers were detrimental to the program and Ronnie's inability to maintain possession was a huge ongoing issue.
Heading into the season the Boilermakers will once again rely heavily on the Johnson brothers and will be hoping each player will continue to make strides in their game. While both brothers struggled with consistency, both seemed to finally flip the switch towards the tail end of the season. If they can stay at that level this season Purdue should see considerably improvement in its backcourt. Also rounding out the backcourt will be sophomore Rapheal Davis, a well rounded three that can do a little bit of everything but seems like he has yet to fully arrival.
Entering the fray this year is senior transfer Sterling Carter. Carter, a transfer out of Seattle, was brought in an attempt to improve Purdue's poor three point shooting. Carter thrived from three at Seattle University and could be a legitimate option from the bench to help boost Purdue's outside presence. Also joining the team is a pair of four star recruits in Bryson Scott and Kendall Stephens. Scott is a relatively hyped combo guard that could end up being the backup at both the one and two thanks to his versatility, while Stephens could see some playing time early on thanks to his ability to shoot from outside.
The Boilermakers offense will once again rely heavily on Terone Johnson. Luckily for Terone, some of the pressure to score should be balanced out thanks to the teams plan to utilize Hammons down low. Terone's game has shown signs of promise and now as a senior it's put up or shut up time for Johnson. Simply put, for a team that struggled with shooting the rock, having their shooting guard shoot only 40.2% from the field while attempting almost 13 shots per game is not going to cut it. Terone will need to make some progress in his efficiency or else he could become a liability for the Boilermakers.
It'll be interesting to see if Terone can continue where he left off last season. After an up and down junior campaign, Terone started to finally piece everything together late in the season. Excluding the Nebraska game, Terone shot almost 47% from the field in March, with the highlight being a 32 point performance versus Michigan. Terone also managed to improve his free throw shooting from a laughably pathetic 43.5% to a somewhat passable 62.3%. While a shooting guard shooting only 62% from the line is still disappointing, it was considerable improvement and hopefully Johnson should see his numbers climb closer to 70% this year.
Terone's biggest strength is still his ability to drive to the rim and score inside. Time and time again Johnson has shown the ability to cut to the rim and score, but his poor free throw shooting neutralizes his inside game as he struggles to finish on plays where defenders foul him on his way up. It'll be interesting to see how defenses handle Terone, as his struggles from outside allow defenders to sag off of him and slow down his ability to get to the rim. If Johnson wants to make the next jump this season he'll have to establish a presence from outside. Besides the benefit it'll have for the team, if he can at least establish a passable shot from outside, defenders will have to defend it and it'll make it easier for Terone to work inside. If he struggles from outside again it'll likely limit the offense and keep Terone's field goal percentage back in the lows 40s.
Similar to his older brother is Ronnie Johnson. Just like Terone, Ronnie has struggled from beyond the arc at Purdue. To be fair, I guess you could say the word ‘struggle' is an understatement as Ronnie shot an atrocious 6 of 36 from three. Ronnie also struggled at the line like Terone, only making 59.6% of his free throws. While Ronnie is a limited shooter, he's also shown the ability to get to the rim and score. Of course Ronnie's inside game didn't really take off until late in the season so it'll be interesting to see if he can continue to drive to the rim even with defenders playing off.
While Ronnie's need to establish a shot is important, there are two other areas Ronnie must improve in if Purdue wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament. First off is his issue with turnovers. Last season Ronnie made plenty of nice passes to teammates, but time and time again he tried to force passes and made poor decisions, leading to almost three turnovers per game. Purdue's offense has struggled and will need to cut down turnovers if they want to compete with most of the Big Ten. Johnson will also need to work on his decision making. While Ronnie was able to get to the bucket and establish an inside game, he relied too heavily on driving to the rim, consistently abandoning plays or open teammates and forcing rushed layups in heavy traffic. These shots routinely faltered and Ronnie managed a poor 38.5% from the field. Painter is hoping that the issues with Ronnie can be chalked up to him being a freshman, but if Ronnie's decision making doesn't improve it may force Painter to look elsewhere.
Rounding out the backcourt is Rapheal Davis, a solid three that spent most of last season in neutral. Davis was a decent shooter (coming in at 48.2%), was considerably better from the line than Ronnie and Terone and was capable of bringing in some rebounds in his 19 minutes per game last season. Now without D.J. Byrd, the three spot should be Davis's as long as he can keep it out of reach from a slew of freshman and senior transfers. Looking at Davis's freshman season, he didn't have very many bad games, but he still had too many games were he wasn't involved at all in the offense. In fact Davis was shut out in four starts and the team routinely lost in games where he scored in single digits (with 15 of the Boilermakers 18 losses happening in games Davis scored 9 or less). On the flipside, they went 5-3 when he scored double digits (with two of those losses versus Michigan and one versus Notre Dame). Look no further than Davis's 8 of 9 shooting performance versus Notre Dame to see his potential. However, like most of Purdue's team last season, he failed to piece it together in a consistent fashion.
Purdue adds two four star recruits to its backcourt in 2013. The first guy up will likely be Bryson Scott, a combo guard out of Fort Wayne. There was some speculation last year about Scott's role with the team, as some perceive him more as a straight point guard, though it looks like he'll be utilized early at both the point and shooting guard position. If Scott can pick up the offense quickly he could become a viable backup to both Terone and Ronnie Johnson. The biggest problem Scott is currently facing is his offensive ability is a bit raw and unrefined right now. With Purdue's issues shooting the ball, Painter could be hesitant to turn to a guy that has struggled with his shooting. Also, after the turnover and inexperience issues with Ronnie last season, Painter could try to shy away from running the offense through another true freshman. Of course Scott will also be appealing to Painter as his ability to lock down on opponents and his overall defensive ability has to intrigue the defensively minded Painter.
While Scott may be an offensive liability, Kendall Stephens is the exact opposite as he's showcased the ability to light it up from deep. So far at practice for the Boilermakers Stephens has been showing an outside presence the Boilermakers have lacked as of late and it could lead to Stephens earning some playing time relatively early in the season. Stephens is still working on getting everything together on the defensive side of things, but if Purdue's starting guards and wings struggle to establish an outside presence he could see an uptick in minutes and become a valuable contributor to the 2013-14 Boilermakers.
An interesting option Purdue will have is senior transfer Sterling Carter. Carter transferred in from Seattle and will add some experience and depth to the Purdue backcourt. While the backcourt is pretty crowded and playing time will have to be earned, Carter will benefit from his ability to shoot the ball. Purdue was one of the worst three point shooting teams in the country last season and loses their most prolific shooter in D.J. Byrd. With Purdue's outside shooting a major area in need of improvement, Painter could turn to Carter as he has shot 36.8% from deep throughout his collegiate career.
Rounding out the backcourt is a trio of walk-ons consisting of sophomores Stephen Toyra and John McKeeman, as well as freshman Anfernee Brown. All three players are highly unlikely to play besides in gutter time, but Painter has never shied away from playing walk-ons if necessary. Besides Dru Anthrop seeing quite a bit of time last season, Painter turned to Stephen Toyra at Penn State to help send a message to the team, eventually ending in a win for the Boilermakers after a horrific start.
Establishing an Outside Attack
This is pretty simple and I'll be blunt: Purdue NEEDS to improve their outside shooting.
Honestly, that's an understatement. Last season the Boilermakers ranked 213th in field goal shooting percentage and were 259th in three point shooting percentage. Their 145 made three pointers came in at 314th and there was absolutely no reason to fear the Boilermakers from outside besides D.J. Byrd. Now without Byrd Purdue will likely have to turn elsewhere on the roster as Terone, Ronnie and Rapheal ended up shooting a mere 30% from beyond the arc. While Davis has some potential from outside, the team will likely have to turn to newcomers Kendall Stephens, Sterling Carter and Errick Peck to help improve the teams three point shooting.
The outside shooting is so important because Purdue's frontcourt is vastly improving but will need help from the backcourt to help out with scoring. If Purdue's backcourt struggles from outside, opponents will be able to play off, leading to more traffic down low and clogged lanes. Without the ability to space the floor, it becomes more difficult for Hammons and Simpson to get open looks down low. If they can't get open down low it'll limit their ability to effectively score points, putting more pressure on the backcourt. If Purdue's backcourt struggles from outside again it also means that Terone and Ronnie's ability to drive to the rim will be less effective. Long story short, if Purdue struggles once again from outside they potentially fade from a NCAA Tournament team and could slide back to the NIT or even worse, the CBI.
Purdue's backcourt will be interesting to watch because they'll heavily influence how improved the Boilermakers are this season. Everything we've seen so far heading into the season implies that Purdue's frontcourt should be ready to get it done, but without help from the backcourt it'll keep them in check and limit their effectiveness. Purdue's backcourt has potential, with Ronnie and Terone showcasing the ability to get to the bucket and Ronnie showing signs of being a promising point guard. However, both of the Johnson brothers have struggled with decision making and turnovers, leading to missed opportunities and too many easy points for opponents.
Neither of the Johnson brothers has been very promising from outside as well. Purdue's complete lack of a three point shooter ended up leading Painter to targeting senior transfers that could score from outside, resulting in the arrivals of seniors Sterling Carter and Errick Peck. It'll be interesting to see if either guy can earn solid playing time thanks to their three point shooting. Purdue may also turn heavily to freshman Kendall Stephens for help if the backcourt struggles again.
One interesting idea that I stumbled across in the comment section over at Hammer & Rails is the idea of the team moving away from Terone Johnson if he struggles again with his shooting. The idea actually holds some weight as Terone has been a high volume shooter with a poor field goal percentage and even worse percentage from three. As a Golden State fan it sort of reminds me of Monta Ellis, with the numbers actually pretty similar (Johnson: 40.2% FG, 34.6% 3PT. Ellis: 41.6% FG, 28.7% 3PT). I know the idea sounds crazy on paper, but if Johnson struggles to shoot efficiently from the field than it would almost make quite a bit of sense. However, it seems like this scenario is a bit far-fetched as Purdue doesn't have anyone that comes close to Terone's experience and leadership at the two and it would most likely take a disastrous season for Painter to attempt this.
While there's potential for doom and gloom with Purdue's backcourt, there are still some signs of hope. As a team Purdue improved quite a bit at the end of last season and a lot of that can be credited to Terone and Ronnie playing lights years ahead of how they started off the season. If they can continue at a similar level this year the Boilermakers should yield a pretty solid backcourt that would only need some help outside from the bench. However, if the backcourt breaks down into Terone and Ronnie repeatedly putting their head down and driving to the rim for a contested layup...well it may be another long season in West Lafayette.