One thing Matt Painter has gotten a bit of flak for recently was the lull in his recruiting classes after he brought in the recruiting class simply referred to as the Baby Boilers. Well Painter finally seemed to get it together last season, bringing in a recruiting class including a stud in A.J. Hammons, as well as a slew of strong prospects in Ronnie Johnson, Rapheal Davis and Jay Simpson. Painter followed up with a strong 2013 recruiting class, adding Bryson Scott, Kendall Stephens and Basil Smotherman to the mix.
The freshmen trio aren't the only fresh faces seeing considerably playing time so far this season in West Lafayette. Besides the true freshmen, Purdue has also added minutes from two senior transfers (Sterling Carter and Errick Peck), as well as redshirt freshman Jay Simpson. However, since we've covered the seniors already in a prior post, we'll move on to the true freshmen seeing minutes in Painter's rotation.
Last season Purdue struggled quite a bit with shooting, especially from downtown. It was an area of emphasis for Matt Painter as he realized he needed to field a better shooting unit in order for Purdue to improve and get back to the NCAA Tournament. Enter Kendall Stephens. The 6'6 wing has earned a bit of a reputation as a shooter and it's shown so far this season, with Stephens averaging 5.6 three pointers per game. With a shot selection reminiscent of Ryne Smith (85% of his field goals are from beyond the arc), it's probably a good thing Stephens is hitting at almost 40%. He can get a bit aggressive at times, as evident in the games against Washington State and Eastern Michigan (where he kept firing it up even when he wasn't hitting), but at the same time his ability to hit from three has been a huge momentum boost.
For a team that struggled so heavily from outside last season, Stephens ability to light it up adds quite a bit to the table. Stephens strength from outside has it's advantages, allowing the team to spread the floor considerably more than last season. Mix in the ability to finally pick up some clutch shots and you have an offense considerably less stagnant than it was the last two seasons. Of course Stephens could benefit a bit from better shot selection, as he occasionally jumps the gun and creates easy points for opponents in transition off of the long rebounds.
As for Basil Smotherman, I think it's safe to say he may remind Boilermaker fans of Kelsey Barlow when it comes to what he brings to the table. Well, not exactly like Barlow, as Smotherman is a bit more consistent and commits considerably fewer boneheaded plays, but Smotherman's size, versatility and scoring ability should warrant the comparison. Chances are if Purdue has a big dunk in transition or an impressive put back, it's because of Smotherman.
While Smotherman has shown the ability to score down low and add a bit of expression to Purdue's offense, Bryson Scott has shown quite a bit of promise as the backup combo guard behind Terone and Ronnie Johnson. While some people wondered how Scott would fit behind the Johnson brothers, Scott has fit in nicely in what amounts to a sixth man role. He's still learning when it comes to running the offense, but that can be expected considering his inexperience. Luckily for Scott is he has someone ahead of him to help him ease into the point guard role, unlike last year when Ronnie was essentially thrown to the wolves.
Besides developing into a nice backup point guard, Scott also brings the bulldog mentality that allows him to be quite the pest on defense. A lot of Purdue fans have been pushing to see someone come in and bring the Chris Kramer mentality to the mix. Scott might not be there just yet, but he's honestly the closest we've seen so far. When it comes to the two guards currently above him on the depth chart, both tend to struggle with shooting and free throws (though we've been seeing some improvement). That's what makes Scott so promising, as he's shown the ability to shoot the ball and, even better, the ability to hit free throws. Look no further than the Eastern Michigan game where Scott hit 10 of his 13 attempts. For a team that has looked atrocious most of the season from the line, Scott has earned the right to be on the court in the closing minutes of games thanks to his ability to hit the clutch shots.
It'll be interesting to see how the trio continues to develop as the season goes on. The best thing about the 2013 class is that it covers quite a bit of ground for the team. With Scott you have a pesky defensive point guard that has shown some flashes of an offensive game. Then you have Kendall Stephens, a promising shooter that will help the team forget about D.J. Byrd. Rounding out the package is Basil Smotherman, who is a highlight package just waiting to happen. It will be interesting to see just how many minutes the trio will see come conference play. As of right now it looks like they've all worked their way past the senior transfers and possibly even sophomore Rapheal Davis. If Purdue's offense doesn't fully turn the corner, though, Painter could definitely play Scott more than one of the Johnsons and Smotherman's ability to play as a stretch four will put pressure on Simpson to keep it up if he wants to see minutes.
At the end of the day Painter has finally improved their recruiting after several seasons of middling results. Last season's 2012 class has plenty of talent and has provided for a solid foundation, with the 2013 class looking to finally provide the spark Purdue needs to get back to the tournament. Not only are all of these guys good right now, but as freshmen, they're only going to get better. While growing pains are bound to occur, this Purdue team is going to get better and better as they crawl their way back up the Big Ten totem pole.
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