Even before seven foot A.J. Hammons stepped on the court at Mackey the speculation was he'd eventually be headed off to the NBA. Purdue has sent several players to the association recently, with E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel currently active in the league, but all of the players that have left West Lafayette for a professional career had done so after completing their collegiate careers first. With Hammons that was never expected to happen, with many believing the in-state product would jump ship after a season or two.
Well Hammons first season was a bit of a disappointment to say the least. It wasn't that it went particularly bad, but rather the fact that Hammons effort level was sporadic at best and he never seemed all too interested in playing basketball (resulting in Painter commonly benching him for Sandi Marcius). His lack of effort mixed with a raw skill set and some issues with conditioning and it was a hit or miss freshmen season. Luckily for Hammons, though, he finally started to put in some effort and had a considerably better sophomore campaign, only limited by his increased issues with fouls throughout the year.
So now that leaves Hammons at an interesting point in his basketball career. He could very easily head to the NBA and find a home, but he could also return to Purdue for another year and no one would fault him. His position across a variety of mock draft varies, occasionally making the first round, commonly being listed as a second rounder and straight up off the board on a number of mock drafts. Of course the fact that he hasn't declared and a lot of people not thinking he'll come out plays a bigger factor into that, with most people starting to see Hammons as a solid possibility of being a second rounder.
The problem with being a second round draft pick is that there's no guarantee you'll end up in the league and if you do you're most likely going to ride the bench, at best. If Hammons gets drafted late in the draft, which would likely occur, his best bet would be attempting to improve his skill set in the D-League. The most likely outcome, though, would be an eventual professional career overseas with the possibility of coming back to the states if he can make a name for himself elsewhere. And that's exactly why Hammons should return to Purdue for one more season.
You can't coach size and Hammons has that down perfectly, even more so as his conditioning has improved considerably from his first season here. However, there are still more than enough issues with his mechanics that need to be addressed if he wants to have a chance at a legitimate NBA career. Hammons has proven to be an effective rebounder at the college level and has been a block machine, but he still needs to improve a bit defensively against more agile centers that can play away from the rim. Also, Hammons had serious issues with fouls that should be an issue for concern. Even more so when you realize Hammons struggles immensely getting into rhythm offensively whenever he spends time on the bench.
And that leads us to why Hammons should return to Purdue...his offensive game. It's raw, it's lacking and where it's at now means he'd likely be no better than a back-up utilized for a few minutes of solid defense here and there. Even with his size advantage the center has serious touch issues and struggles to consistently hit shots that aren't right at the rim. Hammons has also developed a nasty habit of shuffling his feet and putting the ball down when he needs to go right up and attack. This led to a serious amount of turnovers, committing 2.5 turnovers per game. His issues on offense are entirely correctable with some work and if he can improve his touch on his mid-range shots, his offensive game could easily nudge him into the mid to late first round. Of course with the way the draft works at time, if he got hot late next season and Purdue had a better season, he could create quite a bit of hype, earn himself some more money and find a more secure landing spot.
The biggest question mark for Hammons is his desire. There's been a lot of speculation about just how much Hammons enjoys the game and his first year here only added fuel to the fire, but a lot of people around the program aren't entirely sure he's willing to put in the work to piece everything together. While that would seem to be a knock on A.J., it's also commonly used as the main (only) reason why people think he'll bolt to the NBA as he rather earn his money now instead of being forced to improve his game for nothing.
Hammons has mentioned that his potential draft position could be a pivotal factor, though, likely hoping for a first round pick that has more guarantees and potential for a NBA career. While Hammons is spending time finding out what his potential value is, I personally think he'll find out he's currently a late second rounder. With the lack of security that kind of pick brings, logically it'd make sense for Hammons to return next season. Of course if he does so or not is completely up in the air, but right now it feels like Hammons will (or at least should) return for one last season.