One of Matt Painter's crowning achievements was his early recruiting class simply dubbed the "Baby Boilers." Riding a recruiting class that included E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers achieved quite a bit of success early on in Painter's tenure here. While the end result came up a little bit short thanks to two very untimely knee injuries for Hummel, the trio all eventually got drafted, with Robbie Hummel being the latest pick at the end of the second round in 2012.
While the last few years haven't led to any draft picks for the Boilermakers, that shouldn't be a massive surprise considering the teams youth and stockpiling of young talent. When everything is said and done the only guy that hypothetically could have had a shot at the NBA was guard Terone Johnson and the ultimate reality with Terone is he could very well have a professional career down the line, though it'll be overseas (the route a number of Boilers have taken, including the previously mentioned JaJuan Johnson and recent alum D.J. Byrd).
So that leads to a question we'll be asking for most of the teams in the conference over the next week or so...when will Purdue see their next draftee? The reality is Purdue could have possibly saw center A.J. Hammons go in the second round had he declared early. That being said, though, Hammons was smart enough to see the potential benefit from another season in West Lafayette (especially with a loaded class in 2014) and realized the potential problems associated with being either a second round pack or possibly even an undrafted free agent. At the end of the day Hammons played it safe and will work on playing towards a considerably safer first round pick, which is a realistic possibility in 2015.
And by realistic possibility I mean what is becoming the common prediction for when it comes to way too early 2015 mock drafts, with SB Nation having him 24th, Bleacher Report 30th, NBA Draft 20th, and DraftExpress having him as an early second round pick.
Of course there has been talk about Hammons jumping shift after both his freshman and sophomore campaigns, with the seven footer ultimately coming up short so far at Purdue when it comes to building towards the NBA. That being said, his sophomore season definitely led to a considerable increase in optimism towards the future, both from Purdue fans and draft pundits. After a freshman season that was sporadic best and plagued with immaturity and a lack of effort, Hammons finally pieced it together last season and put in the work to earn the respect and approval of Purdue fans. His game was still somewhat flawed and uneven, though, likely leading to him returning to Purdue in attempt to improve his draft stock across the board.
So what did Hammons struggle with last season? Well first off he started having issues with ticky tacky fouls, constantly getting into foul trouble early on. That mixed with the fact that he struggled to get going in games when he had limited minutes and it led Hammons to effectively being shutdown far too often last season. Of course the issue with fouls should be correctable and will be an area to watch Hammons on next season. Another issue he had that was likely his biggest reason for remaining at the collegiate level is that he's still far too raw offensively to make it in the NBA. While Hammons hasn't benefited from a backcourt incapable of feeding him down low, one of his other habits he needs to break is his tendency to shuffle his feet down low (picking up far too many travels) and his tendency to dribble the ball under the rim instead of attacking (leading to far too many steals). If you look at his stat line you'll see Hammons led the way for Purdue with 2.5 turnovers per game. If he wants to ensure a first round draft pick in 2015 that needs to change.
Also of note is Hammons has seemingly had issues with his mid-range game. Whenever Hammons gets the ball by the rim and goes straight up he's virtually unstoppable. He's also a pretty solid free throw shooter for his size and he can hit from just inside the three point line at a passable enough rate to warrant attention from opposing defenses. While Hammons can dominant inside and has some range to his shot, he's struggled from mid-range, commonly clanking shots off the rim. Ultimately it looks more like Hammons having issues with his touch, just pushing his shots a bit too hard or just a bit short, so it should be something he can improve on this season. Honestly if I was Hammons I'd spend quite a bit of time focusing here as if he could hit from mid-range at a more efficient rate he'd easily be one of the best centers in the Big Ten by far, if not one of the better bigs across the nation.
While Hammons has some issues to work on one area that he's excelled at is his defensive game. There were a few times where conditioning was a minor issue, mainly in games where he played far too many minutes (the triple OT thriller versus Minnesota comes to mind) or had to guard the perimeter, but his ability to shut down opponents down low was extremely impressive. Excluding Mitch McGary (who only played eight games), Hammons ended up ranking third in the Big Ten in total rebounds per game even though he played less minutes per game then Noah Vonleh (lottery pick) and Branden Dawson. When it came to blocks no one was even close to Hammons, with his 3.1 blocks per game being a full block more than second place (Nnanna Egwu 2.1 BPG). Hammons ability to eat up rebounds was a much needed skill for Purdue, a team that lacked production in the frontcourt outside of Hammons. While Purdue benefited from his rebounding, his ability to block shots straight up was a game changer throughout the season, single handedly helping Purdue pull out several wins.
Hammons probably could have been a draft pick in 2014, though he wisely chose to avoid the non-guaranteed world of being a second round pick. Either way it's looking like Hammons will be primed for a selection in the 2015 NBA Draft based on his size and defensive skill alone, with his ability to develop a more rounded offensive game likely being the deciding factor on if Hammons is worth a first or second round pick. The biggest question for when Purdue will have their next pick is if Hammons will leave after this season or remain for his senior season, with it looking like Hammons is going to be out of here by next spring. If for whatever reason Hammons doesn't get drafted in 2015 or 2016, it could be several seasons before one of the recent signees works their way to the NBA level for the Boilermakers.