In the words of Tim Miles, "I'm just here so I don't get fined." I kid, I kid. In case you missed it, though, yesterday was Big Ten's media day as the basketball season is less than a month away and an interesting piece of news was leaked out by Purdue head coach Matt Painter:
#Purdue coach Matt Painter said junior forward Basil Smotherman could be a redshirt possibility. Depends on injuries, his mindset, etc.— Nathan Baird (@nbairdjc) October 15, 2015
Painter said Smotherman approached him with conversation re: redshirting. Considered it sign of maturity.— Nathan Baird (@nbairdjc) October 15, 2015
Well, that was unexpected. Out of nowhere Painter randomly drops the idea of Basil Smotherman redshirting the 2015-16 season and the craziest thing is it makes plenty of sense, for the most part. The reality is Purdue has a log jam in the frontcourt and while Purdue fans tend to like the physicality Smotherman can bring to the table, his contributions have been honestly limited throughout his career here. While he's certainly capable of providing highlight reel worthy baseline dunks and defensive plays, occasionally, the reality is he's coming off of a season where he averaged 2.7 points and 1.8 rebounds per game while playing less than 13 minutes a night.
Those numbers, while small, could be penned up to him playing a limited role off the bench. But that's kind of the issue with Smotherman and why him redshirting this season honestly makes sense. In his sophomore season he saw his playing time decrease, his numbers decline and his shooting slipped. While the numbers declining could be defended by less playing time, his averages per 40 minutes actually dropped 2.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per 40 minutes, while his two-point shooting percentage dropped from 64% to 56.5%. The playing time decline was the end result of Vince Edwards, the dip in production was more of a regression than anything else.
That's of course why him sitting out this year makes sense and I think a good reason as to why Smotherman approached Painter with the possibility of sitting out this year. The addition of Caleb Swanigan means that finding minutes for Smotherman is going to be difficult this season, barring any unexpected injuries or players struggling this year. The lineup will see Hammons/Haas at the five and Hill/Thompson at the one. After an impressive season last year, Rapheal Davis will likely end up starting at the two while Caleb Swanigan will be the team's four. A log jam at wing and the need for perimeter shooting means Vince Edwards, Kendall Stephens and Dakota Mathias will all be vying for the three spot, with Edwards also likely seeing a decent amount of time at the four. That basically leaves Smotherman as either a backup four, at best, or the more likely scenario, the team's fifth option in the frontcourt, only ahead of Jacquil Taylor. Even more so as Smotherman hasn't shown any resemblance of an outside shot, meaning his skillset is at odds with what Purdue would need from him.
There's two problems with the possibility of Smotherman redshirting, though. First off, his ability to make momentum swinging dunks and defensive plays does have it's importance, even if he's not always a prominent player in the rotation throughout conference play. It's led to him becoming a fan favorite and does help provide a spark for Purdue. The question is if it's enough to justify him likely seeing limited playing time most of the season for contributing sporadically this season. Of course keeping Smotherman out all season means Purdue could lose a bit of depth, especially if Taylor is still trying to pick things up after missing most of last season.
The other more problematic issue is it could simply mean Purdue loses a year of Smotherman, even if the intention of sitting out this season would be to save a season. If he redshirts his junior season he'll have two years of eligibility, which would be a good thing for Purdue if Swanigan is a one and done player. Of course it could be for nothing if Swanigan sticks around, with the possibility of both Swanigan and Edwards being on campus for next season and possibly even Smotherman's final year of eligibility. And if that happens it raises the question of what's the point in redshirting this season? Swanigan seems a likely prospect to bolt early, but I'm not sure Edwards will and even if the team loses Swanigan and Hammons at the end of this season, Haas and Edwards could solidify the 4/5 for the next two seasons anyway. If that happens it'd make Smotherman a hot option for a potential transfer, especially as he could go to a laundry list of schools that would welcome him immediately with a starting spot.
Taking that into consideration, I understand the reasoning and pros for Smotherman possibly sitting out this season. Painter and Smotherman rather have him around for two more seasons after this year if he's going to be limited in playing time this season, but the reality is there's little reason to expect things to change that drastically in the future and the possibility of Smotherman staying at the back of the rotation is still a likely scenario.
At the end of the day it probably makes more sense to keep Smotherman active as some depth in the frontcourt and an occasional spark for the Boilers off the bench. The idea of him sitting out does make sense in theory, but the reality is it likely would have no actual benefit for Purdue or Smotherman.