Matt Painter and his team face some lofty expectations going into next season. Following a return to the NCAA Tournament last season, Purdue only lost one contributor, replaced him and added their first McDonald's All-American since the 90's. That leaves Boiler fans salivating over the potential accomplishments of this year's team. Purdue has always been a program that focuses on a team-first mentality, but with that being said, it didn't take much contemplation to decide which three players would be most important to their team's success.
A.J. Hammons, Sr. C
The seven-footer has been a go-to guy for Purdue since his freshman season. No one has ever had any reason to doubt Hammons' talent. His desire, however, is a different story. His first two seasons in West Lafayette were marked with inconsistency, much to the frustration of the fans. Sometimes it seemed like he didn't even want to be on the court and his attitude affected the attitude of the whole team.
That all changed last year with the arrival of fellow big man Isaac Haas and the exit of fellow fan-frustrating player Ronnie Johnson. Haas not only brought in another big body that Hammons could go up against in practice, he also brought a big personality. Haas replaced Hammons in the starting lineup for a few games, and instead of pouting, we saw A.J. coaching his young compatriot and cheering him on at every turn. When Hammons earned his spot back, he was more consistent and dominant than ever.
Now in comes another young big in Caleb Swanigan who has been lauded as much for his work ethic as much as his ability. Another year with Haas and the arrival of Swanigan should serve to boost Hammons even more this season. More time going up against other skilled bigs and more camaraderie between them should have A.J. performing at an all-time high this year. And as Hammons goes, Purdue goes.
Rapheal Davis, Sr. G/F
The defending Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten is the unquestioned leader of this team. If Hammons' attitude sets the tone for his team, then Davis sets the tone for the team's work ethic and heart. He's a coach's dream, a real glue guy. Anything Painter asks of him, Davis does it and does it within the system.
Davis isn't without weakness, he lacked confidence on offense at times last season. As a recruit, Davis was highly-touted for his scoring ability, but at Purdue he hasn't been a great shooter, especially from deep. Rapheal passed up open looks from three more often than he should have last year. If he can improve on his 30% shooting from beyond the arc and become a threat from deep it'll really open up the Boilers' offense.
Davis should be team captain for the second season in a row and his leadership will be extremely important to this team.
P.J. Thompson, So. PG
Thompson isn't even the guaranteed starter at his position, so why is he on this list? Even if P.J. can't win the job over transfer Johnny Hill, his development might still be the most impactful on the whole team. Thompson can't just let Hill walk in and have the job. These two will need to push each other and challenge each other in every practice. The top of the Big Ten is loaded with talented point guards like Yogi Ferrell and Melo Trimble and if Purdue wants to compete they are going to need strong guard play. P.J. won't just need to push Hill in practice, he will also need to set an example. Hill is new to Purdue and who better than the guy he plays against every day to show him what Boilermaker basketball is about.
Overall, if these three players can all take their games to the next level, the sky is the limit for Purdue this season.