A.J. Hammons may not have wanted to spend four years at Purdue, but his senior year showed that he needed to. Now, he is hoping, and likely expecting, to hear his name called at the 2016 NBA Draft on June 23.
Hammons had an up-and-down career at Purdue. A 7-foot, 260-pound center, Hammons left Oak Hill Academy listed as a four-star recruit by most of the recruiting websites, including ESPN. He immediately became one of Purdue's key players, averaging 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game in 27 starts.
A Gary, Ind. native, Hammons admittedly expected to go to the NBA Draft after the 2013-14 season, but that talk slowed as he didn't show enough improvement between his freshman and sophomore year. The potential and and skill set were there, but questions about his attitude and effort lingered. He looked lethargic at times, and Purdue coach Matt Painter has come out and said that Hammons didn't have the work ethic he needed early in his career.
Nonetheless, Hammons considered entering the draft after his sophomore and junior years, but didn't receive enough positive feedback from the Undergraduate Advisory Committee.
In an era where everyone expects basketball players to be finished products by the time they become juniors, Hammons is an example of someone who needed four years of high-level college ball.
Purdue's addition of 7-foot-2, 282-pound Isaac Haas prior to the 2014-15 season seemed to ignite Hammons. Haas challenged the big man, and Hammons responded.
After averaging between 10.6-11.9 points, 6.0-7.4 rebounds and 2.0-3.1 blocks per game his first three seasons, Hammons' production jumped as a senior. He paced the Boilermakers with 15.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game on 59.2 percent shooting. Defensively, he had the ability to change shots at the rim and bang inside.
He didn't get rid of the attitude questions as he was benched for the first two games of his senior year. But he did show the ability and willingness to continually call for it on the block, scoring 32 points on Nebraska, 27 on Michigan, and 24 on Wisconsin. He also showed consistency, scoring in double figures in all but one Big Ten game.
Hammons also began to show a bit of a jump shot, likely developed with the NBA in mind. After going 0-for-12 from behind the 3-point line his first three seasons, Hammons stepped up and shot 54.5 percent (6-for-11) from behind the arc as a senior. The form is there, as Hammons shot 70.9 percent (90-for-127) from the free-throw line last season and looks relatively comfortable from the midrange.
If Hammons continues to grow more comfortable on the perimeter, and can develop a quicker release, he can provide some form of the jump shooting that is coveted in today's NBA. That could allow him to carve out a long-term role in an NBA lineup.
Even without a jump shot, Hammons should be able to help a team if he finds the right landing spot. For as much as the NBA is moving toward speed and interchangeable lineups, there will always be room for giants like Hammons. A good situation for him will be somewhere he isn't expected to contribute too much, bide his time and come in when needed.
Due to his laid-back demeanor on the court, he likely won't provide the energy that someone like a Bismack Biyombo did for Toronto this postseason. But he does have the skill set to play that role. A long athlete with good positioning, Hammons will alter shots at the rim. His large frame and decent athleticism should also allow him to pull down rebounds.
If Hammons can combine his skill set with the effort plays, he will find a place on an NBA bench. A bench role should be an easy transition, as Hammons showed he didn't need to play major minutes to produce at Purdue. He never played more than 25 minutes per game throughout his college career and started just 20 of 33 games as a senior.
There are a number of true big men, including Utah's Jakob Poeltl, Michigan State's Deyonta Davis, Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis, Vanderbilt's Damian Jones and Maryland's Diamond Stone, that are expected to go in the first round of the draft. Hammons is in the next group that is likely to go in the second round, along with Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku and UCLA's Stephen Zimmerman, among others.
It's still that intangibles that are holding Hammons back while NBA scouts try to figure out what he is made of.
"If he was a high-motor guy, he'd probably go top-eight," a scout told Bleacher Report for a May breakdown of Hammons' draft prospects.
In the same piece, another scout told Bleacher Report that, "He doesn't always try hard, but when he tries hard, he's an NBA center. He'll be as good as he wants to be."