The last four years have been a roller coaster ride in West Lafayette, Indiana. From finishing last in the Big Ten in 2013-14 to being a top ten team in the country at one point last season, the 2016 graduating class certainly did their fair share to turn around the Purdue Boilermakers program.
While things continue to look up for head coach Matt Painter and Purdue, it’s quite obvious that they’re going to have to work extremely hard to fill some of the roles being left vacant from last years team.
This Purdue team has plenty of talent to be just as good, if not better, than last years team. With that being said, let’s take a look at a few of the biggest losses from last season to the upcoming campaign.
The most obvious departure from the Boilermakers is their big man, A.J. Hammons. From patrolling the paint defensively, dominating the paint offensively and stepping out for the occasional jumper, Hammons had a polished and versatile skill set by the time his senior year came rolling around.
The knock on Hammons had forever been that his motor seemed very inconsistent. It wasn’t always obvious that he wanted to be on the basketball court, but a lot of that concern disappeared after Big Ten play started in his junior season. We really saw an elevation in his level of play. While Hammons was suspended for an off the court issue at the very beginning of his senior season, it had no effect on his on the court production.
In his senior year, Hammons averaged 15 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game en route to being named 1st Team All-Big Ten and the conference’s defensive player of the year. Even with Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan returning, the Boilermakers will definitely miss the true shot blocking presence of Hammons inside.
For four years Raphael Davis was a guy that was hard not to root for. Very few players played with as much intensity and unbridled passion as Raphael Davis did for the Boilermakers. He was named the Big Ten defensive player of the year in his junior season and while his offensive production was never very impressive, that wasn’t where his value to the team was.
Davis was an absolutely force on the defensive side of the ball for Purdue. He was a guy that Painter and the Boiler faithful could trust to lock up the best perimeter offensive player the opposing team had to offer. He committed to Purdue as a freshman in high school and his dedication to the team and the university was often on full display.
He was also the unquestioned leader of the team on the floor, as his teammates and coaches alike constantly raved about how much of a natural leader he was. That’s certainly going to be an extremely difficult thing for the Boilers to replace, both on and off the floor.
While A.J. Hammons and Raphael Davis are the two big, obvious losses from this Purdue team, they’ll also be without point guard Johnny Hill, sharp shooter Kendall Stephens (who transferred to play his senior season at Nevada) and Stephen Toyra.
With a backcourt and perimeter that’s loaded with plenty of athleticism and skill, the Boilers seem to be better prepared to handle those losses than the loss of Davis’ leadership and pure defensive talent and Hammons’ combination of size, athleticism and instinct on both sides of the ball.
Hammons and Davis were the cornerstones of the team that helped turnethe program around and got it back on track. While their postseasons were both short lived, they brought Purdue right back to a place to compete in the conference, as well as nationally. It will certainly be interesting to see how Matt Painter and the Boilermakers plan to fill the gaps left by those two key components from last year’s team.