It seems like people have written off Purdue basketball since the departure of Caleb Swanigan. What some may not know is that the reigning Big Ten regular season champions return several weapons from last season. However, the headline is the loss of Swanigan, last year’s conference player of the year. This leads me to believe that the Boilermakers will come into the season flying under the radar. That sentiment is not uncommon to the notoriously underrated Matt Painter and company.
But one player who’s gone unnoticed more than any other is Dakota Mathias. He has progressed and improved in his three years in West Lafayette, so much so that he has become one of the best shooters in the NCAA. This deadly skill makes me think that Mathias will be the most important piece to this Purdue team in 2017-’18.
In a game that has evolved to heavily favor good three-point shooters, a player like Mathias has never been more valuable. For a Boilermakers team that has relied on dominant post play as the basis of their offense, Mathias can provide a change of pace. Especially since Isaac Haas is not as overbearing an offense threat as Caleb Swanigan was.
Steady improvement offensively has been the staple of Mathias in his time at Purdue. Much of this has to do with his extensive experience, beginning in his freshman campaign. To date, Mathias has played no less than 34 games in a season and there is no reason to believe he will play less than that again in 2017-’18. That being said, look at the progressive increases in Mathias’ splits in his three seasons as a Boilermaker.
2014-’15: 4.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 32 percent FG, 32 percent three-point FG
2015-’16: 5.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 40 percent FG, 38 percent three-point FG
2016-’17: 9.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 47 percent FG, 45 percent three-point FG
As you can see, it’s really a night and day improvement from freshman to junior year. Perhaps the most impressive point is the uptick in his shooting percentages. In just three seasons, Mathias has become one of the most efficient shooters in the nation. In fact, his efficient field goal percentage of 61 percent last season would have been best in the Big Ten had it not been for lack of attempts.
Not to mention his unbelievably high three-point shooting percentage. The 45 percent clip is incredibly impressive although he only shot 159 three-pointers. That lack of attempts barred him from any leader-boards both nationally and in the Big Ten. The NCAA requires a minimum of 2.5 three-pointers made per game, Mathias made 2.1 last year.
So now, the question is this, is Mathias being utilized properly in Purdue’s offense?
He clearly has the ability to make copious amounts of shots, but yet he is not seen on any leader-boards. This happens because of the other talent featured on Purdue’s team. For example, in 2016-’17, Mathias finished fifth on the team in total field goals attempted. His 251 attempted shots last season was nearly 200 shots behind the team leader, Caleb Swanigan. Mathias took almost 100 less shots than Vince and Carsen Edwards as well.
Is it right that Mathias is sometimes bypassed offensively? No, but is it understandable? The answer is probably. With both Edwards, Haas, P.J. Thompson, and Ryan Cline all on the roster, Mathias may not see much of a rise in his shot attempts this season either.
However, should that be Mathias’ role? Should he be the player to provide only spot points. He certainly knows and plays that role well, but is he not capable of more? In my opinion he is. There is no reason for Mathias to average less than 12 points a game this season. Again, maybe Matt Painter likes him in the “timely” scorer role, and maybe I’m off in saying he could be a primary offensive contributor. I just think his shooting ability alone makes him a treacherous player to defend, especially with the other offensive weapons the Boilermakers have.
We have already seen glimpses of what he can do as a go-to option. In Purdue’s first exhibition game against Indiana State, he poured in 16 points on six of seven (four of five from three) shooting in 25 minutes. Regardless, we do know that whatever role Mathias is put in, he will thrive. Whether that is as a primary or supplementary scorer, we have yet to find out.
Either way, Dakota Mathias may become the most valuable player to this Purdue team as the season progresses.