Not many teams in the country have boasted better frontcourt combinations than Purdue over the last two seasons.
The punishing play of guys such as A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan and Vincent Edwards has become Purdue’s strength and identity. It has equaled great results for a Boilermaker program that’s risen from the ashes after two disastrous years between 2012 and 2014.
Purdue faced a similar state of flux with its frontcourt last season when they lost A.J. Hammons (graduation) and had Swanigan and Edwards dip their toes into the NBA draft pool. This offseason finds Swanigan, Edwards and Haas entering the NBA draft process and the Boilermakers waiting on the May 24th deadline for final word.
What can you expect from these draft decisions? Let’s take a look.
The nation’s best power forward (sorry, Johnathan Motley), declared for the draft on April 5th, but did not hire an agent. This was a slight surprise given the amount he accomplished this season.
Most mock drafts have Swanigan as a late first round, early second round pick. His rebounding, ability to shoot the three (44.7% last season), and work ethic are his biggest strengths. Swanigan still is a work in progress on the defensive end and his athleticism at the next level can be questioned, especially when he matches up against players that are longer than him.
Fans shouldn’t read too much into Swanigan not hiring an agent right away. His guardian, former Purdue standout Roosevelt Barnes, is a sports agent who will most likely represent Swanigan. It is a nice luxury for Swanigan during the workout process.
-NBA Draft Verdict: Even though Swanigan left the door cracked for a return, it would a huge surprise if he suited up for Purdue next season. Look for him to stay in the NBA Draft, get drafted, and have a solid NBA career.
The 6’8” junior forward has been a key, underrated piece to Purdue’s success over the past couple years.
Some of that under the radar nature is due to his own inconsistency. Edwards got off to a slow start this season, but no player was bigger for the Boilers down the stretch as Purdue won the Big Ten title and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Edwards averaged 21 points and 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in Purdue’s first two NCAA Tournament games.
The NBA strength with Edwards is his versatility and three-point shooting. He averaged 42.3% from distance this season and played minutes at small forward, power forward and even center. He can score in a multitude of ways, but wants to get his teammates involved as evidenced by his second straight season with over 100 assists.
Quickness and athleticism will be detriments when Edwards works out for NBA teams. He doesn’t have the quickest first step, and that can get him into trouble when he’s driving to the basket.
-NBA Draft Verdict: The likelihood of Edwards getting drafted is low. He doesn’t appear in mock drafts, and still has some developing to do. However, if he is comfortable playing in the D-League or playing overseas, he may keep his name in the draft. Ultimately, I think he returns for his senior season to be the focal point in the Purdue offense.
Haas is the newcomer to the NBA draft process. The 7’2” big man declined to enter his name last season, knowing that he wasn’t ready, but feels more confident this time around.
Haas showed flashes of dominance this season. Villanova had no answer for him in an early season non-conference game in West Lafayette. He also dropped 26 points on 9-10 shooting against Utah State in the Cancun Challenge.
Like Edwards, inconsistency plagued Haas at times this season. It seemed in certain games that the opponent dictated whether Haas had a good game or not. Opponents effectively used smaller lineup combinations to keep Haas off the floor. Bull rushing Haas defensively worked as well. Offensively, Haas struggled to exert his strength in the post. Some of this isn’t his fault. The referees frequently struggled in figuring out just how to call Haas. He’s literally too big.
Expect some of these things to come out during the workout process. Haas’ strength is that he’s big and strong. In NBA workouts, I’m not sure that will be able to be as much of an advantage. Still, there is no harm in receiving feedback from scouts and NBA executives. It will ultimately help him be a better player for Purdue and wherever he goes after he graduates.
-NBA Draft Verdict: Expect Haas to come back to Purdue for his senior season. The NBA workout process will be a great opportunity for the big man to gain professional feedback to implement in his senior season with the Boilermakers.
In all likelihood Purdue will return Edwards and Haas next season. Expect Swanigan to keep his name in the draft, and Purdue will look to fill that scholarship with a four-year big man, or go the graduate transfer route. Purdue also has redshirt freshman Matt Haarms and the no. 4 ranked JUCO Eden Ewing coming next fall.
Should that scenario play out, Purdue will still have an imposing frontline next season. Questions will remain around depth, experience and replacing Swanigan’s insane production and value.
Expect it to be a work in progress, but once Big Ten play arrives, Purdue should have the ability to play big and small with different lineup combinations. This means continued trouble for Big Ten opponents trying to contain and neutralize Purdue’s frontcourt.