'13-'14 YEAR IN REVIEW: AJ Hammons
Note: This is the first of the postseason Year In Review series. Click that shiny link to see them all. They will recap their 2013-2014 season, show their "GIF of the Year", state my favorite nicknames, and give a best/worst case scenario for next season. I'll come out with these semi-regularly...probably.
2013-2014 season recap
11:59pm, April 27, 2014.
That’s what AJ Hammons’ 2013-2014 season has boiled down to. A deadline in late April, where he has to decide whether to pursue his (very lucrative) dream of professional basketball at its highest level or return to a place he seemingly enjoys to hone his craft for one more year. Contrary to what some Twitter trolls would have us believe, Gold and Black Illustrated confirmed that he was still in the decision-making process, and ESPN’s Chad Ford lists AJ as a “50-50” prospect, or a player who is “still deciding about declaring for the draft”.
In an ideal world, AJ wouldn’t really be faced with a decision. Coming in to this season, I hoped that he would play so well that his departure would be an inevitability, because what NBA team doesn’t want a legit 7-foot coachable 21 year old behemoth to mold? I hoped AJ would dominate his way to a first team All-Big Ten selection, and propel our Boilers to a respectable tourney run.
AJ did make some undeniable strides during his sophomore year, but never morphed into the offensive beast we all longed for. He wouldn’t keep the ball high in the post, inconsistently leveraged his size to gain deep positioning, and never overcame conditioning issues that had him clearly gassed after 6+ minutes of continuous play. His shooting percentages (51.3% from the field, 70.1% from the line) were good, but not great. Well short of the aforementioned lofty expectations for the Boilers’ most talented player.
But…AJ finished 10th in the B10 in player efficiency, 3rd in the B10’s total rebounding percentage (top five on both the offensive and defensive glass), 9th in B10 defensive rating, and 7thnationwide in block percentage. Purdue’s defense was transformed when the Hammonstrosity was on the floor, and it wasn’t his fault that opposing defenses collapsed inside without fearing Purdue’s nonexistent perimeter shooting.
Overall, for the 2013-2014 season, AJ had a solid-B year. How do I know? I graded each performance on a standard +/- grading scale and calculated his GPA, like the nerdy teacher I am. And, to make up for the drastic lack of AJ-O-Meters during our often-depressing post game breakdowns, I compiled them all below:
Sleepytime Hammons (grade: F) to The Real AJ (grade: A+). I also included whether each game was home or on the road, and numbered each Big Ten conference game chronologically (ex: vs OSU 1 means we played the Buckeyes at home in the first game of the B10 season).The red dot on the graph indicates his median performance (2/8/2014 at OSU), which is intended to act as his ‘baseline’ performance for a relatively good game. That day, he played 30 minutes, shot 5/10 from the field, and tallied 11 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1 steal, 1 assist, 3 fouls and 5 turnovers in a blowout OSU win. As you can see, most of his grades cluster between B and B+.
These findings are slightly contradictory to the prevailing storyline of AJ’s ‘late season confidence’. In GBI’s great 15-minute interview with AJ, AJ addresses these issues, as well as Seth Davis’ comments that he didn’t “love the game”, saying that he attributes that perception to conditioning issues (which AJ’s self-identified weakness). “Of course I love the game. I spend more time doing this than anything.” I recommend watching the whole interview…it includes his candid thoughts on the NBA (wishes he could work out for teams rather than just gather often-incomplete team reports, acknowledges age is a huge factor) and the RJ decision (was “shocked” to hear the news, but he’s cool with it, and knows Bryson needs to take a lot of steps to be the go-to point guard). AJ seems like a really relaxed and down-to-earth guy, and I just don’t understand some of the criticisms levied at his character. I hope he can keep this demeanor as he makes this tough call.
Now…if you buy into AJ’s late season improvements, is this factor better left as “potential” in the eyes of NBA scouts? Or should Hammons risk it by returning, as he must display this confidence and consistency throughout the season to justify his priority selection by NBA teams. Remember, very few second round picks (or even many late first round picks) are ready for the NBA right away, so please don’t let that criteria cloud your views on Hammons’ decision.
DraftExpress had a very good summary of Hammons a month ago, and though I disagree with some of their video breakdown, it’s been done extremely thoroughly and provides a great look at how many scouts see the big fella.
Many think Hammons should stay, but a lot of those same people seem to be blissfully unaware of how the NBA works. As I’ve written before, this decision isn’t only about Hammons’ ability to leverage his basketball potential into a lengthy NBA career…it’s about optimizing his draft stock and making sure his career earning potential is maximized. Hammons is already 21, and (with an August birthday) will be 22 before the 2014-2015 NBA season begins. That is the age of many current four-year seniors, while Hammons only has two years of high-level collegiate experience.
If he stays, he will assuredly leave after next year (as he will turn 23 before the 2015-2016 NBA season begins). In that case, he MUST have an extremely productive season or he risks NBA scouts putting a definite ceiling on his potential. If Hammons has an underwhelming year (or if he doesn’t take the leaps many NBA scouts are hoping for), it might severely limit any possible NBA future. Even with a successful season next year, NBA teams will not want to draft a 23 year old, not-incredibly-athletic center in the first round.
Realistically, his peak is at the very end of the first round or the valuable beginning of the second round (picks 31-45, where contracts aren’t guaranteed but are the most highly-coveted non-lottery spots in the draft). He also has to be concerned with where he gets drafted, as his optimal position is on an NBA organization with a solid history of frontcourt development (think the Spurs, Thunder, Pacers, Bulls, Rockets, Grizzlies, or even the new management Raptors, Suns, Nuggets, and Hawks).
Finally: be supportive if he chooses to leave. It’s a very realistic possibility, and it might actually make the most sense for AJ and his family. As a fan base, we have to show recruits that we have their backs no matter what. The whole “Boiler family” thing does matter to those kids (especially on Twitter), so, as always…don’t be a dick.
GIF(s) of the year
Nickname(s): SwatKing Abdul Jabar, Hammonstrosity, Ham Slammich, Phi Hamma Jamma, other delicious ham puns.
Unsolicited BS Advice for 2014-2015
Looooong story short: If AJ can get a guarantee from one of the teams drafting between picks 25-45 this year, he should go. If he can’t land a guarantee, or if he thinks he’ll slip into the latter half of the second round, he should return to Purdue and take every effort to dominate the collegiate ranks. (See: no more ‘conditioning’ issues.)
Remember, this is about relative draft position, so his projection changes as more bigs make their decisions to enter the draft or stay in school (two big decisions were Frank the Tank Kaminsky’s choice to return to Wisconsin and New Mexico’s Alex Kirk’s decision to enter the draft).
BEST/WORST: Remember, this is the top and bottom of the spectrum. The most likely scenario is somewhere in the middle. (Worst case scenarios come with a complimentary side of ACL tears.)
Best case: For Purdue? Hammons decides to return to Purdue for his junior year, and surpasses all expectations as he utterly decimates the Big Ten. His chemistry with incoming wing (and possible stretch 4) Vince Edwards is instant, and the two combine to lead Ray Davis, Basil Smotherman, Kendall Stephens and the rest of the Boilermakers to a top-3 Big Ten finish. On the biggest stage, he leads Purdue to a Final Four run in nearby Indianapolis, and turns Nap Town into a Purdue city for the rest of eternity. Hot off this dominating season, the soon-to-be 23 year old Hammons leaves for the NBA and get drafted late 1st round by Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs.
For Hammons? He leaves this year, and still gets drafted 30th overall by the Spurs. He joins one of the most well-run professional sports regimes in the world, and has time to learn and develop behind Tim Duncan (the best player of this generation). He becomes a productive backup big for Duncan and Splitter, immediately resembling the Lakers’ Robert Sacre, and is a key cog in a championship rotation. More importantly, Hammons gains an extra year of earning potential (leading to earlier and more lucrative second/third contracts) and has the once-in-a-lifetime chance to develop under one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time. AJ’s potential causes Popovich to delay his retirement, and the Hammonstrosity turns into Marc Gasol 2.0 and forges a Hall of Fame-worthy career. The denizens of West Lafayette celebrate this transformation by allowing beer in Mackey, and the owners of Harry’s decide to expand by opening “AJ’s Chocolate Shop” inside the recently-renovated arena.
Worst case: For Purdue? Hammons leaves. That’s pretty much it. Hammons leaving (combined with Jay Simpson’s heart condition and RJ’s transfer) pretty much launches Purdue into their darkest timeline. Even Hammons returning and playing exactly like last year (or slightly worse) is nowhere close to as bad as if he would leave. The Boilers’ frontcourt would be a not-ready Issac Haas…and…whoever Coach Painter can get to transfer in.
For Hammons? His worst case scenario involves leaving this year, slipping off of the draft radar, going undrafted, landing a summer league contract but gets relegated to the D-League for a year or two, heading to Europe, and flaming out because of a lack of any professional-level development opportunities. He then ends his basketball career and gets a desk job pushing TPS reports, where his knees constantly knock against the too-short cubicle desk. His boss makes him work weekends and kidnaps his favorite stapler, which sends the usually-chill Hammons into a fit of rage. AJ burns down his corporate office and lives the rest of his life anonymously on a Mexican resort off of some misplaced multimillion dollar travelers checks.