2015 Purdue Basketball Preview: Basil Smotherman
[Click here to see the rest of the 2015 player preview posts.] 2014-2015 Season Reflection
Listen, there’s no point starting anywhere else. It was announced prior to Purdue’s “secret” scrimmage with Dayton that Basil Smotherman, The Baseline Assassin, would be redshirting this year. Many people are lamenting the loss of Basil’s trademark energy off the bench, giving Errick Peck in 2013-2014 and Vince Edwards in 2014-2015 some well-deserved rest.
(Aside: I’d give my life for Errick Peck.)
The lefty came to campus as an athletic freak, and his status as a solid three-star recruit was buoyed by the fact that he had a smooth shooting stroke and the potential to break out if put in the right situation. Matt Painter probably sold Basil on their defensive reputation, and having an energy-guy with seemingly unlimited potential must have appealed to the entire coaching staff. With shutdown defensive skills and an endless wingspan to pair with astounding athleticism, Kelsey Barlow and Jacob Lawson are the only comparables in CMP tenure. (I know, that’s not exactly a comforting thought.)
Unfortunately, as this team got deeper, Smotherman saw his minute allocation decrease. 18.5 mpg as a freshman, 12.9 mpg as a sophomore…and this year might be the deepest roster Matt Painter has ever walked out to Keady Court.
This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if we were talking about, let’s say, Travis Carroll or Jacob Lawson. Energy forwards off the bench, where hustling for rebounds and hounding bench units (all while hitting the occasional put-back or kick-out jumper) was their peak contribution level. Smotherman, however, is a different beast.
I didn’t see much growth in Basil’s game between his first and second year, but that could be chalked up to opportunity. He was in the middle of the roster pack in nearly every pace-adjusted offensive statistic, ranking seventh in effective field goal percentage (0.494, not great), tenth in player efficiency (11.9, below replacement-level), and eighth in points produced (99). Defensively he performed better, ranking fourth in both steal rate (2.4%) and block rate (1.5%), which pushed his overall plus/minus ranking to a +4.3 (meaning the team was 4.3 points better with Basil on the court than without).
All of these figures were fairly similar to his freshman year, and the only offensive metric that dramatically improved was his assist percentage. To put this in a bit of visual context, let’s take a look at a play that neatly summarized everything Basil brought to the floor offensively:
Step 1: Grab a seemingly out-of-reach loose ball or rebound.
Step 2: Don’t gain complete control of the basketball, or square shoulders with the hoop, or any of those fundamentals.
Step 3: Lunge wildly towards the hoop, airball the ‘shot’.
Step 4: Use unbelievable athleticism/basketball instincts/court awareness to leap several feet out of bounds, grab the loose ball, throw a lightning-quick pass perfectly on-target to a wide-open three point shooter.
Watching this play, and a half dozen more like it, shows me that Basil is capable of being much more than a spark/energy guy. He’s got natural abilities, a valuable basketball IQ, and can be molded into a unique player.
To spin it positively, Basil is exactly where Davis was midway through his sophomore year: undeniable defensive talents, but raw enough offensively that the coaching staff can’t afford to play him for long stretches. Also seemingly in common was a drive to get better, as voiced repeatedly by everyone behind the scenes.
But, with Basil’s athleticism and length, his ceiling on the court could be much, much higher than Davis’.
This is one of my favorite dive-into-the-numbers articles from the last couple of years (Tom Haberstroh is awesome and almost singularly worth the EsPN Insider subscription), talking about the unmatched spacing Dwyane Wade provides without being a three point shooter. It’s been permanently lodged in the basketball part of my mind ever since I read it.
Essentially, Wade combats the notion that you need to be a dead-eye shooter to create space in the half-court, purely by exploiting athleticism from arc to the rim. To use another Tom Crean disciple as an example, Victor Oladipo had a similar effect during his breakout year in Bloomington. Outside a sudden shot-making renaissance, this is Basil’s best shot at a starting spot for two years. He has the ability to make deadly cuts to the rim if given a sliver of daylight, creating passing lanes that aren’t generated by a typical shooter (in the Stephens/Mathias/Cline mold).
The problem this year, however, was in Davis and Smotherman’s redundancy. With the amount of spacing needed to allow Vince/Biggie/Davis/Haas to work, Purdue can’t afford to have many defensive non-shooters in the regular rotation. Davis brings an infinite amount of intangibles to the court, and that looked to severely limit the amount of available minutes.
Impact of a redshirt – Coach Painter gets another year of a very experienced player well-versed in exactly what the Purdue coaching staff wants. The way I see it, Coach Painter and his staff are going all-in on as many wins these next three years as possible. The typical route would be to just keep Basil on the bench, as a “break in case of emergency”-type energy burst, and essentially burn a year playing in a dramatically reduced roll. But that would kill his development, and ultimately he’d be quickly replaced using a 2017 scholarship.
With a successful redshirt year, however, Painter could potentially point to a true from-the-ground development story to show he can work wonders with dynamic wing players, and finally gain ground on the only spot where Tom Crean has a clear recruiting advantage.
The most famous example of this kind of successful upperclassman redshirt has been Kelly Olynyk in 2011-2012, and he returned as a Consensus First Team All-American player for Gonzaga. Nobody is expecting that much from Basil, but I do believe he can return to be a special tool at Coach Painter’s disposal.
Undisputed Strength: Man-defense, and offensive movement along the baseline.
Biggest Weakness: Getting the orange ball into the red hoop from further than 5 feet.
GIF/Vine/moving picture of the year:
Good lord. Imagine actually harnessing that athleticism on the offensive end.
I’m pretty invested in this whole Baseline Assassin thing.
CLICK HERE to see projections for everyone on the team.
Methods: Projected each player’s stats per 40 minutes (loosely based on increases/decreases from last year), scaled to my projected minutes per game.
Assumptions: Nobody (read: Cline and Smotherman) redshirts, and the team totals are as stated. Parenthetical numbers are where those team totals would have ranked in 2014-2015. Remember, last year’s team was 10 players deep, this year’s team could be 13 players deep.
As you can tell, I worked through all of those projections without the knowledge that Basil (or anyone else) would be redshirting…and look at those projected numbers. You can look at the total projected stat lines for context…I really didn’t see how Basil could afford to be on the court for more than 5-7 minutes per game. I did anticipate his block rate increasing, because his primary assignment would change from undersized forwards to wing players, and Basil could deploy his go-go-gadget arms to swat everything in his vicinity.
But…with the addition of Caleb Swanigan and the return of AJ Hammons (along with the necessity of having either Davis or Vince Edwards on the floor at all times), there simply wasn’t ever going to be room for Basil to justifiably play.
Tomorrow I'll publish player previews of the two players who's stats look to benefit the most from this redshirt decision: Ryan Cline and Dakota Mathias.
Unsolicited BS Advice for 2015-2016:
Well…this section was going to be an argument to take the year off and redshirt, which is what I’ve advocated since Biggie’s commitment to Purdue in the spring.
So...uuh…thanks for listening, Basil?
Honestly, and die-hards might not like this…Basil, you need to look at the example put forward by Victor Oladipo, perhaps the only Indiana Hoosier player I’ve ever unconditionally loved to watch. The growth between his sophomore and junior years was astronomical, primarily fueled by a massive increase in three point shooting percentage (literally 20% to 40%) and improved shot selection (more at-the-basket attempts, plus a higher offensive rebounding rate). This shooting might have been unsustainable, but on a winning team it was enough to vault Oladipo into the national spotlight and IU into contention.
There will also be a clear void left by Ray Davis’ departure, with the on-court role as the indispensable defensive ace and glue guy. If you can create space around Haas and (hopefully) Swanigan in 2016-2017, and show the locker room that you’re willing to make sacrifices that pay off for you and the program, minutes on a top-30 team will be sharpied for you every single night.
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: I’ve said it repeatedly…best case scenario is Oladipo 2.0. Basil looks to fill the void left by departing lottery pick Vince Edwards, and joins a starting frontcourt of Swanigan and Haas (both benefiting from the previous year’s Final Four run). In the backcourt is PJ Thompson and a rotating cast of Kendall Stephens (who took a pass on the NBA, despite being a borderline first round prospect), Ryan Cline (who took Basil’s minutes last year and flourished), and Dakota Mathias (who displayed confidence playing at point guard). Basil spends two years as every talking head’s go-to glue guy example, and secures two unanimous National DPOY and First-Team All American selections while averaging 12 points, 4 assists, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and a block per game on 40% shooting. Coach Painter becomes known as the most reliable talent-development coach in the Midwest for all bigs and athletic wings, and lands every high 4 star/low 5 star recruit he goes after. The 6’7”, 240lb wing gets drafted by his hometown Pacers, and he combines with Paul George to be among the most devastating wing-defending combinations in the league. In addition to bringing a National Title to Purdue, he is the perfect complement to PG on their 2018 NBA title run. A statue of Basil is erected in West Lafayette, but it’s just his face, chest, and never-ending arms encircling the circumference of Mackey Area.
Worst case: Continued stagnation follows Basil’s redshirt year, and what was supposed to be an extra year for a potentially valuable player turns into a wasted scholarship during the 2017-2018 season. This scholarship doesn’t allow a highly recruited athletic wing (let’s say, Paul Scruggs) to fit on Purdue’s roster, and Scruggs goes to the place any athletic freak would love to go – with Tom Crean’s top-10 ranked Hoosiers. Basil leaves Purdue after four massively underwhelming years, can’t make any Euroleague or D-League roster, and joins the Harlem Globetrotters (except…as a member of the Washington Generals) purely on account of his fantastic name. He spends the rest of his life getting clowned to a constant soundtrack of Sweet Georgia Brown, and becomes the poster for why Purdue isn’t where exciting wing players go to thrive.
Feature image from JConline.com