Video Breakdown: The Hammons Return
[Editor's Note: The following article was written prior to last night's AJ Hammons disappearing act. Please welcome Aneesh the Swamy to the microphone. You can learn more about his brilliance here or on twitter here.]
So, it turns out that adding a 7’0” monster in the post dramatically changes the look of this Purdue team. Let me preface this by saying I love the look of this team with AJ Hammons on the floor, but I did hear that some of his body language during the game was a little off.
I watched the game on the Big Ten Network’s (poor excuse of a) streaming service, so those observations weren’t available to me…but I did have a chance to break down a few sets that popped out. As always, blame BTN for the mediocre video quality.
Read on for the breakdown....
My first draft of this post was going to be this GIF on loop, from now until the end of time.
I’ll take five straight months of this play, if you don’t mind. It utilizes everything I love about Purdue’s Ronnie Johnson/AJ Hammons combination: the devastating speed of RJ’s first step, AJ making a useful cut after setting a solid screen, RJ’s on-the-fly playmaking abilities, and AJ’s sheer size.
Getting AJ back puts a ton of pressure on opposing defenses, especially when they decide to bring a double team. Take this instance below, when Kendall Stephens’ man takes a few extra steps towards AJ in the post:
Terone Johnson sees The Kid wide open in the corner and makes a great cross-court pass for a very good three point look. It seems like Stephens has Coach Painter’s green light, which is good enough for me.
Hammons also showed some growth in his mid-range game, demonstrating the ability to stretch the floor by popping out for a comfortable 18 footer:
NBA coaching staffs are always on the lookout for bigs skilled in the pick-and-pop. If Hammons shows this ability consistently throughout the year, NBA scouts will definitely take notice.
They will also notice his passive lapses, including several situations where he wouldn’t finish strong at the rim. Weak post moves resulted in missed off-balance layups and several blocked shots, which shouldn’t happen when you are 84 inches tall. There was also this careless turnover, which came immediately after a blown defensive rotation:
This sequence led to his benching in favor of Jay Simpson (quick mention: his beautiful footwork in the post deserves its own post). Hammons is going to be the focal point of this offense (and rightfully so), so these careless turnovers can’t become a habit.
A career-high 7 blocks ain’t a bad start to Hammons’ season. I’m pretty sure he logged at least two blocks (and maybe a handful of uncalled fouls) on this possession:
In all honesty, this Hammons Block Party possession wasn’t exactly skill and defensive positioning…but I’m definitely not going to punish him for being massive. Aggressive AJ is good AJ.
Let’s take a look at a block that required a little more skill:
Remember, that’s the footwork and agility of an engaged 7-footer switching on a quick point guard. That footwork and ability to defend without fouling is a credit to his sheer hard work paying off. I want this version of AJ all the time.
My major concern on defense, however, was the scheme in general. As you could see in the previous clip, Purdue is really committing to switching on every screen…regardless of the positional battles. This often leaves Hammons defending the perimeter, which should never be happening.
Admittedly, that first play exposes AJ loafing around with no intensity as his man is setting a screen on Ray Davis. He is lazy, makes a half-hearted effort to hedge, and hardly makes an effort to get back to his man. This leads to Basil Smotherman abandoning his man in the post, no one recovers, and a very well-timed pass leads to an easy dunk. The second play has AJ and RJ trapping the ball handler, but it’s pretty weak and leads to a wide open jump shooter on the perimeter. AJ is slow to recover and bites on the pump fake.
Defensively, Purdue should exploit the presence of AJ Hammons, a 7-footer with a natural ability to protect the paint. Leaving him on the perimeter, especially in pick-and-pop/roll situations, leaves a massive hole in the paint and leads to Purdue’s defense scrambling (as seen in the first play above). Coach Painter loves him some defense, and I look forward to see the adjustments he’ll make as the season progresses.