Video Breakdown: Examining four straight losses (and two wins) -- DEFENSE
Hi! So, everyone’s in a good mood after that Minnesota win, right? Nobody wants Coach Painter fired anymore? Oh…right. Ok. No need to yell. Sorry. Regardless, I thought the Minnesota game was absolutely a step in the right direction. We struggled in the opening five minutes, but then played ~33 very good minutes of Purdue basketball. Sterling Carter and AJ Hammons injected life into the offense, Errick Peck was doing amazing cleanup work, Kid Stephens was hitting some stupid-long threes, and (for the most part) the Boilers used off-ball screens and fluid movement to find soft spots in Minnesota’s zone. At their best, Terone Johnson, Ray Davis, and Peck are great at finding those holes in opposing zone defenses (using their strength and quickness to create open passing lanes). At their worst, TJ makes lazy perimeter passes, RayD hesitates on his jumper, and Peck is…still pretty awesome.
Then TJ missed like forty straight free throws, my worthless buddy @JarrodHuff jinxed Purdue by saying we had this game in the bag, and before anyone could blink Austin Hollins dribbled the length of the floor and hit a floater to tie the game up at the regulation buzzer. Three overtimes later, Purdue limped away with the victory. The Good Guys travel to Columbus to face an OSU team coming off of two straight top-25 road wins (Wisky and Iowa), so our Boilers can use all the momentum they can get.
Anyway, let’s continue our video breakdown series by examining the defensive end of the ball (if you missed the offensive breakdown, follow this handy-dandy link). As a reminder, I’m trying to limit video to the last six games, dating back to the insane Penn State victory. Purdue went 2-4 in that stretch, with the Northwestern (L) and Minnesota (W) games both going into multiple overtimes and needing a miracle at Penn State for the W.
As always, we’ll start with an AJ Hammons-related highlight reel. Cue the GREAT WALL OF HAMMONS:
More after the break.
I love the Great Wall of Hammons. You’ll notice that several of those clips don’t end in a Hammonstrosity block (like the game-clinching possession against Minnesota), but when AJ pushes past exhaustion, moves his feet laterally, keeps his arms high and body in wall-like position, he’s one of the best defenders in the country. That first clip in the video (part of his absolutely dominant 7 minutes against Minnesota) had me yelling so loud that I’m positive the neighbors thought I was having some kind of enjoyable seizure. The best part? AJ’s swag-filled head bob:
When he’s in that mood, he’s an immovable defensive force in the post. Watch that replay against Northwestern (about 29 seconds into the video). Hammons keeps his positioning in the paint, uses his height to obscure the passing lane, and recovers to cleanly demolish the layup opportunity. This type of play happens at least once a game, and it’s the reason why Coach Painter keeps AJ in despite some offensive inconsistencies.
Unfortunately, AJ’s major defensive weakness originates from conditioning. When he’s gassed, it’s clear:
The first two plays are almost identical. Both are in high screen-and-roll situations, where the ball handler is able to get to the basket and force AJ to temporarily hedge while the wing defender recovers. This action requires AJ to have impeccable footwork, staying square with the quicker guard and then recovering back to his man without giving up a driving lane through the middle of the paint. But, as you can clearly see, when AJ is tired his footwork and recovery speed are shot. Against Northwestern, he leaps way too far out towards the perimeter and his feet are perpendicular to the ball. He needs to stay deeper in the paint and make himself into the Great Wall between the ball and basket; otherwise quicker players can easily take advantage. Similarly, the first Michigan highlight shows AJ helping on the ball handler after a high screen. Like always, AJ is counted on as the safety valve, and needs to stay vertical (to contest the layup) and square (to take away the passing lane). As you can see, Hammons doesn’t stay square, Jordan Morgan cuts right down the middle and throws it down while AJ spins in a confused circle.
The last highlight shows AJ’s tired footwork at its worst. Michigan’s big screens towards the middle, and Nik Stauskas (a skilled ball handler) accepts and drives to the basket. This is usually where he meets the Great Wall, but AJ is busy protecting the baseline. From what? I have no idea. But Stauskas has somehow developed next-level speed and AJ can’t to recover in time.
Now, let me be clear. I’d much rather have a tired Hammons than no Hammons at all. This mostly has to do with defensive rebounding, as you can see below (sorry for the quality and lack of sound in the WVU footage):
Most of these possessions feature either Travis Carroll at center or a small-ball lineup with Peck as the big. In every situation, the ball gets inside, the first attempt is missed (no matter how easy it might have been against TC), and zero effort is made to box out or secure the defensive rebound. And, in every clip, the offense gets a high-percentage second opportunity near the basket. These little point swings while Hammons is on the bench is what hurts Purdue the most. Every time Coach Painter decides to give AJ a breather, he sacrifices a ton on the defensive side of the ball. This is crucial against teams that depend on drive-and-kick actions like Ohio State, where the post defender has to be ready to contest the drive, take away the pass, and recover quickly.
Finally, let’s take a look at the Michigan game again to see how one quick defensive lapse can end a particularly clean run and give the other team life:
Purdue was down by 10 in the first half, but used a ton of Stephen Toyra-related energy to claw back in 3 minutes of gameplay. Michigan was sloppy with the ball, Purdue took advantage, and found a few easy looks at the basket. Sterling Carter and Bryson Scott were particularly aggressive on the perimeter, leading to nice fast break looks that gave Purdue a one point lead. Michigan called a timeout, Purdue’s intensity wavered, Ronnie Johnson did a terrible job on his full-court pressure assignment, and Michigan got an easy fast break layup to break Purdue’s run. Just one lapse and a promising run is ended.
SWAMY SPOTLIGHT: Defensive rebounding positioning and recovery
Ok, I’ll accept that some defensive rebounds are going to slip out of Purdue’s grasp. That’s fine. But I just have one request if that happens: COMMUNICATE AND QUICKLY RECOVER ON DEFENSE AND STOP STARING AT THE DANG BALL. Watch that first semi-transition play against Wisconsin. Here’s my in-depth breakdown of our stellar defensive recovery effort:
SO. MUCH. BALL WATCHING. Now, I love the Johnson brothers (TJ more than RJ right now…don’t ask me why, it’s irrational) but look at them in each frame. They barely move. Only TJ lunges, and that’s after the ball has left Josh Gasser’s hand.
The rest of the clip highlights a simple lack of rebounding effort. When the ball is in the air, the defense shouldn’t stand there and twiddle their thumbs. They should find a body and create space for either him or his teammates to go after the rebound. Instead, we see our Boilermakers doing a lot of staring. Purdue gives up a lot of second chance opportunities by waiting for defensive rebounds to magically end up in their hands. Every possession needs to end in a rebounding battle, and our guys need to do a better job translating their fantastic offensive rebounding percentage (read: effort) to the defensive end.