2015 Purdue Basketball Preview: Rapheal Davis
[Click here to see the rest of the 2015 player preview posts.] 2014-2015 Season Reflection
The undisputed on-court leader of Purdue basketball has been in the Boilermaker family since 2009, when he committed to play for Matt Painter as a freshman in high school.
Right after the Baby Boilers’ first Sweet 16 run, right after Purdue won the Big Ten tournament, before any ACL tears. When Davis was 15 years old.
A ton has happened between then and now, and that’s especially true for Davis’ basketball skills. He was a blistering scorer in high school, deadly at attacking the basket off the dribble. In college, though, he struggled with his shot, and made his bones on the defensive end. That culminated in his Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award last year, unexpectedly beating out his teammate AJ Hammons as the conference’s top defender (even though Ray might not have been able to be as aggressive without knowing AJ could clean up any mistake…still, they’re a perfect defensive tandem). Davis enters this year at #1 on Jay Bilas’ “Best Defenders” list, and it’s a decent bet that he has a repeat DPOY performance this year.
(My bet is on AJ, but still.)
What really stood out last year was the seemingly overnight growth Davis had as a leader. At the end of the 2013-2014 year he was a little quieter, with fluctuating minutes that indicated a confusion on his role with the team. During the summer, though, it seemed like every quote that came from inside the locker room was flowing through Ray Davis. After a last-place finish in the Big Ten, and with two years of a leadership void, Ray decided to fill the role with full confidence form both his teammates and the coaching staff. Go listen to his quotes from the last two years’ Big Ten media days…he’s totally polished and comfortable in front of a camera, speaking on behalf on the entire locker room with ease.
But even though I loved Davis, I wasn't quite sold as him being the post-Hummel locker room leader for the team. The biggest problem I had with Davis alone in that role: he wasn’t one of the team’s 5 most talented players. Sure, Ray was a clear starter given his poise and presence, but AJ, Kendall Stephens, Vince Edwards, and even Jon Octeus and Dakota Mathias were better offensive weapons than Davis.
That was evident during Purdue’s nonconference struggles, when he broke double digit points in only five of the team’s 13 pre-Big Ten games. Purdue went a disappointing 8-5, and looked to be in the midst of another disappointing season. The heat was directly under Matt Painter’s proverbial seat.
The Big Ten slate didn’t start much better: 3-3, with losses against ranked Wisconsin and Maryland teams, along with an unimpressive Illinois squad. Purdue was going in to a deadly homestead of games against ranked Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio State, and looked to be sunk.
The Captain had something to say about that. Here’s how he performed during that stretch:
The seemingly offensively-challenged Davis put up 63 points against those three ranked teams, and (along with Octeus and Hammons) saved Purdue’s season in spurring a 9-3 finish. The season ended with Davis’ first March Madness exposure, and coming into a year with sky-high expectations the entirety of Purdue’s roster comfortably looks to Ray as their undisputed leader.
With a much deeper roster, Purdue shouldn’t need Davis to take over long stretches of a game. Davis’ offensive role this year needs to be similar to this play:
The post man (in this case, Isaac Haas) sets up in the middle/high post, the entry passer fakes to his outside shoulder, drawing the defense away from the basket and leaving a wide open baseline cutting lane for Davis to dart through. Two easy points, plenty of motion, with Ray getting the ball where he’s most reliable: right at the basket. (That’s not a shot at Ray…he finishes over 65% at the rim. Really really good).
Here’s another example of Ray taking advantage of a baseline cutting lane, except this time it was on the break as the defense was still recovering from its full-court press. Ray camps out in the corner, spaces the floor well, fakes middle after receiving the pass, and drives into a beautiful baseline floater that’s become one of his go-to offensive moves.
Ray does have issues when the play collapses, like this GIF shows pretty clearly. Maryland denied every entry passing lane, and nobody was moving…so he decided to drive out of control and turn the ball over. Ray needs to be more patient than that, particularly as the experienced senior on the floor.
Defensively…well, there’s not much question that he’ll be using most of his energy to annoy opposing scoring wings. The combination of Octeus and Davis last year had an incredible effect defensively, with a pretty high-profile list of victims:
- Caris LeVert: 6 points on 2/8 shooting
- Sam Dekker: 6 points on 2/7 shooting
- Melo Trimble: 11 points on 1/7 shooting
- Jake Layman: 2/11 shooting (he went an impressive 9-11 from the free throw line, though)
- Kendrick Nunn: 4/15 shooting
- Jarrod Uthoff: 6 points on 2/14 shooting
- James Blackmon Jr: 13 points on 4/13 shooting
- Tre Demps: 18 points on 6/18 shooting
- Terran Petteway: 13 points on 5/12 shooting
Not sure much more needs to be said there. Ray Davis might be the only very good wing defender left in West Lafayette, and a lot of the responsibility to mask Purdue’s biggest liability (perimeter defense) will rest on his shoulders.
But something tells me he’ll be just fine taking on another challenge.
Undisputed Strength: Leadership, hawking defense. And being my first post-E’Twaun Moore Purdue basketball crush.
Biggest Weakness: Shooting consistency.
GIF/Vine/moving picture of the year:
Ray’s performance against Iowa that turned Purdue’s season around, including the go-ahead three pointer with 45 seconds to play to clinch the victory in Mackey against the #25 Hawkeyes.
Purdue was against the ropes, with the season getting ready to completely out of control, and they gave up a double-digit lead at home against a ranked team. This is the kind of performance a captain puts forward when his team needs a spark.
Nickname: Technically “Ray”, but he’ll always be The Captain to me.
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.
Last year, Davis was counted on as a go-to scorer given the struggles of the other wing players (injury issues with Stephens and Mathias, consistency issues of Edwards).
Honestly, I was anticipating the redshirt of both Basil Smotherman and Ryan Cline, along with a reduced role for the point guards on roster. It turns out that only Basil will redshirt (and Grant Weatherford, but I don’t think he was threatening Ray’s minutes), leaving wing minutes to be eaten up by Cline. Cline being playable takes away any increases I saw in Ray’s projections, just because of a lack of opportunity on the offensive end. Cline is already a much better outside-the-arc option than Davis, and with the amount of shooters on this team we really don’t need Ray out there gunslinging like he did last spring. That's reflected here, where a lot of his offensive stats take a dip.
This year, I think Ray takes a step back offensively due to the additions of Swanigan and Cline, and hopefully wing players like Edwards, Stephens, and Mathias inch closer to consistent offensive weapons. More often than not, Davis will be the fifth option, and that’s a great role for him to fill this year.
As I said earlier, the biggest hole he has to fill is defensively, where he might be the only plus-defender on the entire roster. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year should be able to make things happen on that end, and I have him projected to be a little more aggressive which should result in a lot of steals. He actually might have a slight uptick in fouls per game given this aggression, which could be a problem given the lack of, well, any other perimeter defender on the roster. If there's any reason for concern, it's whenever Purdue has to play a potent backcourt without Davis on the floor.
Unsolicited BS Advice for 2015-2016:
I have no advice.
Rapheal has become the best leader Matt Painter has ever had, and (to me) it’s not close. He’s run the full spectrum as a high-major basketball player: a very successful high school player, sought-after four star recruit, very solid freshman role player, shaky sophomore wall, struggled to find his role as Purdue finished last in the conference, worked his way into a leadership role as a junior, and became a go-to offensive weapon to help save Purdue’s season this past spring.
He’s the one player the coaching staff goes to for roster motivation, and the one teammates can count on in any situation. He perfectly balances leading by example and vocal reinforcements of the team’s goals. He can give advice for damn near everyone along the bench.
I have nothing for a guy like this, because he’s already been through it all.
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.)
The best case scenario is, of course, Ray anchoring the best defense in the conference through his pure energy in shutting down opposing wings, and doing exactly enough on offense to complement all of his gifted teammates. Purdue goes to a Final Four with Ray as the face of the team, and finally becomes the household name he’s earned with his hard work in every aspect of his life.
But as for the “worst case scenario”…
You know what? Purdue could miss the tournament, finish towards the bottom of the Big Ten and be a flamed-out preseason top 25 team, and Rapheal Davis would still be one of the most universally beloved Purdue athletes by both fans of the program and those who worked closely with him. On top of all that, he’d go on and be a success in any endeavor he tries his hand at, because he’ll work his ass off for any cause he truly believes in. It’s really hard to picture a “worst case” for a guy like Ray, because anything I come up with sounds like a success.
Don’t take Rapheal Davis for granted, Purdue fans. We might never see a Purdue representative quite like him again.