Wednesday, February 10, 2016

AJ Hammons

AJ Hammons has always been one of the most talented C's in the country and he's finally coming into his own as a senior at Purdue. His per-game numbers have jumped significantly:

Junior: 11.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.8 blocks on 54% shooting
Senior: 14.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.7 blocks on 59.2% shooting

It's a little misleading to look at his per-minute statistics because part of the reason why he plays only 24 minutes a game is that he's such an enormous human being and he's not in great shape so he can't play all that much more. At the same time, part of the reason that he's a part-time player is that he's being backed up by another NBA prospect at C in Isaac Haas. What these per-40 minute numbers do show you is just how dominant he has been when he is on the floor:

Hammons per-40 minutes: 24.4 points, 13.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists (on 3.4 turnovers), 0.5 steals and 4.4 blocks a game 

This is a guy who has a PER of 31.2. He's a major problem for any team that faces Purdue and there isn't a C in the country who can match up with him 1-on-1. At 7'0 260 with a 7'3 wingspan, Hammons is a Leviathan sized human being who towers over the vast majority of NCAA C's and would be one of the biggest players at his position as soon as he gets into the NBA. What makes him such an interesting prospect, though, is how skilled and mobile he is for a guy with his size.

Hammons is a dominant post scorer

He can score over either shoulder and he has phenomenal touch around the rim. You can see that in the fact that he shoots 73.4% from the free-throw line - he's the farthest thing from an unskilled brute and he's going to be a problem in the post at any level. He knows how to use his size to create position in the post and he knows what to do with the ball when he gets it down low. Watch how calmly he deals with the dig down and how he kicks the ball out and scores on the repost:


His size, length and touch means that he's capable of disregarding help  and scoring in traffic:


What's nice about Hammons is that he's a big guy whose not afraid to use his size. With more and more teams playing smaller players at the C position, a super-sized C like Hammons is the perfect counter. I don't care how good a post defender Draymond Green is - he's going to have difficulty keeping Hammons off the block and he's going to get worn out getting into wrestling matches with such a mammoth human being. Hammons is a big who knows how to play big.


Hammons is a shot-blocking machine

Hammons is as gifted a shot-blocker as has come out of the NCAA game in recent memory. He can routinely block shots with either hand and he turns the paint into a no-fly zone. He can do all your basic rim protection blocks:


He just envelops smaller guys in the post. It's basically impossible for smaller guys to power through him and there aren't going to be many guys even at the next level who can score over the top of him.


He's fast and agile enough to chase down blocks from behind and pin them on the backboard. It takes a lot of athleticism to make a play like this and not may 7'0 260+ pound guys can do it.


Watch how violently he blocks the shot. The real impressive part is the timing it requires to make such an emphatic rejection with fouling the offensive player:


You can forget about challenging him at the rim. Deyonta Davis is a 6'9+ jumping jack who could end up going in the lottery at some point. Hammons rotated over and told him no way is he going to dunk on him:


Hammons still has a lot of room for growth in his game

Purdue runs a very traditional offense based around entering the ball into the post to Hammons, Haas and Caleb Swanigan (a very talented 6'9 260 freshman 4/5 who has a chance to play in the NBA as well). They almost always play two post men at the same time and there's very little room for any of their big men to roll to the rim. Despite his immense size, Hammons is agile enough to catch and finish on the move and he could be a real roll threat when playing in space next to a high-level playmaking guard, which Purdue does not have.


He's a really good athlete for a man of his size. He doesn't finish this lob but the way he runs the floor and plays above the rim is really impressive. While he definitely needs to lose a little weight and become more sculpted, it's easy to dream on him if he can become a little more streamlined.


He's not a great passer by any means, but he has gotten more used to reading the defense and finding the open man, if for no other reason than the amount of double teams he has received in his four seasons at Purdue. He's so tall that it's really easy for him to see over the defense:


In this sequence, he finds Swanigan when he cuts to the rim off the double team. This is some good big-to-big passing and it's encouraging that Hammons can A) read the play and B) make the pass even if Swanigan doesn't end up catching the ball.


While Purdue mostly has their big men playing back in the pick-and-roll and protecting the rim, Hammons is agile enough to at least slide his feet on the perimeter when asked to do so. Here he is staying in front of Denzel Valentine:


He didn't showcase this part of his game against Michigan State, but Hammons has shown the ability to step out and knock down perimeter jumpers as well this season. He's 4-8 from 3 and he's a pretty consistent shooter from 20+ feet. There aren't any real holes in his game and he can do just about everything that a C needs to do pretty well.

Hammons age isn't as big a concern as it would be for a smaller player

The biggest knock on Hammons is his age. He's a fourth-year senior whose already 23 and he will turn 24 before he enters the NBA. To put that in perspective, he's a few months older than four-year NBA veteran Jonas Valanciunas, which is pretty mind-boggling. So while Hammons has been spending the last 4 years playing against smaller players, Valanciunas has been testing himself and growing against the biggest and most talented C's in the world. 

That's a concern but it's not that big a concern. Here's why. The issue with most older players at the NCAA level is that they are dominating smaller and less physically developed players, an advantage that will go away once they get to the next level. The difference with Hammons is that he's going to be one of the biggest players at the next level too. He's not going to walk into the NBA and be physically intimidated. He can go toe-to-toe even with guys as big as Andre Drummond and Brook Lopez. He's just about as big as those guys are so it's not a huge deal.

It's the same reason why Gorgui Dieng and Mason Plumlee (both of whom were 24-year old rookies) have been able to outperform their draft position. When you are super big and super skilled, it doesn't really matter how old you are because there are so few guys with your physical abilities at any level of the game. I don't think Hammons is going to be a star but I think he can be like Dieng and Plumlee and be a 10+ year NBA veteran who can start on a good team in the right situation, which would represent a huge value where he's currently projected (No. 36 in the most recent DraftExpress mock).

Hammons is the best traditional C in this year's draft. My only real question is how much value a traditional 5 whose most effective around the rim really has in the modern NBA. Will Hammons be able to survive on the perimeter in the pace-and-space NBA or will teams be better off playing smaller and more agile C's like Damian Jones and Stephen Zimmerman? Either way, I think he would represent a great part of a C platoon with a smaller and more skilled small-ball 5 and he will have a long and productive career at the next level. This guy can really play and it would be pretty outrageous if some team can pick him up for a 2nd round pick. The fans of the team that drafts him aren't going to be able to believe how big, how skilled and how agile he is. 

3 comments:

  1. If the Warriors picked him up a platoon with and looney at the 5 would be a steal with back to back 30 picks. And I feel like he's a guy who makes sense for them given Ezeli's and Bogut's health + expiring contracts

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    1. Only problem is that the Spurs pick right ahead at 29 and he makes all the sense in the world for them with Duncan's retirement right around the corner

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    2. He's not the same player as Ezeli but I think he will represent a similar value to a contender if he slides that far.

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