Purdue entered the season with a fair bit of Final Four buzz and their early season returns have pointed toward them being viable title contenders.
With Florida State and Iowa both traveling to West Lafayette this past week, I decided to make the voyage across state lines to Mackey Arena to get an in-person look at an array of intriguing prospects across the three teams. While Keegan Murray was unfortunately out nursing an ankle injury, there was a lot to be gleaned from a scouting perspective in these two games.
Here are my takeaways.
Jaden Ivey | Purdue
So. | Combo Guard | 6’4” | 195 lbs. | 2/13/2002
FSU: 18 PTS, 1 OREB, 5 DREB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 2 BLK, 3 TOV, 0 PF, 81.8 TS%
Iowa: 19 PTS, 0 OREB, 2 DREB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 0 BLK, 1 TOV, 3 PF, 59.1 TS%
Ivey immediately grabs your attention. At 6’4” with a 6’9 ½” wingspan and chiseled frame, he very much looked the part of an NBA athlete throughout warm-ups.
Second time this week getting an in-person look at Purdue sophomore sensation, Jaden Ivey.— Jon Chepkevich (@JonChep) December 4, 2021
Put on a show against Florida State on Tuesday, looking every bit the part of a potential top five pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Kicks off Big Ten Conference play tonight against Iowa. pic.twitter.com/j0SawvKMhv
It didn’t take long for Ivey to pop as an obvious talent once the FSU game tipped off. He made three or four ridiculously impressive plays before the first television timeout.
Several minutes later, he turned a near fall into an oohing and awing highlight reel zip pass.
Ivey absolutely dominated the first half, scoring 13 points on 5-for-6 from the field. He slowed down a bit in the second half as Purdue opened up a massive lead, but added another bomb from well beyond NBA range for good measure.
I mean, look at this shot chart.
A modern thing of beauty. Safe to say, I came away impressed after game one and was eager to scout Ivey again a few days later.
While the Iowa game was a start-and-stop hack fest in the first half, Ivey was able to show a couple of nice flashes.
I was particularly impressed with his change-of-pace burst to gain a step on Ahron Ulis on the secondary break and subsequent conversion of a creative, goofy-footed layup with some English on it.
The second half felt like real basketball again and Ivey was able to get loose.
While he was only 1-for-5 from deep on the night, it was encouraging to see Purdue run a play specifically to get Ivey an off-movement look from deep and for him to fluidly, confidently step into it and knock it down.
There will likely be a good bit of streakiness to his three-point shooting throughout the year but, on the whole, I feel pretty confident in the projectability of Ivey’s shot to his likely role at the NBA level. He was a consistently good three-point shooter throughout his high school career and it seems that his disappointing 26.8 3P% his freshman season was more so a blip as he adjusted to his role and found himself throughout his first collegiate season.
Oh, and let’s not forget about these.
There’s a lot to like here, but Ivey is not without fault. His ball security and control on drives is lacking more frequently than you’d prefer. While he’s one of the few (if not the only) prospects with the hangtime and vision to execute Ja-esque jump passes, he can sometimes get caught in mid-air with nowhere to turn. Some of his drives can be a bit forced and off-balanced, from time to time.
But this is all nit-picking. Every prospect has their warts. All-in-all, I had high expectations for Ivey heading into the week and he met, if not exceeded them.
Bottom Line: Top five and he’s not five.
Zach Edey | Purdue
So. | Big | 7’4” | 295 lbs. | 3/14/2002
FSU: 12 PTS, 3 OREB, 1 DREB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1 BLK, 0 TOV, 1 PF, 63.6 TS%
Iowa: 6 PTS, 2 OREB, 5 DREB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 3 TOV, 3 PF, 56,4 TS%
Edey is MASSIVE up close and in person. He looks every bit of his listed measurements.
Was enlightening to scout 7’4” sophomore big man, Zach Edey, twice last week.— Jon Chepkevich (@JonChep) December 6, 2021
Outlier size + soft touch make the Canadian a unique 2022 NBA Draft prospect.
Wildly productive in a <20 MPG role for No. 1 ranked Purdue.
15.5 PTS, 7.1 REB, 1.4 BLK, 75.1 TS% through 8 games. pic.twitter.com/hcCrJBUrls
Edey’s role within Matt Painter’s rotation is pretty unorthodox. He gets the starting nod every game, but ends up subbing out within the first 2-3 minutes and staggers his minutes with Trevion Williams for the rest of the game. He has played between 16 and 21 minutes each game this season.
What Edey does in his somewhat limited minute load is pretty remarkable. If you extrapolate his statistics out to per-36 minutes, you get the following:
30.2 PTS, 13.9 REB, 1.7 AST, 1.0 STL, 2.7 BLK
Pretty bonkers, but herein lies part of the problem… it remains unclear if Edey’s massive frame hinders him from taking on a more significant workload, or if it’s simply a matter of coaching schematics and preference. Will Edey be able to sustain the grind of an 82 game NBA season? Will he be able to play meaningful minutes if he makes it to the NBA, or will he be relegated to a low-minute Boban-esque bench role to beat up on second units for short stretches?
While the answers to those questions will become more clear in time, let’s turn back to Edey’s on-court performance.
The primary thing that sticks out is that Edey is an elite sealer. As Purdue swings the ball around the perimeter, Edey has a great sense for his defender’s positioning and makes functional use of his massive frame to take advantage of fronts and seal off lob passing lanes into an empty key.
While Edey can sometimes seem unstoppable when executing these seal and scores, he’s pretty limited in other capacities. His free throw shooting touch has yet to extend itself to becoming a viable jump shooter. He may be able to add this in time, but just isn’t there yet. Edey’s size can also sometimes result in some awkward, clunky moments of untimely loss of balance.
Defensively, Edey is a very effective paint deterrent. Opposing drivers are often forced to bypass what would normally be a quality look when Edey is roaming the paint. He’s even prone to an emphatic helpside block from time to time.
While he’s quite comfortable near the basket, Edey can, at times, be exposed on the perimeter. He may not be a total stiff, but he’s not exactly fleet of foot, either. If playing something outside of drop coverage, there’s always a risk of him getting smoked by guards rounding the corner and getting downhill.
Bottom Line: Edey is unique. While his size and the questions that come with it may scare a good handful of NBA teams off, it only takes one team to believe in him. His draft stock will likely vary widely from team to team, but I certainly wouldn’t rule him out as a potential 2022 or 2023 NBA Draft selection.
Trevion Williams | Purdue
Sr. | Big | 6’10” | 255 lbs. | 9/16/2000
FSU: 8 PTS, 2 OREB, 4 DREB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 0 BLK, 3 TOV, 0 PF, 57.1 TS%
Iowa: 13 PTS, 1 OREB, 17 DREB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 0 BLK, 2 TOV, 2 PF, 41.9 TS%
I came away really, really impressed with Williams. It takes maturity, humility, and leadership to be pegged as one of the best big men in college basketball and gracefully accept a role coming off the bench as a senior. His willingness to do so is a key reason that Purdue looks the part of a national championship contender.
While I’m not sure he’s 6’10”, Williams is an absolute hoss. But he’s not just a brute. He combines his strong, wide-bodied frame with dextrous ball skills, passing vision, and a sense for manipulating defenses in the midst of backing down opponents on the block. He’s very keen to find cutters and cross corner skips to create easy looks for his teammates.
Williams is also a dominant force on the glass. He notched the second highest rebounding mark of his career by snagging 18 boards in just 24 minutes played against Iowa. And it wasn’t just a bunch of easy, uncontested missed free throws or shots falling into his lap (sure, there were some). Williams battled on the boards all night long and would not be denied in pursuit of closing out possessions.
Bottom Line: Williams will likely receive fringe NBA interest, but his game is tailor made for the highest levels of international basketball. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him suiting up and contributing in the Spanish ACB and/or Euroleague as a rookie.
Sasha Stefanovic | Purdue
Sr. (RS) | Combo Guard | 6’5” | 205 lbs. | 11/29/1998
FSU: 11 PTS, 0 OREB, 1 DREB, 8 AST, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 1 TOV, 2 PF, 61.9 TS%
Iowa: 8 PTS, 0 OREB, 1 DREB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 1 TOV, 3 PF, 54.6 TS%
Stefanovic grew up less than an hour-and-a-half from Purdue’s campus in Crown Point, Indiana. An Indiana kid with Serbian heritage… a perfect recipe to foster a love for basketball.
In his third year as a starter for the Boilermakers, Stefanovic is living up to his status as a defense bending sharp shooter, shooting 46.0% from deep on 6+ attempts per game. With Florida State still hanging in the game at about the 10-minute mark in the second half, Stefanovic broke things open by burying 3 three-pointers in a two-and-a-half minute stretch.
While Stefanovic is known for his shooting, he’s not a one trick pony. He’s a very willing and able passer – tying a career high with 8 assists against Florida State. While he may not be dropping ultra-creative assists or pressuring the paint to force help, Stefanovic keeps the ball humming and doesn’t allow the defense to settle after scrambling to account for his shooting gravity. He also has a great sense of timing and touch for lobbing entry passes into sealing bigs.
Stefanovic wasn’t as effective in the Iowa game given its ugly, choppy, chaotic nature and lack of flow, but all-in-all, I feel like I got a good sense for his strength and limitations.
Bottom Line: Stefanovic is an elite shooter and valuable connective piece when flanked by talented rim-attackers and post presences. His lack of athleticism (three of four seasons with a sub-40 2P%, some defensive limitations in space) will likely curb serious NBA interest, but Stefanovic will likely end up on a Summer League roster and find his way overseas thereafter. He is American-born but holds dual citizenship in Serbia, whom he has represented at the Universiade Tournament and FIBA U20 European Championships. Having a Serbian passport will make him quite appealing to Red Star, Partizan, etc.
Matthew Cleveland | Florida State
Fr. | Wing | 6’7” | 200 lbs. | 9/15/2002
7 PTS, 1 OREB, 0 DREB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 0 BLK, 1 TOV, 2 PF, 32.2 TS%
Florida State has a history of recruiting talented, versatile 6’7” wings/forwards with NBA potential and bringing them off the bench. Patrick Williams, Scottie Barnes… Matthew Cleveland?
Coming off of a career high 17 points in the game prior, I was excited to get an in-person look at Cleveland to see if he can follow a similar path to Williams and Barnes before him.
The first thing I noticed throughout warm-ups is that Cleveland seems much smaller than his 6’7” list height. I could be wrong here, but standing ten or so feet away from him, he looked more in the 6’5” and change range. He does, however, seem to have good length and a fairly strong frame for his age.
Once the game got going, Cleveland struggled to make much of an impact. He looked uncomfortable and a bit flustered with the ball in his hands. His misses weren’t just a matter of poor shooting luck, but truly bad misses.
Cleveland’s only points came on two transition gimmes, a quick bucket following an offensive rebound, and a free throw. He’ll need to make notable expansions to his offensive game and become a more viable shooter to shore up NBA teams’ confidence in his offensive translatability.
Defensively, Cleveland held his own throughout, though was rarely tasked with checking Jaden Ivey. Florida State switches a lot and Cleveland did just fine executing his role in this system without any notable gaffs. He was able to leverage his length and anticipation a couple of time, but otherwise didn’t particularly pop in a game where Purdue hung 93 points on FSU.
Bottom Line: I understand the appeal in Matthew Cleveland. There’s something there, but he’s sometimes going to have dud games like this. He has impressive enough pre-college priors to remain in the 2022 NBA Draft mix despite some early season struggles, but will need to really step up his game throughout ACC conference play. A single poor game doesn’t make or break a prospect, but Cleveland feels a bit more like a 2023 guy than 2022 at the moment.
John Butler Jr. | Florida State
Fr. | Forward | 7’1” | 190 lbs. | 12/4/2002
10 PTS, 1 OREB, 4 DREB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 4 TOV, 1 PF, 71.4 TS%
Butler came into the season as a bit of a mysterious under-the-radar recruit. I had heard rumblings of his gangly frame and versatile perimeter shooting, but wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
After scouting his first collegiate start, I came away super impressed and bullish on Butler’s upside as an NBA prospect. Right now, Butler’s style of play is more so that of a wing or forward than a big, but he’s able to make opposing centers uncomfortable by pulling them away from the basket and forcing them to respect his shooting gravity. Butler knocked down two corner threes, both when matched up against 7’4” behemoth, Zach Edey.
While the shooting is what Butler is primarily known for, his ability to defend in space on the perimeter against smaller, quick-twitch guards is, perhaps, even more impressive. On several instances, Butler picked up opposing guard full-court and was able to stick right with them. He has remarkably quick feet and fluid movement skills for such a lanky, young prospect.
Bottom Line: While he certainly needs to mature physically, Butler has the makings of a very intriguing under-the-radar NBA prospect. Will he show enough this season to warrant dark horse one-and-done consideration? Seems unlikely, but not impossible. Guys like this don’t come around all that often, and a team could be intrigued enough to take a swing and draft him before a likely draft stock boom if he returns for his sophomore campaign. It feels more likely that he’ll be a 2023 or 2024 NBA Draft candidate, but he absolutely warrants monitoring closely as the season progresses.
Caleb Mills | Florida State
So. (RS) | Combo Guard | 6’5” | 180 lbs. | 7/24/2000
22 PTS, 2 OREB, 2 DREB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 0 BLK, 2 TOV, 4 PF, 65.2 TS%
Caleb Mills is Florida State’s only viable shot-creator and, despite getting shellacked by nearly thirty, was able to showcase some impressive scoring chops and advantage creation.
Mills has solid positional size and a difficult-to-defend, herky-jerky style that keeps defenses off balance.
Pretty sizzling offensive bag. But is this sustainable, efficient, or practical over the long haul? Will it work against NBA-level defense? Can’t say I believe so, but it was impressive nonetheless.
Mills went 2-for-3 from deep in this game, as well, but I find myself a bit skeptical of his lower body mechanics.
He has a really wide base and there’s some concave inward movement with his knees. If he continues to be a 40% shooter from deep, great, but this is something that somewhat hampers my confidence that will continue or that the shot will translate to the NBA.
Bottom Line: Mills is a crafty, creative bucket getter with pretty active hands defensively (4.8 STL%) that will likely earn a Summer League spot and be an early contributor in a quality overseas league after he exhausts his remaining NCAA eligibility.
Kris Murray | Iowa
So. | Forward | 6’8” | 215 lbs. | 8/19/2000
12 PTS, 0 OREB, 4 DREB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 0 BLK, 1 TOV, 4 PF, 60.0 TS%
While his twin brother Keegan’s shadow looms large, Kris is a talented player in his own right. Keegan sat out of this game with an ankle injury, so Kris stepped into a starting role. Doing so on the road against the soon-to-be crowned number one team in the country to kick off Big Ten Conference play is a pretty tall task, so this provided a pretty interesting context to get a meaningful look at what Kris brings to the table as a prospect.
Interesting context to get a good look at Iowa forward, Kris Murray, with his twin brother sitting out.— Jon Chepkevich (@JonChep) December 4, 2021
Has been Iowa’s second best player in the early season.
Nice high-profile opportunity to further showcase his talent at No. 2 Purdue tonight. pic.twitter.com/b6pU3ieePi
Kris seemed a bit passive and unsure of himself in the early going, but got more comfortable and assertive as the game progressed.
He has a smooth lefty stroke and is quite comfortable from deep. In fact, going 2-for-4 (50.0%) from three actually brought down his season three-point percentage.
While his floor spacing prowess is well and good, what impressed me most was the assertiveness and aggressiveness that he played with down the stretch, which sparked the Hawkeyes to the verge of a comeback.
He also had a few moments of toughness battling for loose balls and showing some fight, which won me over a bit. Oh, and then there was this.
Head tap, indeed. Really quick off the floor.
Bottom Line: While Kris isn’t a bona fide first round prospect like his brother, he’s shown enough in the early season to be on NBA radars. Will he begin his pro career alongside his brother after this season? Will he see out his remaining eligibility? It remains to be seen. Everyone’s path is different and, while unlikely to be drafted, Kris has enough to his game to have a successful pro career, wherever that may be.