With the NBA season's conclusion seemingly without doubt as the Golden State Warriors march their way into the history books, some eyes have turned to the 2016 NBA Draft and their biggest stage next month. Outside of the top 2 picks, much of the draft is a toss up without a particularly strong freshman class and few upperclassmen separating themselves from the pack. One such upperclassman is Purdue senior A.J. Hammons, looking to make a big enough splash in the tournament to make the first round.
A team looking to draft A.J. Hammons will likely be wowed by his size, as he stands at a towering seven feet even with 261 pounds on his body. He also sports a 7'3" wingspan, which he uses to full advantage on the defensive end to swat away any shot that comes too close to his vicinity. His instincts and timing on blocking shots is top notch, often catching opponents off guard or forcing them to adjust and miss. He can also use his massive body to block out other big men to go up for rebounds, or allow wing players to snag a quick board to start the break.
On the offensive end, Hammon's game is raw but has very good upside. He uses his powerful body to barrel his way to the rim, finishing post plays at a 51 percent clip last year. He finishes most shots at the rim at a 68 percent rate, proving himself to be a force if his teammates lob him a pass or as a putback technician on the offensive glass. He also draws fouls rather frequently, and converts them at nearly 70 percent. It isn't great, but it's good for a big man and more than enough to prevent any of the Hack-A-Shaq strategies that have plagued the NBA in recent seasons.
However, on the other hand, there are plenty of reasons not to draft A.J. Hammons in the first round. For starters, he will be 24 by season's start, which means that he may be too far over the hill for most general managers. Also, his minutes per game have never been particularly high, due to both foul trouble and conditioning issues that have plagued him his entire college career. Hammons also has an inconsistent motor, which has led to his less than stellar rebounding numbers that don't match his potential. It also has been the primary factor in his frequent foul trouble, as he often sags too far back when defending the pick and roll and leaves himself open to attack. With the NBA's increased emphasis on pace and space, Hammons' struggles in this area could be a huge red flag. These, along with character issues that have also followed him, are the reason such a great prospect fell in the recruiting rankings despite being picked as a McDonald's All-American from the prestigious Oak Hill Academy basketball program.
In any case, A.J.'s strengths and weaknesses will be scrutinized endlessly by scouts and GM's from now until draft night. While he is currently projected to go in the early second round by many pundits, it is entirely possible that he could have a few star performances in the NCAA tournament and impress a team in workouts enough to make a final push into the late stages of the second round.