“Big men take much longer to develop than other basketball players.” So says the history of the sport, as well as peak 1980-2010 NBA draft experts. Isaac Haas, who announced his intentions to return to Purdue, is hoping to prove that theory correct.
The often overused “basketball unicorn” moniker has altered the idea that big men take longer to develop. Talents such as Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony Davis and Karl Anthony Towns have all taken that old trope and tossed it into the garbage with the “all tall-ish white guys are the next Larry Bird” hot takes.
But those type of bigs are different; capable of handling the ball, shooting with some range and/or large humans with guard skills and unique athleticism. That is not Haas, who is far more similar to the traditional centers that are no longer as prevalent in the NBA.
Luckily for Purdue, the Boilermakers aren’t operating in the National Basketball Association. The program needs not worry about the trends of small ball in the pros or having a stretch 4/5. A 7-foot-2 behemoth still carries a large deal of worth in the realm of unpaid laborers trotting about the hardwood for our entertainment.
Haas isn’t a perfect center. In three seasons at the Division I level, despite towering over most foes, he has been incapable of playing long stretches of games. An argument can be made on his behalf that it was due to coach Matt Painter protecting Haas’ legs, though it could be as easily argued that it is due to the idea that large humanoids aren’t built to play 30 minutes per game.
Of course, some are. It depends on a specific player’s build. As for Haas’, his build is impressive — not overly muscular, but an evenly built frame that allows him to be flexible, reasonably agile and strong enough to bully his way in the post.
Really, given how he is athletic for his size (relatively to the non-unicorns) and strong enough to dispose of opponents easily, it is odd that he hasn’t been able to dominate the collegiate game consistently.
In the 2016-17 season, he averaged 12.6 points and (only) 5 rebounds per game. To be fair to him, he did that while playing merely 19.5 minutes an outing. When you adjust his numbers to per-100 possessions, while rather misleading, far more favorable data emerges — 36.9 points and 14.6 rebounds.
Even if we take a step back and realize that Purdue runs a style of offense that doesn’t make the per-100 numbers all that applicable, Haas still had a nice per-40 average last season of 25.9 points and 10.2 rebounds.
None of those numbers — regular counting stats, per-40 or per-100 — do an accurate job describing his impact. He’s better and more meaningful to the Boilermakers than his baseline numbers suggest, but by no means is he some humorously productive monster the fancy math suggests.
He is, honestly, hard to describe. He is more than what everything suggests, but not enough of what he should be — even though what he should be is realistically obtainable.
That past helps us project some of his future, yet it is in the 2017-18 season that Haas has a chance to make everything that happened in the three years prior seem like they were done by a different guy.
It is worth noting that whatever his role ends up being next season pends on what some of his teammates do as far as their NBA draft decisions go, but it shouldn’t prevent him from reaching whatever his potential actually is.
Speaking of potential, he should be a world-beater at the college level. All of those positives listed earlier are real. Add yet, another season of experience, coupled with the traditional theory that big men peak far later in the process than guards, and he might be equipped for a breakout season.
It certainly helps that he went through the NBA draft process. Receiving feedback on his game from people outside the Boilermakers bubble allows Haas to grasp areas of his game he needs to work on to improve his own stock — not just the success of Purdue. While the two should go hand-in-hand, it often takes a voice removed from a program to better help a player understand that. This can then trickle down, indirectly even, to the player making his team better.
So, does Haas become the next great college center? Does he take that giant leap years into his career as Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky did before him? Maybe. Maybe not. If he is only what he was prior, that is good enough. If he can become something more, as he probably should, Purdue should be in a good spot next season.