The junior-to-be had some good moments and some rough moments in 2020-21.
I know it is a common theme with these posts, but today’s player definitely falls in the “needs more consistency” category. Even with Purdue returning virtually every major contributor it is still a “young” team in the sense that technically everyone can still return for 2022-23 as well since we had no seniors. Isaiah Thompson is one of those guys that may be here for a while, and that is not a bad thing.
Isaiah is always going to be compared to his brother even though they are different types of players. Isaiah takes a lot of criticism from fans and in our group chat, but having covered his entire high school career I am a staunch defender of him. We don’t need him to be a star. We just need him to be a serviceable guard that can give us a few minutes each night and hit open looks. There is nothing wrong with having an experienced guard in your back pocket and entering year three, that’s what he is.
Isaiah Thompson – Junior in 2020-21
2019-20 Stats: 31 Games played, 0 starts. 18.7 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.67 apg, 35.4% FG, 35.4% 3FG, 67.7% FT 24 turnovers (negative asst/TO ratio)
2020-21 Stats: 28 Games played, 5 starts. 17.8 mpg, 4.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.0 apg, 41.2% FG%, 39.7% 3FG, 75% FT%, 2:1 assist to turnover ratio
Isaiah is a very, very interesting case as a player. Offensively, he showed improvement this year in his percentages, but he played fewer minutes because of his defense (we’ll get there). He is approaching 40% from three and was only slightly behind Sasha Stefanovic for the team lead there. He was better at the line overall, but had some critical misses in games, none bigger than the front end of a one-and-one with 2:35 left against North Texas when the game was tied. He was great at the line during the course of games, but struggled with pressure free throws. His greatest improvement was the assist-to-turnover ratio, where he reversed a negative from last year to a 2:1 positive this year.
Offensively, he was about what I expected from him. He is a player that is going to get open looks from three because the defense has to concentrate elsewhere most of the time he is on the floor. This pays off on occasion and he can have a game where he catches fire. Yes, he had the miss from the line vs. North Texas, but if he doesn’t go 3 for 5 from three earlier in the game we’re not even in the position for that to matter. His best game came at Rutgers, where he played 27 minutes, went 7 for 8 from the floor for 17 points, and generally kept Purdue in it.
He had other good offensive moments too. He had 15 against Clemson, 14 against Valparaiso, and the aforementioned North Texas game. It is unlikely Isaiah is going to be a double figures scorer regularly in his career, but he can definitely be a guy that plays smart and occasionally gets hot for 3-4 threes off the bench. When he plays about 10 minutes a night that is a decent ceiling.
Unfortunately, his size seems to be the biggest thing holding him back. He is listed as 6’1”, 160 pounds, which is spindly for a guard in the Big Ten. I saw plenty of games where was basically Carsen Edwards for Zionsville, but that was against the Hoosier Crossroads Conference. Not the Big Ten. Carsen is listed at 5’11”. But at 200 pounds he is a lot more built for the Big Ten than Isaiah.
That size disadvantage hurt him several times this year. Bigger guards can bully him on both sides of the ball, especially defensively. There were several times this year where Isaiah was repeatedly torched defensively. Again, he did have moments though. He held up a lot better defensively than some of Purdue’s other guards against North Texas and that kept him on the floor for a season high 28 minutes. He only had five steals total on the season, and that just won’t work in Purdue’s defense.
Ultimately, Isaiah is going to battle Ethan Morton for minutes this coming season. Morton’s battle with mono and other struggles basically made this a redshirt year where he played a little because of the free COVID year. Morton was virtually no threat to shoot (6 points in Big Ten play), but showed promise with his passing early and is a much bigger guard. Short of injecting Isaiah with the super soldier serum and putting him in the Vitaray chamber like Captain America he is not going to get much bigger.
He can still find a role though. He can hit those open looks he gets. He can hopefully evolve into a free throw line cooler at the end of games (he was 9 of 12 at the line and closed out the Valpo comeback) like his brother was. His experience needs to lead to poise where he is a savvier player on both ends. He is not the true PG his brother was, but because of his experience now I think he can still be a valuable contributor. Remember: only Trevion, Hunter, and Sasha have more actual game experience now.
Yes, there are some limitations to his game, but there are also strengths that can be used. Those limitations can be covered to with improved play everywhere else on the roster. Since there is no substitute for experience that give Isaiah every chance to keep playing.