It has been clear that expectations for Purdue this season have exceeded this team’s ability to meet them. I personally had thought this team was NCAA Tournament material; as the season progresses and the losses piled up, that is looking to be an increasingly unlikely event.
So when things are rough and half of the fanbase is primed to meltdown, I feel like it is important to interject some historical perspective to try and put this team in the proper context. Typically I am loathe to compare two players like this, as circumstance often dictates quite a bit about how a player performs. However, in the case of Ronnie Johnson and Lewis Jackson, I thought the comparison would be apt, in that their circumstances share a number of characteristics.
For one, they were both expected to come in and immediately log heavy minutes as freshmen. They were both considered good recruiting gets for Matt Painter, though neither were considered blockbusters (Rivals ranked Ronnie #94, a 4-star; they had Lewis Jackson ranked 121st, a 3-star). They both had areas where they were considered exceptionally gifted (Ronnie’s court vision and ball handling, Jackson’s quickness and athleticism) and areas that were considered deficits (Ronnie’s jump shot and decision making, Jackson’s height and jump shot). They are both considered pass-first guards, and both came to West Lafayette with the understanding that they would play a significant role right away.
So I decided to compare the two players through their first 11 games to see if Ronnie’s play in comparison to Jackson’s could give us any indication of where Ronnie might develop. Obviously, this is not the largest sample size, but there is still knowledge to be gleaned here.
For the record, Lewis Jackson is one of my favorite Boilermakers of all time. I loved his toughness, his leadership, his skill. Jackson was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten for the 2010-11 season, and was a 2-time Bob Cousy Award candidate. Suffice it to say, if Ronnie’s careers mirrors that of Jackson’s, Purdue will have the good fortune of having two quality point guards, one right after the other.
Here’s what Ronnie has done through 11 games so far:
And here are the stats for Lewis Jackson’s first 11 games:
And here’s a comparison of their averages:
It is worth noting that Ronnie has shouldered more of a burden as a freshman than Jackson did when he was a freshman, as Ronnie averaged almost seven more minutes a game during the first 11 games than Jackson did over the same range of games. He is also averaging nearly twice as many points per game as Jackson did. Other than that, their profiles are remarkably similar. Jackson shot a better percentage from the field, but he never took more than seven shots in a game, while Ronnie met or surpassed that attempt total in seven of his 11 games. Ronnie has shot a better percentage from the free throw line than Jackson while taking significantly more attempts. Neither one of them did well from behind the three point line; and to Ronnie’s credit, he has limited those attempts in recent games. Ronnie has been a better rebounder while Jackson did a better job of staying out of foul trouble. Their profiles are remarkably similar with respect to assists and steals per game.
I am not trying to make the argument that Ronnie Johnson is Lewis Jackson 2.0. He already has plenty of pressure he has to deal with. But I did the comparison as a gentle reminder that who a player is as a freshman is not necessarily who he will be as a senior. And the struggles of the team often result in a more critical eye being turned on players as an individual. But Ronnie is developing, and seems to be playing better with each game that passes. And evaluating his play in relation to his predecessor would seem to show that he is on the right track to becoming an excellent member of Purdue’s squad.