With Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-Conference member and go-to guy A.J. Hammons off to the NBA, Purdue has needed Caleb Swanigan to take a big jump in his sophomore year, something he's doing in a major way thus far.
Swanigan had a rude awakening following his freshman season when his attempt to enter the 2016 NBA Draft fell flat after a very poor showing at the NBA Combine and in private workouts. This forced him to make major improvements to his body, work ethic, intensity level and polish up his skill-set, all of which he's done in a major way as a sophomore.
Swanigan's production is up across the boards, as he's posting incredible per-40 minute averages of 23 points, 15.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 4.2 turnovers, while shooting 58% from 2-point range and 47% for 3.
Still only 19 years old, making him the same age or younger than freshman such as T.J. Leaf, Wenyen Gabriel and Josh Jackson, Swanigan has gotten himself into better shape this season, which has allowed him to play consistently harder for longer stretches.
Still not the quickest or most explosive athlete, Swanigan's improved conditioning has helped him run the floor better, rebound out of his area, and have sustained success deeper into games despite the added defensive attention he's drawing.
He's been absolutely deadly with his back to the basket, where he's reading the floor and navigating double teams better, as well as finishing the looks created for him by teammates around the basket, where he's converting a stellar 73% of his half-court attempts according to Synergy Sports Tech.
Perhaps the most notable improvement Swanigan has made is from the perimeter, though, as he's currently shooting 18/38 (47%) from beyond the arc through 20 games, up from 29% last year, while raising his free throw percentage from 71 to 78%.
Swanigan's 7'3 1/2 wingspan may help compensate for his lack of quickness and explosiveness to a certain degree and allow him to operate more as a small-ball center at the NBA level, something he'll likely have to do considering his struggles covering ground in open space. He's only posted 4 steals and 16 in 630 minutes thus far this season, something that will likely stand out as a major red flag considering the lack of historical success of previous players who posted such rates. Swanigan's defensive potential has to be considered the biggest question mark surrounding his NBA potential at the moment.
The fact that he's such a tremendous rebounder may help mitigate some of those concerns, though.
Julian Applebome is a video analyst for DraftExpress. Follow him on twitter and check out the DraftExpress Video section. He will be breaking down the NBA draft in digital format all year long for us.