Zach Edey has put everyone in the country on notice with his dominant start to the season.
How will Zach Edey do without Trevion Williams? Can Zach Edey handle an increased number of minutes? Will Zach Edey’s efficiency decrease with a minutes increase?
These were all (fair) questions coming into the season. Edey averaged 14.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game last season, but only played 19.0 minutes per game. At 7-4, it was fair to wonder if his body could handle 25+ or maybe even 30 minutes per game.
Now with about a third of the season done, Edey has more than answered any doubts. As of writing (before the Hofstra game), Edey is averaging 22.0 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting 61.3 percent from the field. Oh yeah, this is while playing 32 minutes per game and only averaging 1.9 fouls per game.
He has been the most dominant player in the country, and I don’t think it has been that close thus far. Teams don’t have to worry about Edey for only 15-20 minutes a game now, they have to plan their entire defensive scheme around a 7-4 big that has shown he isn’t going to get that tired.
At 7-4, Zach Edey is always going to be the victim of “he’s only big” accusations, but I think watching one (1) entire game of his this season shows this is a myth. He’s moving better than ever before, playing the best defense of his collegiate career, all while having some of the largest defensive attention in the country. It doesn’t matter at times. Let’s get into why he has been able to be at an insane production this season.
This should not come as a surprise that Edey is a post-up machine. At 7-4, most bigs close to that will be expected to bang down low. What makes Edey is his combination of speed, strength, and patience. Teams are still trying to figure out the best way to guard them.
Per Synergy, about 70% of Edey’s shots come from post-ups, more than every other player in the country. He is averaging 1.12 points per possession on those, placing him in the 87th percentile. By far his most effective post-move is getting to a hook over that left shoulder (Video clip below).
This is against 7-1 freshman Derrick Lively. Edey comfortably gets to that left shoulder and gets the hook to go over the top. When he gets in rhythm, there is not much defense can do about it. He is so skilled at creating the necessary space that you have to fully body him at all times. The problem is, he knows how to use his strength to leverage spacing. Teams have started sitting on that hook, trying to force him the other way. Because of that, he has started going to his drop step a bit more.
Here Minnesota did a good job of playing that left shoulder. Edey knows it though and completely sets up the drop step. What are you supposed to do when he starts his drop step from around 8 feet away? That’s pretty absurd.
To back it up with numbers, per Synergy, Edey has had 25 hooks over his right shoulder for 1.29 PPP and 11 drop steps for 1.18 PPP. Both are top tier numbers.
This leads to teams maybe needing to double. What makes that so tough is Edey is so patient, and at his height, he sees over the defense. If you double, Purdue has pre-determined cutting actions that are going to be open. Edey is going to find them.
In this clip above, Duke does not even double, but Edey still finds the cutter thanks to a brush screen by Brian Waddell. Edey is not going to rack up a ton of assists, but he is going to find open cutters.
Maybe just foul him? Nope. Edey is currently shooting 76.7% from the FT line, going 46-of-60 on the year thus far. That equates to a little over 1.5 PPP when fouled and shooting two.
This is the enigma opposing coaches have to deal with. You can’t really double or else everyone else will eat. If you go for single coverage then you are liable to Edey going for 30 points. The defense that has worked the “best” is to have single coverage with multiple wings digging down on the ball. Even Edey figures out eventually because of how good of shape he is in.
It is easy to look at the 11-minute-per-game jump that Zach Edey has taken and understand that he has been good because of it. What has been shocking is Edey has not seemed to be gassed in most games. His conditioning has improved to be even better over the offseason, allowing him to wear on defenses for more and more possessions per game.
Teams have to guard Edey for 30 minutes. I know I have overlooked that at times. 30 minutes of dealing with the most dominant player currently in college basketball. Against Nebraska, he logged 43 minutes.
Zach Edey does not always get out to the best starts. Minnesota did a good job for about the first ten minutes of not really allowing Edey to get good looks.
This clip above came three and a half minutes into the game. Freshman Pharrel Payne (who has been awesome for Minnesota) did a good job of hanging with Edey, forcing a catch further out than maybe Edey originally desired.
Compare that to this clip above, coming right before the end of the first half. Edey gets good positioning and backs down to right next to the rim. Payne didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, he just did not have the stamina to keep up with Edey for a full game. Who would?
Teams are having to throw multiple different matchups at Edey because he just keeps banging down low and getting them into foul trouble. Per Kenpom, Edey is drawing 7.6 fouls per 40 minutes, the 12th-highest rate in the country. There have been very few games in that Edey has not gotten opposing teams into foul trouble.
And there is just the athleticism he brings.
Ok, maybe this clip above is not fully relevant in the conditioning section, but I just really wanted to get it in here. Catches at about 15 feet away and just absolutely loads up. No one is stopping Zach Edey when he has that much space.
When I wrote about Zach Edey in the offseason, one of my biggest concerns was his pick and roll defense. At 7-4, teams were able to put Edey in space on defense through pick and rolls or pick and pops.
I think the pick and pop concern is still there because Edey is always going to be in drop coverage. (Purdue has countered this some with having the nearest wing stunting hard at the big that popped to the perimeter.) When looking at everything besides bigs that pop, Edey has been good in drop coverage, and I think there is one key number that indicates the effect he is having.
Only 29.5% of Purdue’s opponents shots have been at the rim. There is only one teams in all of D1 with a lower percentage of opponent shots coming at the rim (Villanova). Teams just don’t even want to test Zach Edey at the rim. It is even more impressive when taking into account that teams run more pick and rolls against Purdue than all but eight teams in the country.
Teams not getting to the rim is in part testament to the defensive game plan Purdue has laid out. Allow teams to take long twos, and take away the rim and threes. In the clip above, the shot does go in, but it is still a long two. There will probably be a game or two this season that Purdue gets burned on it, but they will be okay with it. Edey did his job by keeping both the ball handler and big in front of him.
Here is another clip. Edey does a really good job of once again keeping everything in front of him. He even contests the pull-up, but it banks in. Purdue is happy giving up that shot every single time.
That is why only one team (Iowa State) has allowed more runners and floaters than Purdue per Synergy. As long as Edey keeps everything in front, he has done his job and has been doing it a lot.
Purdue’s pick-and-roll defense this year has been much improved. It is not of the top elite teams, but it has been very good, and that is more than enough.
When teams have tried Zach Edey at the rim, he has been very good. He has moved his feet so much better this season, and it has allowed him to recover more.
In reality, all Edey would need to be a positive impact is just mediocre defense. Given that he has been good on that end, Purdue has not had to sub him out at all. And since he has not had to have been subbed out, Edey has been able to be dominant on the offensive end for 30 minutes a game. A recipe for success and a possible National Player of the Year accomplishment.