The 2016-2017 season is a crucial one for the Northwestern Wildcats and head coach Chris Collins. Collins enters his fourth year, and the general consensus is that his program has to show significant signs of progress in order to reach the ultimate goal of making the NCAA tournament by the target year of 2018, when his first recruiting class will all be seniors. Collins has high expectations of a talented bunch of players, and they’ll need to show his expectations are not unfounded. With that, we run through every player on the roster this season. Next up is Dererk Pardon, who burst onto the scene as a true freshman last season.
Who he is:
Sophomore | Center | 6-foot-8 | 230 pounds | Cleveland, Oh.
The numbers (2015-2016 season):
Via Shot Analytics
As is evident in Pardon’s shot chart, the vast majority of his attempts come in the paint and around the rim. His 72 percent conversion rate at the rim is significantly above average, but he had virtually no mid-range or outside game last season. Northwestern didn’t run many plays for Pardon, so most of his attempts came as a result of his ownactivity, especially on the glass.
After Alex Olah went down with a foot injury last season, Pardon entered the fold. Desperate for help on the interior, Chris Collins burned Pardon’s redshirt, and the big man proved up for the task. In his second career game and first Big Ten contest, Pardon exploded for 28 points and 12 rebounds in a comeback win over Nebraska. As the season wore on, he showed he could compete against Big Ten competition, so Pardon figures to be a key cog for the Wildcats this season.
At 6-8, the Ohio native is relatively undersized for a Big Ten center, but he still brings it on the glass. He will have to continue to expand and develop his offensive game to be a reliable scoring option on the inside, but at a minimum provides a rebounding presence opponents have to note.
Pardon brings a clear energy to the floor and runs the floor well, but what he hangs his hat on is his rebounding. He crashes the boards with authority; he’s a natural rebounder and his long arms help him rebound “out of [his] area,” according to Collins. Pardon can create second-chance opportunities, which will be key if Northwestern’s offense goes through shooting slumps like it did last season. Pardon grabbed 12.3 percent of available offensive rebounds last season when he was on the court, which is really good.
For a player who wasn’t supposed to play at all in his freshman year, Pardon’s development may be ahead of schedule. With some experience under his belt and some film to work with, Pardon has had an entire offseason to build on his promising freshman campaign. His high field goal percentage reflects his tendency to only hang around the basket, but it also shows how he can still finish efficiently around the rim even as an undersized center.
While Pardon provided an offensive spark upon entering the Wildcats’ lineup last season, he is still really raw on that end of the floor. Pardon isn’t consistent enough in the post for plays to be called for him and he still struggles outside of the paint. He’s not yet at the point where perimeter players can throw him the ball down low and expect him to make a play. Also, the free throw shooting is a big negative (just 52.9 percent in 2015-16).
Defensively, Pardon struggles to guard the ball in 1-on-1 situations, and thus gets exposed on pick-and-rolls, partially due to a lack of foot speed. Some of his defensive struggles stem from his lack of size, but he also lacks positional awareness at times. What may be most concerning about Pardon is that he has issues with foul trouble. He averaged six fouls per 40 minutes last season, which doesn’t bode well for a player who is expected to see a significant increase in playing time from 16.6 minutes per game to somewhere north of 20 minutes each game.
The departure of Olah leaves a glaring hole at center, and Pardon is the best candidate to fill it. He will have to diversify his offensive game and sure up his defense to take a major step forward this season, though. In all likelihood, Pardon’s defense will improve slightly, but still won’t be great. Hopes of Pardon developing a mid-range jumper or a go-to post move are far-fetched, but Northwestern will still benefit from his talent as a rebounder. Even if rebounding is the only way he impacts the game, he does it well enough that he still should be able to make a difference.
Many fans will remember Pardon’s monster performance against Nebraska last season, but it’s important to remember that he’s still a young player. He would probably benefit from another year of coming off the bench, but it doesn’t look like that will happen, out of necessity. Pardon’s numbers should go up across the board because of the bump in minutes, though his efficiency around the rim may fall off somewhat.