PROVO — The Haarms factor is coming.
How big of an impact will the giant Dutchman make?
Matt Haarms is a legit experienced big for Mark Pope and BYU basketball but his greatest upside for one year of work in Provo really depends on a matrix that fully utilizes his talents.
Two sportswriters who covered his career at Purdue agree the 7-foot-3 Dutchman needs to stay healthy, which he was not last season; he needs good and consistent scorers around him to make the most of his game, and he is best suited to play in a high-post offense that utilizes the high screens and pick-and-roll action, which Pope deploys.
It remains to be seen how big an impact Haarms will have next year for the Cougars, but there are reasons Kentucky and Texas Tech chased him to the end last week.
Haarms is an elite shot blocker and rim protector.
“Even before his final season, Matt Haarms is one of Purdue’s greatest shot blockers ever,” claims Travis Miller, manager of Hammer & Rails, the SBNation voice of the Purdue community.
“He already has 210 career blocks, good for fourth on the all-time list behind Jajuan Johnson (263), A.J.Hammons (343), and Joe Barry Carroll (349). He is only one of three Purdue players to ever average more than two swatted shots per game. Having him as a defensive asset is huge.”
Still, Haarms isn’t immune from getting “violently” dunked on, said Miller.
BYU’s all-time block leader is former NBA center Greg Kite at 6-11. He had 208 in 112 games for a 1.9 average a game. Shawn Bradley, at 7-5, played just one season and 34 games and ranks No. 2 all-time with 177 for a whopping 5.2 per game.
Haarms already has more blocks playing in the Big Ten than Kite did at BYU in his career. If he averages two a game at BYU, he’d surpass the block average per game by a career blocker at BYU.
So, there’s the standard, 2.0 per game and he’s money. In the West Coast Conference, he may average three or four.
If BYU can get 20 to 25 minutes out of Haarms in which he scores 10 to 12 points and gets eight to 10 rebounds, he’ll have succeeded in the lineup.
“He has come a long way as a player,” said Miller. “Because of a snafu with his transfer to a high school in the States he actually came to Purdue a semester early. His eligibility clock started in the fall of 2016, so they brought him in to ‘redshirt’ the second half of the 2016-17 season. That allowed him to gain experience in practice against Caleb Swanigan (first-round NBA pick) and Isaac Haas (now playing for Utah’s G-League team).
“He was a solid backup to Haas as a redshirt freshman, then big contributor during the 2019 Elite Eight run. In fact, if he reacts a split second sooner he blocks Virginia’s 6-9 Mamadi Diakite’s desperation shot and Purdue goes to a Final Four.”
As has been reported, this past year Haarms had a preseason concussion and was concussed a second time during the season — costing him playing time and consistency in his comeback.
Miller’s staff did an offseason breakdown of Purdue’s returning players before Haarms transferred to BYU for his senior season.
Mike Carmin of the Journal-Courier said Haarms is more effective offensively when he has threats around him like he did his sophomore and junior years.
“He wanted to get into a place that would showcase an NBA skill set,” said Carmin. “This is a guy who, if you go back to his recruiting, could have turned professional out of high school and played in Europe before he came to the United States.”
“Haarms’ first concussion of this past season happened the first day of practice and he had another in January, then a hip flexor injury. He didn’t miss any games in January but was clearly hobbled for at least one. This year he got caught in a situation he was playing the center spot and I don’t see him as a back to the basket type of player. He’s more of a face the basket offensive player which makes him good with screens and the pick and roll. He likes to shoot outside and has a good shot from distance.
“He likes to play in space rather than down in the low block where he’s taller than everyone else but he’s not stronger than everybody else. This year, in the Big Ten, you were going up against a quality big man every single night, some of the best big men in the country. I think he got worn down a bit this season.”
At BYU, Haarms doesn’t have to carry the physical burden inside and that is a plus with Pope’s team. With 6-11 teammates Richard Harward, 6-10 Wyatt Lowell, 6-9 Kolby Lee and 6-9 Gavin Baxter, Pope will have 25 fouls to disperse on defense with a combined displacement of 1,160 pounds.
Haarms, said Carmin, is an elite shot blocker and is a proven commodity in that department.
I asked former Cougar and European player Jonathan Tavernari what it means to have a 7-3 player on a team looking for defensive help.
“There are pros and cons that come with a 7-footer on defense,” he said. “Obviously protecting the rim and altering shots are huge gains. But when you have to defend the pick-and-roll, guys that big usually drop and stay in the paint, creating disadvantages to the defense.
“Matt’s one of the best shot blockers in the country, and that is a dimension BYU has not had for quite some time. Him choosing BYU means Mark Pope has made Provo a destination and in this day and age of transfer, that is quite an accomplishment.”
How big an impact does Haarms bring?
We shall see.
But with Baxter and Haarms’ length — swatters with elite 7-7 wingspans — it can’t hurt. You can’t create that kind of size out of a regular player.