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NBA Draft Prospect Breakdown: Jaden Ivey

Instead of cramming for the NBA Draft test in the offseason, we will be highlighting key CBB players throughout the season

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-North Texas at Purdue Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports

With the college basketball season kicking off, and the Detroit Pistons near the bottom of the standings, it’s a great time to remind Pistons fans that it’s important to understand more about the top NBA Draft prospects, and more specifically how they would fit with Cade Cunningham and Detroit or not be a quality fit.

Last time we looked at Bennedict Mathurin, and now we move onto his main competition for top returning NCAA draft prospect in Jaden Ivey. Most draft sites and mock drafts around the internet have Ivey as THE top guy returning, but I think he has a few things in his game that are major cause for concern. So, without wasting any more time, let’s get into the analysis.

Jaden Ivey by the Numbers

Jaden Ivey is shooting guard listed at 6-foot-4 inches at a weight of 195 pounds. This past season at Purdue, he put up the following per game stats:

  • 11.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks

His shooting splits were:

  • 50.8% from two-point range, 25.8% from three-point distance, and 72.6% from the foul line

This all translated to advanced stats of:

  • 49.7% True Shooting, 16.4% assist rate, 10.7% turnover rate, on 26.8% usage

While the shooting percentages are going to be an immediate concern for many (which I will get to shortly), if you put on ANY film of Ivey from the past year, it is hard not to fall in love with him.

What Jaden Ivey Does Well

Ivey is an explosive athlete looking to drop the hammer whenever he gets a clear lane to the hoop. Pull up any highlight reel or single game film from this past season and you will see Ivey do one of the following: get out in transition and jam it; use a screen in the halfcourt to rise and slam it home; cut to the basket and drop in an alley-oop with authority; or get up for an offensive rebound to let the defense know to clear out next time they see him jumping.

He also knows how to leverage his threat as a dunker into other opportunities attacking the rim. He will consistently drive into the teeth of the defense and draw extra attention, and he almost always initiates contact when all eyes are on him. In the final 12 games, when Ivey got consistent minutes, he averaged 4.2 trips to the line per game. If I had to bet on one stat of his increasing this season, free throw attempts would be it because of how Ivey stays aggressive without being reckless.

He is also an intense man-to-man defender who sticks to ball handlers like a magnet. He still has work to do on his technique fighting over screens, but he NEVER dies on screens, and he fights through every last one of them to make the offense work for every shot. This helps out his teammates immensely as well since he is not leaving his big man on an island when they encounter the screen.

As alluded to with his free throw attempts, Ivey also had a tale of two halves last season. The first 11 games saw Ivey coming off the bench and only playing 16.5 minutes per game. In the final 12 games, however, he started ever single one of them and almost doubled his minutes per game at 31.3.

His statline in the first 11 games was: 7.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg all while shooting 53.5% from two, 21.2% from three, and 52.2% from the free throw line.

The final 12 games saw a huge increase across the board: 14.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.3 bpg while his shooting splits were 49.4% from two, 28.1% from three, 82.0% from the free throw line.

The logical conclusion here being that with a full season of starts under his belt in 2021-22 we should see an improved Ivey.

Really, all of his best skills were on display in the Gold Medal game this past summer at the FIBA Under 19 tournament where he helped lead the team to victory. He and Kenneth Lofton Jr. (yes Cleveland Gladiator Kenny Lofton is his Dad) led the team in points both with 16.

What Jaden Ivey Needs to Improve

2020-21 Season Shotchart for Jaden Ivey
Dom Samangy’s ‘21 NBA Draft shiny app 3.0:

The flaws in his game are some pretty big ones, unfortunately. Number one is his lack of a jump shot, and number two being exhibiting little in the way of making plays for others.

Although Ivey did have a bad first half with no starts and a great second half with all starts, his three-point shooting was terrible all year long. Even when he got consistent starting time and his percentage “increased,” it was still below 30%. I can’t think of the last time I saw a lottery rated guard with a sub 30% percentage from three-point land.

This is concerning for me as Ivey was flanked by two great shooters in Sasha Stefanovic and Brandon Newman. Both Stefanovic and Newman took more than 100 three-point attempts this past season and shot 37.9% or better from distance so it is not as if Purdue lacks great spacing and Ivey is being relied upon to provide it.

What makes his bad three-point shooting even tougher to swallow is his lack of playmaking. Ivey only had eight games of the 23 he played where he was able to record more the two assists. There is some hope this will improve as he starts more and gets in the film room. Across his first seven starts last year, he was able to rack up 3.1 assist per game ... but that quickly went away as he only recorded 1.4 apg in his last five games of the season.

I know, I know, small sample size you say. But then FIBA play happened and Ivey was up and down in the playmaking department. He had 15 assist to 12 turnovers across the seven games in the tournament. Those 15 assists were only good enough for 6th on Team USA’s roster. Peyton Watson, Chet Holmgren, Kennedy Chandler, Adam Miller, and Michael Miles all recorded more assists than Ivey.

And while Ivey played fewer minutes than all of those players except Watson—which might account for his lack of assist numbers—he ended up tying with Miles for third in shot attempts on the team. He is wired to score first and foremost as evidence in that Gold Medal game where he recorded a single assist.

All these flaws come to light in Purdue’s early exit from the tournament last year at the hands of North Texas.

He scored 26 in this game, but he did so shooting 10-of-24 from the field (41.6%). He was 4-of-12 from three-point distance (33.3%) which seems better, but North Texas defense really just let him fire away and Ivey ended up shooting his team out of the game.

This game went into overtime and at the end of regulation Ivey was 9-of-16 from the field and 3-of-6 from downtown so all looked great and it seemed like North Texas should adjust and send extra help Ivey’s way in OT.

Ivey ended up shooting 1-of-8 from the field in OT including going 1-of-6 from three-point range. Oh, and Ivey also had ZERO assists in this game. So, when I say he shot his team out of this game, I mean it quite literally as he took shots without using that to create easy looks for his teammates. He HAS to be able to use his abilities as a finisher and driver where he draws extra defensive attention to find his open teammates for easy looks.

How Will Ivey Fit In the MotorCade?

I’m just going to cut right to the chase and say his fit with the MotorCade is a bad one. Yes, the lack of shooting has something to do with it, but to me it is more the fact that he is not a playmaker.

Even if he had a game that fit well with Cade and company, he would be pushing out Killian immediately. Cade can play the 1 through the 3 so CONCIEVEABLY there could be a Killian, Ivey, Cade lineup ... but only one of those guys is currently a shooter. Killian and Ivey have not shown any consistency there and having a backcourt where neither guy is even a mediocre three-point shooter is a recipe for disaster.

Defensively, though, I actually think Ivey is a perfect complement to Cade as Ivey is a tractor beam on-ball defender with top athleticism and quicks to hang with point guards. I do not think the Pistons are going to want Cade chasing around the Damian Lillards and Steph Currys of the world, but they definitely would want someone exactly like Ivey to do that.

But if you are to glance back at that shot chart it is impossible to envision THAT player being the other guard you want next to Cade. If Ivey does not improve his shot, then it makes life easier for the defense as Ivey’s defender will ALWAYS be able to sag off and break up the play whether clogging the lane or staying closer to shooters.

When you see a scorer as inefficient as Ivey, normally, you can look at their team context and realize they are doing all the heavy lifting so they are inefficient because they ARE the offense (James Bouknight is a good recent example of this). This is NOT the case with Ivey, unfortunately. He has one of the best big men in the country in Trevion Williams down low, a duo of great shooters in Sasha Stefanovic and Brandon Newman providing consistent spacing, and Ivey also played the 6th most minutes on the team last year so he did not even do a ton of heavy lifting.

I worry I am just coming off as a Jaden Ivey hater in this piece—I assure you I am not. But, his two biggest holes in his game—shooting and playmaking—are absolute necessities to succeed as a guard in today’s NBA. And specifically for the Pistons, it is irresponsible to take the ball out of Cade’s hands and place it into someone who cannot hit jumpers and who does not create easy looks for his teammates.

While Ivey’s on-the-ball-defense and rim shattering jams are the stuff Dee-troit Basket-ball loves, he is a bad fit in the MotorCade as long as he remains a bad shooter and a bad passer.