At the conclusion of the 2021-2022 season, Piston fans felt confident in the progression of Detroit's Restoration process. A successful rookie campaign from Cade Cunningham headlined a budding core of Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart, Isaiah Livers and Killian Hayes. The only thing missing from this assortment of talent was athletic burst.
Enter Jaden Ivey.
Although the franchise slid down two spots in the NBA Draft Lottery, Troy Weaver was able to nab the dynamic playmaker to pair alongside Cunningham, solidifying Detroit's backcourt for years to come.
Through the first portion of his debut season, Ivey has electrified Little Caesars Arena with an array of breathtaking plays. One month into his pro career, Ivey boasts averages of 16.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and a rookie-class-leading 4.1 assists per game.
With a 14 game sample, now felt like the perfect time to dive deep into the high-flying rookie’s play.
Ivey is a phenom in the open court...
It should come as no surprise that Jaden Ivey has been nothing short of electric in transition. The 20 year-old flies between baselines as if he’d been shot out of a cannon, often out-pacing all remaining folk on the court:
3 seconds later:
Ivey’s generational size, speed and vertical pop make for some incredible plays on the break. In only 14 games, the South Bend native has already provided Piston fans with a season’s worth of dynamic finishes on the run. Although many have scoffed at the comparison, Ivey’s tenacious intent is strikingly similar to a young Russell Westbrook. Like Westbrook, we’ve seen Detroit’s high-flying guard create fast break opportunities by causing deflections and cashing in on off-ball steals.
Per Cleaning the Glass, with Ivey on the floor, Detroit registers points on 77.0% of their swipes from opponents, an increase of almost 10% when he’s not on the floor. Though his thirst for steals has resulted in defensive errors (we’ll get to this later), the Pistons 28th ranked fast break offense has needed every ounce of transition juice from their rookie ball handler:
But his half-court offense is a work-in-progress
The knocks on Ivey coming out of college was he lacked an in-between scoring attack, and that he struggled to adjust his pace, particularly in a half court setting. One month into his career, these critiques remain relevant. However, that doesn’t mean the shifty guard hasn’t shown flashes of brilliance as an on-ball creator. We’ve seen him make a number of high-level reads, both on and off the ball, as a scorer and facilitator.
Even without the aforementioned in-between game, Ivey’s ability to burst by the first line of defense has created a ton of efficient looks for Dwane Casey’s offense. The combo guard’s elite first step has consistently allowed him to penetrate the paint, collapsing defenses at-will, resulting in open looks on the perimeter for his teammates.
Ivey’s dominance on drives reflects in the numbers; he leads his fellow rookies in assists per game off drives. Per NBA.com, Ivey’s generating 1.4 assists on 11.8 drives a contest. For context, star distributors De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant are providing their ball clubs with 1.6 dimes a night.
I’ve personally enjoyed watching Ivey make a plethora of high-level reads by way of the jump pass:
For most NBA players, the jump pass is considered a risky maneuver; You’ll often hear the phrase “jumping without a plan” used to describe a poorly executed play of this kind. Well, Jaden Ivey’s the exception to this rule. His unique physical gifts allow him to levitate mid-air for an extra split-second, opening a passing window most guys can’t create.
In addition to the passing, Ivey has exhibited an array of dynamic finishes at the cup. The 21 year-old hasn’t been shy about attacking the painted area, with 44% of his shot attempts occurring within four feet of the basket, per Cleaning the Glass. And although he could improve on his finishing rate of 61% at the rim, it is clear Ivey is going to make a living inside the restricted area.
Pick and roll progression
Through his first month of NBA play, we’ve seen both sides of the coin when it comes to Ivey as a pick-and-roll initiator. In each game, he’s teased fans with his ability to make plays in ball screen actions.
We’ve seen him effectively snake ball-screens, reject the screen before tearing to the rack, flick skip passes to corner shooters, as well as split both defenders, knifing his way to two points:
For a first year player, Ivey’s passing numbers out of the pick-and-roll have been above average. Per Synergy Sports, when purely electing to score, Ivey’s generating a sub-par 0.82 points per possession (PPP). When factoring in passes, this number jumps to a more ideal 1.00 PPP. Upon receiving a pass from Ivey out of pick-and-roll action, Piston shooters are converting on 62.5% (10/16) of their three-point looks. The high shooting percentages are a reflection of the quality looks Ivey creates when attacking inside the arc.
In terms of improvement, Ivey’s floater and dribble pull-up attack needs ongoing refinement. Pick-and-roll sets have highlighted his lack of finishing ability between 5-14 feet (short mid-range); it’s an area you can expect opposing defenses to target as scouting reports strengthen on the rookie’s game. However, if Ivey can enhance his current conversion rate of 33% (9/27) in the short mid-range area, there’s a ton of points waiting for the 21 year-old.
There’s no question Jaden Ivey has all the requisite tools to become a plus defender at the guard position in the NBA. Standing at 6-foot-4 with a stout frame and 6-foot-9 wingspan, the Purdue product has the potential to wreak havoc on the defensive end. The quick-twitch speed Ivey exhibits allows him to stay attached to some of the league’s shiftiest guards.
In the early going, he’s provided flashes of defensive brilliance. He’s been a pest in the passing lanes, swiping the rock from his opponent 19 times in 14 outings. Ivey’s done a terrific job of utilizing his long arms to disrupt opponents in both on and off-ball situations.
This type of aggressiveness has resulted in an abundance of transition opportunities for the Pistons. But, it’s also been a feature of Ivey’s struggles on defense. His desire to create turnovers often leads to ball watching and defensive miscues:
Ivey’s communication and general awareness on defense has been a sore spot through the early part of his rookie campaign. Some of this is because he’s a rookie, but the frequency in which he’s caught out of position is higher than you’d prefer.
A key area for Ivey moving forward will be defending in ball-screen actions. Per Synergy Sports, opposing pick-and-roll ball handlers are shooting 53.3% when he’s the primary defender. In fact, when electing to run said play-type, opponents are registering points on half (50%) of their possessions.
Ivey’s poor screen navigation has been a big contributing factor to those numbers. He’ll often get hung-up on screens, trailing the ball handler and leaving Jalen Duren or Isaiah Stewart in no man’s land trying to defend ivey’s man and the roller.
The defensive end has been rough at times for the star-studded guard, but we are still in the infant stages of Ivey’s career. Even if he never develops into a lock-down defender, he can still level out as a league-average stopper.
Fit with Cade
Though sharing similar positions, the yin and yang of Cade Cunningham and Ivey’s offensive attack on paper contrasts well. Although both can be classified as playmakers, they exert their dominance in differing styles.
Cunningham utilizes a cerebral approach, constantly shifting gears with his pace and handle as a means to open a seam within the defense. On the other hand, Ivey exhibits a singular gear, one that's permanently stuck at full throttle.
Although it’s far too early to make an assessment of the Cade and Jaden duo, the backcourt pairing provides a unique blend of size, playmaking and scoring ability. By having two potential primary scoring options, current and future coaching staffs will have the capacity to stagger Ivey and Cunningham, ensuring maximum pressure on their opponent.
In terms of playing alongside Cunningham, Ivey’s off-ball prowess will be crucial to team success. With Cunningham likely to draw heavy defensive attention, Ivey will have ample opportunity to expose team defenses via off-ball cuts and standstill outside looks.
Through the first few weeks of the season, Ivey’s been solid in the highlighted areas. He’s has shown a willingness to attack the rim off-ball, already registered 18 points when cutting toward the rim. The South Bend native is also making a solid 35% of his unguarded catch and shoot three point attempts.
There’s going to be plenty of growing pains, but through the early portion of the season, Jaden Ivey appears ahead of schedule and ready to lead Detroit to the next phase of the Restoration.