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Film Don’t Lie: An Early Look at Jaden Ivey’s On Ball Defense

Where has the rookie been good and where must he improve?

Golden State Warriors v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

We are only nine games into the Detroit Pistons season and eight games into the young career of rookie Jaden Ivey. Giving any overarching takeaways from any aspect of his game would be unfair at this point but what we can do is take a look at the film and simply discuss what he has shown thus far.

This breakdown is not intended to be criticism of his on the ball defense and where he currently is at, he is just a rookie after all and rookies often are not good on this end of the court. The goal is to get an overview of things he is currently doing well and things we can watch for improvement on throughout the rest of this season.

The first area of Ivey’s on ball defense we will talk about, and the video highlights, is navigation ball screens and dribble handoffs. There is also the area where the former No. 5 overall pick has the most room for growth.

Ivey needs to improve in two aspects of navigating these screens, getting his lead foot over the screen and a sense of urgency to recover back in front of his man. The interesting thing is he has shown an ability to do both but rarely does them on the same possession.

At times he will do a great job recognizing the screen, get that lead foot over the screen and then simply not make the next effort to recover. We also see the complete opposite where the screen completely blows him up but he shows an incredible second effort to recover. It will be very interesting to watch and see if he is able to join these two together on more possessions throughout the course of the season.

While Ivey has shown more promise in true isolations, it is still a mixed bag. Much like the college film, when Ivey is engaged and focused you can see the possibility of a very good isolation defender when paired with this athletic traits.

Where Ivey has to get better is using those athletic traits in a more functional way. He is currently averaging 1.6 steals per game, second among rookies, but has just one total blocked shot and 24 fouls (3 per game).

The defensive disruption he can cause at times with forcing turnovers is often offset by the opportunities he gives up. Keep a close eye each game on the discretion Ivey uses in terms of when is a good time to go for a steal and when to stay solid.

With his wingspan, reportedly 6-foot-9, and athleticism Ivey could also be disruptive contesting shot attempts. Unfortunately, right now most of those contests are somewhat out of control and end up in free throw opportunities for the opposition.

There is also room for the former Purdue Boilermaker to grow in terms of just staying in front of his man where these steals and blocks would not even come into play.

Through eight games offensive players have been able to attack Ivey, getting him to open his hips, a little more than you would like. This has shown up with some of his closeouts as well. One way he could improve this is more activity and engagement before his man ever catches the ball so he is in better position after he catches the pass.

The Detroit Pistons have switched less this season than the end of last season, something that will be the subject of a breakdown sooner rather than later, but in the NBA Ivey is going to be asked to guard bigger and stronger defenders in the post.

At less than 200 lbs. Ivey just does not have the weight and strength to hold up in the post in these situations. This is not really a fault of his own and may be why the coaching staff has chosen to go away from as much switching. The best thing Ivey can do on these possessions is hold his ground as best as possible and then contest without fouling.

Based off the college film, there was no indication that Jaden Ivey would be a plus defender during his rookie campaign. Through eight games those indications have held true as Ivey as shown plenty of areas for growth when dissecting his on the ball defense. Again, there is no reason to panic but this does give us our first NBA data point for Ivey that we can revisit in a few months and look for improvements and growth.