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3 Takeaways from Jaden Ivey’s promising stint as Detroit’s lead initiator

Ivey has flashed considerable improvements as a decision-maker in his past 10 games

San Antonio Spurs v Detroit Pistons Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

Approximately four weeks ago, in the pregame of Detroit’s Jan. 26 encounter with the Brooklyn Nets, Dwane Casey decided to put the offense in the hands of Jaden Ivey. The rookie guard was given lead guard duties, while point guard Killian Hayes was sent to the bench in favor of veteran off guard Alec Burks.

In the aftermath of the Pistons’ hard-fought victory over the Nets, Casey explained the lineup change was implemented to avoid the team’s slew of recent poor starts to games:

“Competing, not digging ourselves in a hole. We had an excellent practice yesterday, divided teams up like today. I thought our defense was on tonight ... we started out ahead instead of digging ourselves in a hole.”

Hidden beneath Casey’s justification was the franchise handing the proverbial keys to No. 5 overall pick Jaden Ivey.

In the 10 games since assuming the role of starting point guard, Ivey has produced 15.9 points, 5.4 assists and 2.8 turnovers. On the surface, these numbers are in line with his rookie-season averages. The raw numbers of 54 assists to 28 turnovers are not going to turn any heads.

However, if you’ve been watching the games, it’s clear Ivey has made noticeable improvements as a decision-maker on offense. Yes, there are still those occasional head-scratching rookie moments, but empowering Ivey with more responsibility has resulted in a bunch of promising performances.

To reinforce my sentiment, I decided to watch every assist and turnover from Ivey’s last 10 games—below are 3 Takeaway’s from my film study.

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images

Ivey has evolved into a top creator off drives

From the moment he was drafted into the NBA this past June, Ivey’s blistering first step placed him amongst the league’s toughest covers from a standstill start. Even without a steady in-between game, his ability to blow by the first line of defense was, in theory, a way for Ivey to create scoring looks for his teammates.

Through 54 career outings, the explosive rookie has his harnessed his turbo-charged abilities. Ivey currently leads all first-year players in drives per game, barreling towards the rim 11.3 times a night, per

In the past 10 games, his drives to painted area have increased marginally to 12.0 per game. But, it’s his thought process on these forays to the basket that have flipped since being elevated to lead-guard.

Ivey Drive Numbers Comparison

Type First 44 games Last 10 games
Type First 44 games Last 10 games
Drives per game 11.2 12.0
Pass% on drives 39.1% 55.0%
Points% off drives 49.9% 40.0%
AST off drives 1.3 1.9
TO off drives 0.9 0.6
Jaden Ivey Drive Statistics | Stats via | 02.20.2023

Ivey has made a dramatic shift in his approach when attacking the basket. He’s now looking to pass on more than half (55%) of his drive attempts, a dramatic increase from his 39.1% pass rate in 44 games prior.

For additional context, Ivey’s 1.9 assists generated from drives is tied for 5th overall in the past 10 games. He’s the only player in the top-11 of this category to play less than 30 minutes per night.

This drive-and-kick approach has been crucial for a Detroit offense starved of on-ball creators. Casey went out of his way to compliment Ivey after Detroit’s recent win over the San Antonio Spurs:

“his [Ivey] speed bent the defense, got it moving, putting pressure on the paint ... He impacted winning by bending the defense and getting them [San Antonio] to collapse”

Ivey’s newfound desire to hook up with his teammates for baskets on drives has manifested itself in a variety of ways:

  • He’s traded tough looks at the rim for drop-off passes to his bigs:
  • He’s now immediately recognizing cutters in the dunkers spot:
  • He’s becoming more comfortable in leveraging his downhill speed to open up corner threes for Detroit shooters:

None of the above clips will leave you marveling at Ivey’s playmaking ability, but Ivey doesn’t need to exhibit elite passing. He just needs to capitalize on the advantages his physical gifts create, and he has done just that in his last 10 outings.

Ivey has displayed improved patience in the pick and roll

Ivey is still very much in the developmental stages of becoming an NBA point guard. Following two seasons with the University of Purdue, Ivey entered the league with limited ability to create scoring opportunities in the pick and roll.

The pick and roll has become a staple of modern NBA offense, particularly Detroit (tied for 3rd in pick and roll frequency). So when you combine a player (Ivey) with limited experience in such a play with a team that heavily features said play-type, naturally growing pains are to be expected. The numbers reflect such struggles, with Ivey ranking in the 34th percentile for pick-and-roll efficiency when tasked as the ball-handler, per

However, this is why it’s important to dive into the film when searching for improvements. From my film study, I determined Ivey to collect 16 assists to 8 turnovers when electing to pass out of ball screen actions.

My central takeaway from assessing numerous clips was Ivey’s improvement in dissecting different defensive coverages on the fly. His pacing and patience has progressed leaps and bounds from his first month or two in the league, which has reduced his tunnel vision and enabled him to properly read the situation ahead and around him.

The below clip illustrates a perfect example of the rookie reading and reacting to drop-coverage style of defense:

In this instance, upon brushing shoulders with Jalen Duren, Ivey attacks dropped Houston Rockets defender Bruno Fernando with speed out of the high pick-and-roll set. Instead of continuing with pace, Ivey keeps his head on a swivel, monitoring each of Duren’s and Rockets defender Josh Christopher’s movements. From here, he catches Christopher’s defensive miscue (stepping toward the perimeter) and fires a pass to the rolling Duren.

Earlier in his rookie campaign, in this same instance, it’s more than likely Ivey looks to turbo-charge his way to the rim for a tough lay-up attempt.

In the below play, the Toronto Raptors deploy an aggressive 2-3 zone as a means to clog up the paint. Here, Ivey does an excellent job of carefully snaking the screen set by Isaiah Stewart and absorbing the defensive pressure from the Raptors defenders, before finding a cutting Bogdanovic for a corner three point attempt:

The most impressive aspect of this play from Jaden is him having the wherewithal to process and fire an on-point dime to Bogdanovic amidst extreme pressure from the defense. Just look at the way Raptors guard Fred VanVleet is hounding Ivey.

Ivey must improve his handle this summer

In order for Jaden Ivey to become the player Detroit envisioned when selecting him fifth overall, developing his handle will need to become top priority this offseason. Of the 28 total turnovers the 21-year-old has committed in the past 10 games, nine came via opponents stripping him clean on-ball or Ivey simply losing control of the rock.

If we remove those nine turnovers from the fold, Ivey’s assist to turnover statistics look at lot more appealing with 5.4 assists and 1.9 turnovers. Not only has Ivey left assists on the table with his dribbling miscues, but he’s also denying himself of additional scoring opportunities. His lack of a left-hand dribble has shown up on multiple occasions:

In the above clip, Ivey attempts to blow-by Jayson Tatum, but loses his dribble 10 feet from the basket.

Again, in the below instance, Ivey fumbles the left-to-right behind the back pass, committing the turnover at a crucial time of the game:

Per Basketball Reference’s play-by-play statistics, Jaden Ivey has committed 147 total turnovers in his 55 outings. Almost one-third (42) of his giveaways have come via plays deemed as “Lost Ball.”

Another tendency that has lead to a slew of turnovers is Ivey’s tendency to keep his dribble high when in close proximity to a defender. Below, Ivey looks to get by Phoenix Sun defender Ish Wainright with a right-to-left cross-over:

Wainright is able to cleanly poke the ball away as Ivey exposes the ball with a loose cross-over.

Ivey has already demonstrated a tremendous work-ethic in his brief time with Detroit; improving his mid-range game, shooting mechanics, as well as the aforementioned play-making nous. Hence, why fans should hold little doubt in their rookie refining his handle.