In a draft with a Big 3 of Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, and Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey looms as the dark horse at #4, with some hype of belonging in the top 3.
6’4 Ivey is incredibly explosive, and likely will be a top 1% athlete in the NBA. He uses his speed and athleticism to blow by defensive players and finish at the rim. He is also a competent shooter, making 74.4% FT and 35.8% 3P on 5 attempts per game. This makes him a versatile scorer at all levels, and he leads the #1 NCAA offense with 17.3 points/game.
He is more of a combo guard than a true point. He essentially finished in a 3 way tie for his team lead in assists per game (3.1), slightly more than his turnovers (2.6). This puts him on the fence where it is unclear if he can develop the floor general skills to run an NBA offense.
He has a wingspan reported anywhere from 6’7 to 6’10 and a nice frame, and does not shy away from physicality in the paint getting to the line regularly with a 46.9 free throw rate. This gives him potential to play bigger than his size, and possibly match up with taller perimeter players.
But he is nevertheless undersized to guard wings, and right now he is not a good defensive player. This flaws in tandem suggest that he will probably be a bad defensive player in the NBA, and could be a major liability.
Overall Ivey’s athleticism and scoring gives him tantalizing upside, but he needs a number of things to go right between the development of his shooting, passing, and defense for that upside to hit.
Nuclear Athlete = future MVP Candidate Upside?
Given his nuclear athleticism for a lead guard, it is worth wondering how close he can come to NBA MVP candidates such as Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Ja Morant:
These guys are fairly similar in a number of ways, but Ivey is significantly behind in terms of assists and steals in spite of being 6 to 9 months older than the rest of the group. He has nowhere near the natural PG skills of this group, which makes it hard to see him having similar offensive upside.
Westbrook had the excuse of lower offensive output while sharing PG duties with junior Darren Collison. Ivey had the keys to an offense surrounded by elite shooters, and does not have that same excuse.
Let’s shift our focus toward all-star caliber combo guards who are common comparisons: Victor Oladipo and Donovan Mitchell:
These guys were a bit older than Ivey, and similar in a number of categories, except there are a few significant divergences. First– both guys absolutely crush Ivey at steal rate, which is a vitally important signal toward becoming a + defensive player at combo guard size (and NBA star in general). Oladipo also massively outrebounded Ivey (especially ORB% 10.4 vs 3.1 for their careers) and Mitchell is a solidly better shooter with a much lower turnover rate.
Ivey is more explosive and proficient at creating his own shot at the rim drawing free throws than these guys, but as his only major strength he is not quite as multidimensional as these two.
Let’s shift our attention to combo guards whose value largely comes from scoring, such as Jamal Crawford, Jordan Clarkson, and Zach LaVine:
Now Ivey’s assist + steal rates are more in line with these guys, and is a more reasonable forecast of what to expect. His superior athleticism shows with better rebounds, 2P%, and FT rate, but all of these guys became good NBA shooters which is far from guaranteed for Ivey. And even though Clarkson + Crawford were more slithery than explosive, they still were able to create their own shots at the rim.
LaVine had a smaller offensive role given that he was playing on a loaded UCLA team with a more experienced Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, and Norman Powell handling the ball. Had he stayed an extra year and assumed a larger role, it would have been reasonable to expect him to have a similar sophomore performance to Ivey.
So this seems reasonably good for Ivey. MVP candidate seems unattainable, but he still has some loose comparisons to all-stars like Oladipo and Mitchell, and more realistically you are getting something on a scale of a more athleticism Clarkson or Crawford to a Zach LaVine.
But while athleticism offers potential for a player to overperform college production in the NBA, it does not guarantee it. Consider a couple of elite athletes with a high level of draft hype: Andrew Wiggins and Dennis Smith Jr. Neither are precisely like Ivey– Wiggins is bigger with more defensive versatility, but did not show any floor general ability in college. Smith was a small PG, but did show an ability to lead an offense. Let’s see what happens when we take the midpoint of their NCAA production:
|Dandris Smiggins Jr.||19||29.7||8.9||6.3||4.8||2.6||1.2||0.501||7.0||10.8||0.745|
This may seem like an odd comparison, but I was a pre-draft skeptic of both Smith and Wiggins as their flaws seemed to outweigh their athletic strengths. It is interesting that Ivey’s numbers are near identical to the mid-point of their freshmen stats in spite of being a full year older, as he offers a similar intuitive feeling that his warts are too nasty to become a star.
Of course this does not mean that Ivey will necessarily disappoint as badly as these two, as elite athleticism always provides some attainable path to the upside. But there are such few prospects with similar mold and athleticism as Ivey, Smith and Wiggins may have the strongest pre-draft parallels as Ivey essentially hits the exact midpoint of their size, stats, and draft slots.
Now let’s move on from mythical busts to real ones:
None of these guys are exactly like Ivey. Crawford has shorter wingspan at 6’5.5, much less athleticism, and his career college stats are similar to Ivey’s in spite of staying until a later age. This is why he was available in the late 1st at 27th overall.
But Ivey was only a slightly better college basketball player than Jordan Crawford, and his athleticism only offers the *possibility* that he is much better in the NBA, nothing is guaranteed. If that potential goes unfulfilled, it should not be surprising if he has a similar NBA career to Crawford.
Fultz shared similar dimensions to Ivey and although he was not as explosive, he showed a stronger knack for running an offense and making plays defensively. The big issue with Fultz is that his 64.9% FT proved to be a bigger flag than expected, as his shooting has prevented him from being an effective NBA player.
Ivey shouldn’t struggle as an NBA shooter to the same extent as Fultz, but Fultz was more multidimensional and productive at 15 months younger and went #1 overall for valid reasons. If his shooting disappoints a bit, he could struggle in the NBA to a similar degree as Fultz.
Jerryd Bayless is smaller at 6’3″ with a much shorter wingspan at 6’3.5″, and played smaller with much worse rebound and block rates than Ivey. But he was an excellent athlete in his own rite who showed better shooting and passing than Ivey at 6 months younger. If Bayless and Ivey were in the same draft, it would be difficult decision who to take first. Bayless ultimately provided a disappointing return on 11th overall.
What Does This Amount To?
Ivey is largely a one dimensional scoring combo guard, and this brand tends to be overrated in the draft with significant risk of bust or mediocrity, and a capped upside even when it hits.
What makes him special is his athleticism, giving him an easier path to hitting his upside. But he can still be a meh bench player like Jerryd Bayless, Markelle Fultz, or Jordan Crawford. And even if he turns out a bit better, a microwave scorer off the bench like Jordan Clarkson or Jamal Crawford isn’t exactly what you hope for in the top 5.
And even if he becomes a low end all-star like Zach LaVine, it is debatable how valuable that is as it is a difficult mold to build around. The Bulls did well with Lonzo Ball + Alex Caruso healthy, but have struggled with them injured. If LaVine is battling Nikola Vucevic for 2nd best player on a .500 team, is that really an all-star impact?
For him to surpass LaVine, Ivey needs to develop his passing and/or defense well beyond what he showed at Purdue. And it is difficult to be optimistic, because it is not like he is playing for Kentucky in lineups full of 5* PG’s and bigs. At all times he was surrounded by 3 shooters and 1 elite big, he had the keys to the offense and was in an ideal situation to rack up points and assists. He did well with the former and only OK-ish at the latter.
Defensively, his steal rate isn’t quite up to snuff and Purdue is coming off their worst defensive season in 10 years. In both of his college seasons the defense was significantly better with him off the court, and he seems likely to be a major liability on that end. One major selling point of athleticism is for defensive purposes, but without the size or IQ to capitalize on it, it will not matter all that much.
Ivey turned 20 in February, he is still young with time to develop but old enough for this season to be accepted as his likely true colors.
The one silver lining for him is that his athleticism is so rare, it is difficult to find many fitting comps. Perhaps his NBA projections should be heavily skewed toward the upside because life is easy when you are that athletic. But Zach LaVine upside is not quite enticing enough to heavily gamble on this hypothesis.
Where Does This Leave Him in 2022 Class?
Some people believe that Ivey belongs in the top 3, but given all of his limitations this seems like it would be a critical error. It is too much of a gamble on athleticism without enough meat or versatility in his profile to be worth it.
Outside of the top 3, he still could be the correct pick at #4, it’s not clear. After the top 3 everybody is flawed. This is a horrible year to get the #4 pick, and anybody who lands there should 100% be trying to trade up into the top 3 or down or out of the draft.
There are some guys you could argue above him. Jalen Duren is not quite the athleticism outlier, but because it comes attached to elite height, length, and frame, his physical profile is likely collectively better. If his upside comps are Dwight Howard or Alonzo Mourning vs Zach LaVine, I will take the former all day. Duren is still very young and raw and has all sorts of blah risk of his own, but he does have some case to go higher.
Shaedon Sharpe also has a case to go higher if he stays in the draft. He seems similar to Ivey in a number of ways, but with less information maybe his flaws do not cap his upside as badly. Or maybe the less info is hiding even worse flaws. It’s difficult to say with such limited info.
These are the guys that can be realistically ranked ahead of him. The players that seem slightly more interesting to me but more boring to the typical NBA GM are Mark Williams and Jeremy Sochan. Williams is somewhat limited as a role playing big in a world where nobody cares about bigs anymore, but he seems like such a solid bet to be a useful NBA player with upside to be a Robert Williams or Tyson Chandler. He is currently ranked #21 on ESPN, but should be rising with a strong tourney performance. I would suspect there are decent odds he becomes a better pro than Ivey, but they are so different it is a difficult comparison.
Sochan is also a difficult comparison because he is a one way defensive prospect to counter Ivey’s one way offense. But with his activity and versatilty on defense, and enough handling, passing, and shooting to work with offensively at a young age, the Draymond comparisons do not seem all that insane. And taking Draymond who is one of the most valuable pieces on a dominant championship team over Zach LaVine who is equally valuable to a .500 team should not be anything resembling a debate. Of course Draymond is one of a kind, but it is easy to see Sochan delivering a better pay off than Ivey.
Other than that, Bennedict Mathurin is fairly similar with more shooting and less slashing. Ivey’s slashing should likely be valued higher, but he is likely not too far behind.
If you can trade Ivey for any of these guys and a late 1st to scoop up Trevor Keels, it is an easy yes. Or if you can trade Ivey and a not enormous fee to move up for Paolo Banchero or Jabari Smith, is is an easy do.
I still am not sure exactly where I rank Ivey on my board, it will likely be in #4-7 range. It’s definitely not a mistake to pick him at #4, and it could pay off if he develops well. I just wouldn’t want to be running the team that is investing such a high pick in him, and would absolutely trade out of the pick at #4 overall.