Height - 6’4
Weight - 200 lbs
Wingspan - 6’10
Jaden Ivey is the best point guard in this Draft, a position which he consolidated in his sophomore season at Purdue. Ivey could have declared for the Draft last year but opted to spend another season in college with the aim of developing his game.
In most cases, the extra year in college is a hindrance to a player’s draft stock. Teams are drawn to players who add a new skill every single year and it can be hard to fulfil that expectation with limited practice time. Joakim Noah is the prime example of this trend.
Noah was projected to be a top-3 pick in 2006 but chose to stay another year in college. It was a satisfying year for Noah but it did mean that his draft stock declined. For Jaden Ivey, the opposite has happened.
The 2021 NBA Draft was loaded and Ivey’s stock was relatively low. He had shown promise in his rookie season but was still very raw as a player. He had tantalising potential but it would have been tough for a team to take him in the lottery. His sophomore season has been about refining his game and growing as a player.
Ivey’s shooting has got noticeably better, the same can be said for his finishing around the rim. Those improvements combine nicely with his athleticism to mean that he is arguably the best point guard in this year’s class.
Ivey is a superb athlete who accelerates and decelerates at an elite level. He goes from slow to quick and back to slow again in an instant. Ivey has learned how to use that pace to good effect. In transition situations, Ivey quickly pushes the ball up the floor and brings his teammates into the game with smart, accurate passing.
His ability to cover ground at speed means that he is a fantastic option to have in transition and semi-transition. Ivey can outpace the defense and get his teammates baskets before the opposing team can respond. Shots against a partially formed defense are always a good look.
Half-court situations can typically be an issue for fast guards with streaky jumpers but Ivey’s deceleration has allowed him to consistently generate offense when facing a set defense. Jaden stops on a dime while his defender is still stumbling backwards towards the rim. He uses changes of pace to create little pockets around the rim in which he can get off good shots.
Defenses cannot afford to sag off him either. Jaden is capable of knocking down the long ball, 35.8% on 3-point attempts last season and he has a smooth, reliable floater in his arsenal. The floater will allow him to shoot over opposing bigs such as Rudy Gobert and Brook Lopez.
His playmaking is relatively solid if unspectacular. Ivey has feel for the game but he is not necessarily a creator who can run the offense. He only averaged 3.2 assists per game in college last season which I think is indicative of his court vision. Ivey is not yet comfortable with making the sort of advanced reads that Giddey or Shai does. Cross-court or skip passes are out of the question at this point.
With the Thunder, that is not an issue due to the abundance of ball-handlers that the team currently has but it does limit Coach Daigneault’s flexibility regarding his rotations. Ivey will have to be in two-guard lineups for the foreseeable future.
His defense is also a mixed bag. Ivey is an elite defender at the point of attack which is a valuable skill to have in today’s NBA. Guards like Marcus Smart or even Luguentz Dort slow the opposing team down and prevent them from getting into their offense quickly. They create delays and those delays provide thinking space for their teammates. Those seconds can be invaluable when it comes to nullifying the opposing team.
Off the ball is a different matter. Ivey is like a rock in a stream at times. He switches off and pays little attention to where his assignment is. He was able to get away with poor off-ball defense in college due to his athleticism but that will not work in the NBA.
There is also the question of Ivey’s fit with the Thunder. Ivey would be a good guard to have off the bench but I do not think Oklahoma City really need him. The team has more than enough ball-handlers in SGA, Giddey, Mann, Poku and Theo.
It would make more sense to use that pick to add depth in positions where the Thunder are lacking. A sweet-shooting forward like Jabari Smith Jr or a big 3&D wing like AJ Griffin would be higher on my list of priorities. Ivey is a very good young player but his fit in OKC is not quite right.