It feels like a foregone conclusion that Jaylen Nowell will test the NBA waters by declaring for the draft but will wait until the May deadline to decide whether to return or forego his college eligibility to play in the NBA.
It would be hard to argue that Nowell needs to stay. He had college career highs in points, field goal and three-point percentage. He finished out the season as the Pac-12 Player of the Year and was a vital piece of the Dawgs’ success.
Nowell’s defense is average at best, but his calling card is his mid-range game which is as rare as baggy shorts these days.
“Crafty” is the word that comes to mind when watching Nowell on offense. Unlike mid-range artists like former Detroit Pistons guard Rip Hamilton, Nowell doesn’t come off screens to get open. He has mastered the euro step and a wide array of step backs to get himself free for shots. While he’s able to use on-ball screens to get himself loose, he’s done a good job of getting space for his shot without help.
You may look to NBA contemporary DeMar DeRozan as someone with the type of mid-range game NBA execs may look to when comparing Nowell’s attributes. The former USC star and current Toronto Raptor holds a career 45% FG percentage but it has gone up to 47% since joining the Spurs. One of the things that DeRozan does well which Nowell can draw upon is the ability to pass the ball when in trouble. This could be due in part to trusting teammates or just recognition of the defenders in play. Nowell has done a better job with distributing the ball and finding the open man as his assists have crept up from a 2.7 average to 3.1. Still, there seems to be room to grow.
One of his greatest attributes is his efficiency on offense. He makes more than he misses and does more with less would be the best way to translate this. He might not be KD, but if Nowell is fighting for playing time in the league, he’ll have to show that he can produce. Overall, he’s taken 16 less shots this season and made 15 more than last year. He’s shot 50% from the field this year and increased his 3-point percentage from 35% to 44%. Granted, the thesis of this article is that his mid-range game makes him stand out over others, but those college 3s will turn into NBA 2s when Nowell decides to go pro.
Nowell’s ball handling skills may be in need of tuning up this summer. His turnovers increased slightly this year from 2.5 to 2.9 per game this season. One might conclude this to be about the same but there are times where he’s lost the ball on unforced errors or errant passes which goes to ball handling and making better decisions on court.
Defense, as highlighted by others, is another part of Nowell’s game that he can hone in college next year or work on this summer in prospects of playing in the NBA. Nowell is not a lockdown defender although with Coach Hopkins’ zone, he really did not have to be. But without playing a zone in the NBA, Nowell will need to adjust to working on defense. There seemed to be some “cheating” in the zone where one could sag playing a passing lane looking for a steal or lose someone altogether in the defensive rotation. Obviously, this won’t happen at the next level.
As for intangibles, Nowell has been a clutch performer for the Huskies. He is the one that wants the ball at the end of the game and usually scores or goes to the foul line. You may recall Nowell sinking both of his free throws at the end of the Gonzaga game down 2 to tie it. Ice in his veins considering he did that in front of the Gonzaga crowd in an ESPN televised game.
But Nowell’s greatest attribute, in my opinion, for an NBA club is the mid-range game. At a time when centers are shooting behind the arc, the Steph Curry’s of the world are pulling up from farther, and everyone else is dunking, there seems to be an opening for a player that can knock down a 17-foot jumper or shake a defender and pull up at the foul line. Nowell has shown his elusiveness to drive to the hole to draw a foul when all else fails. It’s shows basketball acumen and a fearlessness to go up when knowing he’s likely getting hacked.
I would conclude that Nowell’s offensive game is transcendent because it is readily transferable to most NBA teams. He can play in an up-tempo offense or in a slow it down, set-heavy offense. If he were to latch onto a team that could cultivate his offensive game, he could see time as a rotational player that could come in and hit shots.
The conclusion as to whether Nowell jumps to the NBA now or later is the biggest question for Dawg fans. It’s hard to deny that leaving now could be the best thing for him. He’s leaving on a high note and injury free. Any drawback would be his perceived deficiencies on defense as well as going under the radar for most of the year for most of the country. As has been hammered in our heads most of the year, the Pac-12 was down and UW picked the bones of a low-on-talent conference.
From a UW standpoint, Nowell’s departure might change the future of the Huskies as Federal Way High School star Jaden McDaniels is still on the radar for Coach Hopkins. It’s rumored that if Nowell leaves, McDaniels will come to Montlake….or vice versa (Nowell stays, McDaniels does not come). Of course, the ultimate UW scenario would be to get McDaniels and Nowell decides to stay one more year. But, as Mike Hopkins said when interviewed on Wednesday by KJR, “It’s whatever is best for Jaylen.”
There was a record number of early entrants for the NBA Draft last year due to the new rules allowing players to attend the NBA combine and private team workouts to assess where they stood against others and the prospect of being drafted. Nowell would have until May 29th to decide if he is foregoing his last two years at UW to keep his name in the draft or take what he’s learned from the combine and teams and stay in Seattle another year.
Another wrinkle is that players can now be represented by NBPA-certified agents. However, to retain the possibility of returning to school, they can accept limited benefits from agents. Things they cannot receive include training, nutritionists and “services of other professionals” which are key factors when preparing for the draft. One might see that agents may influence a player to go pro to take advantage of its other services to give them a better shot in front of scouts. This prohibition is something that has drawn the ire of agents looking to make investments in prospects.
Coach Hopkins indicated in the KJR interview that he was going to sit down with Nowell to discuss his future. He had not looked at the early entry landscape or how he’d stack up against the field of prospects. But, he will when discussing what to do next year. Anticipate Nowell to test the waters to see how he measures up against others going pro. He’s already showing up on the radar of NBA mock drafts as a second-round pick. I would suspect that if he is told he may slip into the first round (where money is guaranteed for the first two years), Nowell will likely leave for the NBA.