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2019 NBA Draft Profiles: Washington’s Jaylen Nowell

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We go in-depth on Nowell’s strengths and weaknesses as he hopes to have his name called in this year’s NBA Draft

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Washington vs North Carolina Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Background/Career Stats and Achievements

Nowell was the lone member of what had previously been the #1 recruiting class in the country who stuck with the commitment once Lorenzo Romar was fired and Mike Hopkins was brought on by Washington. The 6’4 Seattle product was ranked 67th in the 247 Sports composite and a 4-star recruit as a true shooting guard.

Expectations for Nowell were high but no one could’ve foreseen how quickly Jaylen would take over as the primary offensive option on a team filled with upperclassmen. Nowell showed he was the only player consistently able to create shots for himself and others and led the team in scoring with 16 points per game on 35% 3pt shooting. Late in the shot clock pretty much the only play the team had was to spread out everyone else on the baseline and let Jaylen go to work in isolation.

Nowell came back as a sophomore and did more of the same except more efficiently as he took fewer shots but ended up scoring more points per game and nailed 44% of his shots from behind the arc. He led the Huskies to the top seed in the Pac-12 and Washington’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011. Nowell was rewarded for his efforts with a Pac-12 Player of the Year award after finishing with a per game stat line of 16.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.1 assists.

Offensive Evaluation

There isn’t much that Jaylen can’t do with the ball in his hands. The first thing you’ll notice when studying Nowell’s game tape is his emphasis on the midrange game. Nowell is more than capable of getting to the rim and finishing or pulling up to hit a 3-pointer but he really likes to get defenders off balance and pull up for a midrange jumper or runner. 46% of Nowell’s shots were considered 2-pt jumpers per Hoop-Math. This isn’t necessarily something that NBA teams like to see nowadays. The San Antonio Spurs with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge have embraced the long 2-pointer but it remains the least efficient shot in basketball.

Jaylen Nowell 2018-19 Shot Chart
Synergy Sports

You can see that Nowell really struggled this season when teams forced him to take that midrange jumper while driving to his left. Every other zone on the court he was at least average and he was well above average near the rim, from the wings beyond the arc, and on the right baseline.

Playing as the de facto point guard meant that almost 1/3rd of Nowell’s possessions came as either the pick and roll ball handler or in isolation. As you might be able to predict by looking at the shot chart above, Nowell struggled whenever he took a dribble jumper on those possessions but was incredibly efficient when driving all the way to the rim or pulling up for a runner. He shot 70.6% when he successfully got to the basket and the vast majority of those shots were unassisted. The key for Jaylen is going to be whether he has the burst and athleticism to consistently get to the rim against NBA level defenders.

While Nowell didn’t get the chance to catch and shoot as often as he’d probably like, he did show that he could also score in an off ball position. Nearly 85% of Nowell’s 3-pt attempts came off of the assist so he wasn’t as likely to pull up off the dribble and fire from deep. But when he got the ball behind the arc in rhythm he was extremely deadly.

Nowell made 47% of his catch and shoot 3’s this past season which ranked in the 97th percentile nationally per Synergy Sports. It didn’t really matter whether he had a hand in his face or not as Jaylen still shot 46% on guarded catch and shoot attempts. The biggest question about his offensive game after his freshman season was whether he could extend his range to the 3pt line and he most emphatically answered that question in a single offseason. Now he’ll get a chance to do it again adjusting to the NBA 3-pt line.

Defensive Evaluation

It can be somewhat difficult to judge Nowell’s defensive prowess. Washington played the 2-3 zone brought to Seattle by coach Mike Hopkins from his decades of experience at Syracuse. Normally the guards would occupy the front of such a zone but with the transcendent Matisse Thybulle playing at the top along with 6’0 PG David Crisp it relegated Jaylen to the corner spot.

Nowell’s primary job on defense was to prevent swing passes around the perimeter for an open corner 3. And if a ball did get past then he needed to quickly close out and prevent a shot attempt in order to force the ball back into the teeth of the zone or into a reset.

The results were at best mixed. Nowell’s spot in the zone would ideally be occupied by someone with much longer arms. He measured in with a 6’7 wingspan at the combine but the other Husky players occupying that role generally had 7’0+ reaches. That extra few inches is often the difference between a pass getting through or being discouraged from ever happening. At least once per game Nowell would lose track of someone in the corner and let off a wide open corner 3. It was especially noticeable because of how infrequently Washington’s 18th ranked defense broke down in that way the rest of the time.

Where Nowell excelled was in his defensive rebounding. Playing a zone makes it more difficult to secure rebounds because you don’t have someone obviously there to box out. But Jaylen’s defensive rebounding percentage of 14.8% last year was much higher than your average guard. It helps that he was more consistently closer to the basket to secure rebound attempts but Jaylen showed a knack for using his athleticism to high point rebounds. He put up a 38 inch vertical at the NBA Combine and this is one of the areas where it clearly showed.

A team looking to draft Nowell will likely have to rely on workouts to determine whether they think he has the tools to be an average defender down the road. There just isn’t much college tape demonstrating his ability to switch and his frame makes it hard to envision him successfully guarding anyone other than fellow smaller guards.

Projected NBA Role and Fit

There’s no question in my mind that Jaylen Nowell has the offensive skill set necessary to make and stick on an NBA roster.

Here are per 40 minute stat lines of two Pac-12 guards’ college careers who each played 2 seasons.

Player A: 19.2 pts, 5.5 trb, 3.5 ast, 3.3 to, 47.6% FG, 39.6% 3pt, 78.9% FT

Player B: 21.7 pts, 6.2 trb, 4.3 ast, 3.4 to, 50.6% FG, 37.6% 3pt, 75.5% FT

Player A is Jaylen Nowell and Player B is James Harden. Now obviously Harden’s per minute counting numbers were still better, Harden was a top-5 pick, and has continually gotten better to the point that he’s now one of the best scorers of all-time. Jaylen isn’t going to be 80-90% of James Harden despite having put up college stats that were comparable.

But I think it’s instructive to show what kind of a player Nowell is. He’s a clear score-first guard but if you put him in a system that spaces the floor well then he could be deadly when driving and either kicking to open shooters, taking it to the rim, or pulling up for an unguarded foul line jumper.

If Nowell makes it onto an NBA roster he almost certainly won’t get a chance to start in his first year or two unless it’s with a team that has no interest in winning. His best chance to make a mark is to go to a team that is lacking a scoring punch off the bench and that needs someone to come in and run the offense for 10+ minutes for the 2nd unit throughout the game. But there’s no reason that Nowell couldn’t end up having a Fred VanVleet type of impact starting as an undrafted bench player and becoming a key cog for a winning team by his second year.

Projected NBA Draft Position

All of the indications are that if Jaylen gets drafted then it will likely come towards the end of the draft. But here are some teams taking within the last 10 or so picks who currently have a hole that could be filled with a score-first ball handler who can come in and give them good minutes off the bench.

2nd round, #52 overall- Charlotte Hornets

2nd round, #53 overall- Utah Jazz

2nd round, #57 overall- New Orleans Pelicans

2nd round, #58 overall- Golden State Warriors

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