Oh boy, it’s gonna be hard avoiding hyperbole here. And yes, we’re very bad at simple mathematics. A day after 25 days away, we’re now just 23. Don’t look at me. I just write what I’m told.
Jaden Ivey. On paper, he’s a 6’4” combo guard that weighs 195 lbs. On the court, he’s a shooting comet, darting and dashing, soaring and pouring in points. He was slowed by an early ankle injury and didn’t crack Coach Painter’s starting rotation till midway through the season last year. His counting numbers on a whole look almost underwhelming:
11.1 pts, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists.
He got better with each game. Not just in that cliche fashion that we have to believe nothing is stationary in the world and we are all always progressing. But fundamentally, spectacularly, and yes, measurably. He averaged 18.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in his last six games of the season.
Against North Texas, in the disappointing over time loss in his first NCAA tournament game, he dropped 26 points as a true freshman.
He had a tangible summer off-season, going to Texas to try out for and make the FIBA u-19 Team USA where in Latvia he shined, not just as the scoring threat we already knew he was - he was second on Team USA in scoring for the tournament - but someone capable of being an absolute defensive menace. He hounded guards from Canada to France, stealing passes off the ball, getting to dribble on smaller guards, and protecting the rim in spectacular fashion. He averaged nearly 2 steals a game and .7 blocks a game. He was making a handful of highlights at the rim every game.
He looked like one of the two or three best athletes in the world of basketball when they were all sharing the same court.
And what’s got to have Coach Painter quietly more excited than Ted Lasso before a Roy Kent diamond dog session, is that Ivey has the athleticism to shine outside of structure, but he also has the feel, the smarts, the all-around game to absolutely thrive within structure.
Watching Ivey is watching a dance of colors so bright and swirling that you’re sure there is only chaos and chance, but you dig into the numbers, the smart passes out, the quick passes away from a double-team, you understand their is symmetry in every dribble, every half-step and hesitation. His assist rate was 15.4% for the season, a number that will raise with better play around him and a little more understanding, but despite his attack the basket athleticism, the freshman only turned the ball over on 13.2% mark for the season. A number that’s 320 best in the country. This is important because there’s maybe 32 players that can even attempt to do the things Ivey can and he’s still not turning the ball over at a rate that’s even remotely concerning.
If there’s one part of Ivey’s game that could use some fine tuning is it’s his assumption that he can make any shot at the rim from any angle at any altitude. The problem is, he’s mostly right. So sure, cut down a drive or two for a kick out, but you’ll take a freshman missing shots at the rim than turning the ball over.
The final piece to the puzzle for Ivey is obviously his jump shot. Which has improved but still bounced from okay that went in I guess to oh no don’t settle. He was 25-97 from three on the season, just below 26%.
He also hit a step back three against Ohio State to win the game. His form is not perfect, but it did improve in the middle of the season. He’s a shot maker even if not a good shooter. He looks more comfortable with his pull up jumper in the mid range than catching and shooting on the perimeter.
It’s a difficult task to improve in the middle of your season and change your form. So with a little more fine tuning in the off season, if he can push over the 30% mark, and God forbid he closes in on 35-40% where he will become entirely unguardable. These are not unreasonable goals.
Which is what’s so exciting about someone that has his sights on having one of the best single seasons in Purdue history. He’s that good with a supporting cast around him that should make it impossible on teams to focus solely on stopping him. Ivey is the rare collection of highlight reel plays and winning basketball plays, a kamikaze at the rim with the touch to gently land the ball in the net. He’s a superior athlete and a sharp mentalist.
He’s an All-American in the making. Maybe even a champion.