Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This report centers on Washington’s Jaylen Nowell.
Jaylen Nowell is one of the toughest prospects to evaluate in the 2019 draft class. He was a top-75 recruit in his high school class, and Nowell agreed to stay committed to the University of Washington, even after the coach to whom he had committed was fired. The new coaching staff agreed to letting him play the point guard position, so he stuck with the Huskies and that helped to produce an interesting overall evaluation.
As a sophomore in 2018-19, he took his offensive game to another level and Nowell was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year as a result. With that in mind, it makes sense that he would test the NBA draft process, but it’s not clear what position and what role he might project to fill in the NBA.
Nowell is not a preternatural offensive creator, even with the caveat that he flashes advance passing ability on occasion. He functioned mostly as a score-first point guard at Washington, but he pretty consistently demonstrated the ability to read the defense and make the appropriate pass. Still, Nowell averaged just 3.1 assists per game and had only six more total assists than total turnovers on the season. The turnovers were mostly a product of his tendency to over-dribble the basketball at times.
The statistic that jumps out at you is his 44% field goal percentage from beyond the three-point line, but Nowell plays with a fairly strong preference to take his defender off of the dribble and work in the mid-range. His shot profile is not representative of what most NBA are looking to have from their guards, at least from what he displayed in college.
Nowell handle is solid when he’s not overdoing it. He’s a methodical player that will probe and probe to find a way past his defender or an opportunity to set his defender up for a crossover dribble and step back shot attempt. In addition, Nowell is decent in finishing at the rim.
He looks like more of a fluid athlete than an explosive one. Because of his deliberate style of play, however, Nowell may be a better athlete than he looks like when playing in a basketball setting.
The shooting motion is repeatable and very clean, there is no wasted movement. He has a nice high release point. There is not much reason to think the shot won’t translate.
To determine the offensive value Nowell might bring to an NBA team, an organization would have to determine whether they’d project him as an off-ball, catch-and-shoot role player or a combo guard that could help with ball-handling and offensive creation responsibilities.
This is where the evaluation of Nowell becomes even more difficult. The Huskies ran a very conservative 2-3 zone defense in the mold of what Syracuse has done for decades. In that context, Nowell was frankly not asked to do much on that end of the court apart from sink towards the paint while maintaining some connection with the player he needed to account for on the perimeter.
Nowell a solid rebounder for his size at 6’4 and 200 pounds. He looked mostly invested on the defensive end of the court, but there is very little analysis to take from his play on that side of the ball.
It will be critical for NBA teams to get the defensive evaluation of Nowell on the nose. That’s obviously not the size you look for in a player to function as a wing defensively at the next level. As such, he would be a player that would warrant solid consideration from teams if he could project to perform as even an average defensive point guard at some point in the league.
Given how his shots projects, Nowell is a player an NBA team could fall in love with for the future. There is just enough unfinished evaluation that a team could talk itself into the rest of his game being workable enough to consider using a late first round draft pick to acquire him.
ESPN projects the Washington product as the No. 87 player on their top 100 list of 2019 NBA draft prospects. Nowell does possess an excellent foundational skill (shooting) that could see him move up teams’ boards if he does well in his workouts. He’s recently been showing up as a likely late second round draft pick on mocks from numerous outlets.