Basketball journeys are defined by their details and the last two chapters of Jaden Ivey’s journey have been strides and not just mere steps.
Ivey burst onto the national scene during his two-year stint at Purdue University, where he led the Boilermakers to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and a Sweet Sixteen finish in the 2022 edition of the tournament. All the while, the 2022 Consensus Second-Team All-American raised his national profile, with Ivey’s shotmaking and overall play drawing comparisons to the likes of Ja Morant and Donovan Mitchell.
With the Detroit Pistons selecting Ivey with the fifth overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the 20-year old was entering a rebuilding situation, joining an upstart squad led by Cade Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, and Isaiah Stewart. The Pistons were certainly happy to have a player seen as a top-3 pick in perhaps any other draft fall into their laps. On paper, the team was young and talented, but in reality, the wins that mattered to the Pistons were geared towards the long-term rather than ones that can get Detroit back into the playoffs right now.
Seven games in, it seems that Ivey has validated Detroit’s faith in him and more. The nifty drives, crafty playmaking, and the solid defense have all been on full display in various points so far in the early going of the 2022-2023 Season. NBA defenses are more athletic and sophisticated than the ones the Indiana native had encountered at any level thus far, but Ivey nonetheless continues to find ways to score.
Averages of 15.7 points (on 46.1 percent field goal shooting), 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.3 steals through those seven games are pretty solid numbers and how he gets those numbers certainly nuances the discussion surrounding Ivey. Speed is a crucial aspect of Ivey’s game, but he has shown patience in terms of finding the hole in the defense rather than just running through walls. His ability to finish in a variety of ways certainly and 3-point shooting (34.5 percent on 4.1 attempts per game) help too, more so when the games are close and the margins for error are thin.
In a 110-108 loss to the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks, Ivey was fearless in his drives despite having to go through a defense made up of Giannis Antetokoumnpo, Brook Lopez, Jrue Holiday, and Bobby Portis. His ability to draw the defense before throwing a pass to a cutting teammate and his ability to make the right read before executing a cut to the basket helped counter the Buck’s size advantage as the spacing created openings for the Pistons to maximize.
Ivey will continue to get better with each game, especially with the coaching he will receive and the oncourt opportunities that will allow him to strut his stuff. Decision-making hasn’t been an issue at this point in the season, but as the games increase, so too will the scouting report grow. Given how he has responded against a pretty diverse mix of opponents, Ivey will likely respond well to the challenges ahead.
That doesn’t mean, however, that mistakes won’t be avoided, but they certainly won’t be a matter of life-and-death considering the approach the Pistons will be taking for at least this season. Development continues to be on the agenda, and part of that will be how Ivey meshes with the likes of Cunnigham and Killian Hayes, who he has shown he can thrive with either as a passer or on the receiving end.
Ivey will have to work on his free throw shooting, which at 69.2 percent (on 3.7 attempts per game) could become a liability especially when opposing teams would rather he earns his points at the free throw line. By season’s end, Ivey could eventually average close to the 73.9 free throw shooting percentage he had in two years at Purdue and it would make an even more dangerous threat.
The 2022-2023 NBA Rookie of the Year race remains Paolo Banchero’s to lose, but the Detroit Pistons have found themselves a gem in Jaden Ivey. The early returns have been promising and each passing game only adds to what is shaping up to be an exciting future for the Pistons.