Of all the prospects in this year’s NBA Draft, Trayce Jackson-Davis might be the most perplexing. I’m not aware of any other player, really in the history of the game, who got a profile in Forbes Magazine (?) attempting to find a roster fit or player comparison ahead of their even their combine invite.
He’d been a borderline pro prospect for all of his four years at Indiana, but in the last two under coach Mike Woodson, Trayce emerged as one of the most dominant players in all of college basketball, cementing his place in the record books with numbers that are unlikely to be replicated in the near future. Then he went and did this at the combine:
Mad he was listed as a center? Cry about it, who cares.
Still, there hasn’t been any consensus as to how his game projects to the NBA, among the people who get paid to write about it. According to the last HoopsHype draft aggregate, Trayce’s projections range from 23rd to undrafted.
At this point, the idea that Trayce wouldn’t get drafted seems a bit absurd to me. It’s fair to debate whether he’s a first-rounder or not - question that likely comes down to team’s individual needs - but he’s clearly developed a skillset that makes him worthy of a shot in the league/
The biggest knock on Trayce’s game will always be his shooting from distance, something we never really saw him develop at Indiana. There’s some video floating around from his pro days that suggest he could improve in that area, but the fact is that he could get to the rim easily enough in college that he never had to take many jumpers.
Footage of Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis at the Excel Sports Pro Day at the NBA draft combine. The first-team All-American showed off his vertical pop and improving shooting stroke in front of quite a few NBA executives in Chicago. pic.twitter.com/PNNySvfyK7— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) May 20, 2023
On the other hand, the skills he did develop in his last two years make him a much more versatile prospect than people are giving him credit for, leading to some comparisons to guys like Draymond Green or other undersized big men.
The first thing that jumps out about Trayce is his passing ability. As a 6’9” guy playing the five for Indiana, he was second on the team with four (!) assists per game. Couple this with the fact that he turned it over just 2.5 times per game, and it’s clear that he is capable of handling and moving the ball as a big man, regardless of where he is on the floor.
The other thing that should translate well to the NBA is his rim protection. His leaping ability and lateral quickness for his size will allow him to defend the more versatile forwards in the league, even if his own offensive game doesn’t extend to the perimeter yet.
Perhaps the best case to be made for Trayce as a first rounder is that he’s clearly still developing as a player. Some teams have become weary about drafting guys who played four years in college, reasoning that they have already reached their peaks as players. That is not the case with Trayce.
When Mike Woodson was hired, every player on Indiana’s roster saw their roles change, sometimes drastically. Not all of them thrived the way Trayce did. The more Woodson asked of his veteran big man, the more Trayce produced.
Even compared to his dominant junior season at Indiana, in which he basically took the Hoosiers to the NCAA tournament himself, Trayce averaged more points, rebounds, blocks and assists in his final season.
He may never develop into the perimeter jump shooter that the modern NBA covets, but it’s clear that he still has room to improve on an already impressive skillset that put him in the running for the Wooden Award last year. Whether he goes to a team that knows how to use him right away or not, he has the tools to be a good pro that could help all 30 NBA franchises in some capacity.