Before a life-altering, paradigm-shifting sophomore season, before everyone gasped at that absurd first step and a fully operational Jaden Ivey, there was a 6-foot-4 guard in Purdue’s practice gym waiting for the chance to make a name for himself. A trip to play in the FIBA U19 World Cup with USA Basketball would offer such an opportunity, or at least help take another significant step in that direction. However, it came with conditions. In case Ivey didn’t know or recognize it, his head coach reminded him.
All Matt Painter had done up to that point at West Lafayette had been encourage and hone the aggressiveness that could make Ivey one of the best college basketball players in the country. They are not exactly difficult orders to follow. But Ivey’s impending experience in Eastern Europe, the coach noted, would be about following a different set of directives and a different voice than Team USA coach Jamie Dixon with the same disposition, if the starlet would really like to make the most of his opportunity. .
“When you go to play for someone else, you have to adapt to what they want,” Painter said. “That’s what I told him: whatever I ask you to do, you have to do it.”
Following Ivey on all fronts — starring on a gold medal-winning team and consensus All-American for Purdue — is a good place to start the conversation for Detroit Pistons fans starting Thursday night. Fresh off the No. 5 pick in the NBA Draft, Ivey has all the physical traits of a modern professional guard. There are, understandably, a couple of important things to ponder now: Is he a point guard? Is he an escort? It’s probably best to address those questions with another question: Does there have to be an answer?
Because Jaden Ivey has a history. He adapts. He adjusts. Anything you ask him to do, he usually does.
To wit: With his mother, Niele, moving to Memphis for an assistant coaching gig with the Grizzlies, Ivey left his comfortable existence in South Bend, Ind., for a year at La Lumiere School. It’s about 33 minutes and a total of three or four laps away from home. It might as well have been a different galaxy, with regimented hours and bed checks and doing your own laundry and generally a requirement not to act like a child. As the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays rolled around, Niele Ivey marveled at the quantum leap in maturity and her son’s ability to, you know, have an adult conversation with people.
“I think Jaden needed that, in terms of moving on with things, learning how to behave not like a teenager anymore, but like a young man, being able to have difficult conversations and being able to think about other people more. than himself,” said Pat Holmes, the school’s head men’s basketball coach. “With all these kids these days, sometimes it’s easy for them to live in their own world and not think about what they need to do to positively impact a bedroom, a community, a basketball team, whatever.”
When Purdue needed another growth boost from Ivey in the 2021-22 season, so did he, in a way that should project him as a capable candidate for any and all guard duties, without squinting. also hard to see
His season-over-season 3-point percentage increased from 25.8 percent to 35.8 percent. He posted a respectable 52.2 adjusted field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot looks, according to Synergy Sports. His scoring per 40 minutes was up a bit (18.4 points from 40 as a freshman to 22 as a sophomore) and he had 13 20+ point games against top competition, on a Boilermakers team with abundant offensive options. Meanwhile, his 0.919 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler ranked in the 84th percentile nationally, according to Synergy. The spin-out of six turnovers in an upset Sweet 16 loss to Saint Peter’s is hard to forget, yes. But that was the season high, ergo, worst thing to happen to him, right at the worst possible time, and Ivey only committed four or more turnovers in a single game six times as a sophomore.
Perhaps the perimeter shooting numbers are still inconclusive, when arguing for Ivey as a consistent off-the-ball scoring option. Perhaps turnovers are a bit of a concern, when you’re considering Ivey as the lead showrunner. Perhaps averaging one steal a night isn’t compelling evidence that Ivey can defend at an elite level. The Purdue folks would say that all Ivey needs is patience and a chance, because he’s going to make the most of it. “He sets the time,” Painter said. “He has a good shot. He has good tight turns, he has good form, he does them in practice. I’m not going to let someone keep shooting at that rate if he doesn’t. But you also have to understand that when someone has that kind of ability, you have to nurture it. You have to give him a little bit of wiggle room for him to grow.”
Or as former Boilermakers teammate Brandon Newman put it: “He’s just a grinder. Obviously he has some physical tools. But the boy works on his game every day.”
Those physical tools? The ones you can’t teach. The rest, you can.
Jaden Ivey is 20 years old. He has plenty of time to be whatever the Pistons want him to be.
(Photo: Mitchell Leff/USA Today)