You didn’t need to be a hardened personnel evaluator to grasp Jaden Ivey’s appeal in the run-up to the 2022 NBA draft. His athleticism stands out as clearly as a windmill amid a cornfield.
But the waiver wire is littered with the names of high-end athletes who failed to leave a mark on the NBA for one reason or another, be it lack of focus, an inability to harness that athleticism or a failure to develop the skill set necessary to weaponize it.
Ivey answered all those other questions with exclamation points during his dynamic rookie season. It remains to be seen where his journey takes him, but he got farther down the path as a rookie than all but a few of the greatest names in Pistons history.
He scored in double figures in the season’s last 39 games to break Dave Bing’s record of 33. Ivey joined Cade Cunningham, Grant Hill and Isiah Thomas as the only Pistons rookies to average at least 15 points and five assists. Unofficially, he led the Pistons in getting to the practice gym first and he surely led them in getting kicked off the court following visiting arena game-day shootarounds.
“The guy really works,” said the man who drafted him, Pistons general manager Troy Weaver. “The kid continued to grow. He got better in all aspects. He’s got a big-time upside but what makes that so attractive is he works. That’s what sold us during the process. The kid’s a big-time worker and he’ll be in and improve. Whatever his weaknesses are, he’ll work through them. Whatever he’s supposed to be as a player, he'll become because he’ll put the work in.”
Here's a look at Ivey’s past, present and future:
PROFILE: 6-foot-4 guard, 21 years old, 1 NBA season
2022-23 STATS: 16.3 points, 5.2 assists, 3.9 rebounds on 41.6 percent shooting and 34.3 percent 3-point shooting in 31 minutes a game over 74 games
STATUS: Ivey is entering the second year of his rookie scale contract after being taken with the No. 5 pick in the 2022 NBA draft. He will remain under Pistons team control for a minimum of three seasons.
DID YOU KNOW?: Ivey’s roots in Detroit run deep. His grandfather, James “Hound Dog” Hunter, was the 10th overall pick in the 1976 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions after finishing his college career at Grambling (La.) State. His father, Javin Hunter, was a star football and basketball player at Detroit Country Day in the ’90s, was an excellent receiver at Notre Dame and played one season in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens, who picked him in the 2002 sixth round. His mother, Nielle Ivey, starred at Notre Dame and led the Fighting Irish to the 2001 national championship, averaging 12.1 points and 6.9 assists. After playing in the WNBA, including a stint with the Detroit Shock, Ivey is currently head coach at her alma mater.
A LOOK BACK: Ivey grew up on the Notre Dame campus practically as his mother was an assistant coach at her alma mater for most of his formative years. He spent his first three high school seasons playing for Marian High in Mishawaka, Ind., before spending his final season at national prep powerhouse La Lumiere – he missed being teammates with Isaiah Stewart by a year – about 30 miles away in La Porte. Though Ivey was recruited by several high Division I programs – he chose nearby Purdue over offers from Ohio State, Indiana, Butler and, of course, Notre Dame – he was ranked 87th in the composite recruiting rankings in a class topped by No. 1 Cade Cunningham. He quickly outplayed his ranking, named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team after averaging 11.1 points and getting continually better over the course of the season. When the Boilermakers were upset by North Texas in the NCAA tournament, Ivey scored 26 points. He starred on the USA Basketball U-19 team in the summer of 2021, finishing second in scoring at 12.3 points for the gold medalists. Ivey entered the 2021-22 college season on all the watchlists and didn’t disappoint, averaging 17.3 points and being named a consensus second-team All-American. He joined Michigan State’s Draymond Green and Ohio State’s Evan Turner as the only Big Ten players over the past 30 years to amass 600 points, 175 rebounds, 110 assists, 30 steals and 20 blocked shots in a single season.
THE SEASON THAT WAS: Ivey was widely considered no worse than the fourth-best prospect in the 2022 draft but was still available to the Pistons with the fifth pick. He showed enough in Summer League, voluntary team workouts and training camp to be installed as an immediate rookie starter. Ivey, as he’d done as a Purdue freshman, made notable month-over-month gains as an NBA rookie. Before the All-Star break, Ivey averaged 15.2 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 42 percent overall and 33.2 percent from the 3-point line; after the break, Ivey averaged 19.3 points and 7.1 assists while shooting 40.6 percent overall and 36.4 percent from the 3-point arc. The slight dip in overall shooting percentage is more than offset by an increase in true shooting percentage as Ivey’s 3-point attempt rate went from 33.8 to 39.7. Numbers aside, Ivey’s improvement was most discernible in his feel as a pick-and-roll ballhandler and decision-maker. Ivey showed striking ability to find 3-point shooters in the weak corner and developed strong chemistry as a lob thrower with the team’s big men, fellow rookie Jalen Duren in particular. And Ivey became a much more responsible defensive player as the season progressed, as well. Over the season’s last eight games, Ivey had five outings of at least 23 points and seven assists with highs of 32 points and 10 assists.
A LOOK AHEAD: After earning second-team All-Rookie honors, Ivey enters his second season firmly established as worthy sidekick to Cunningham. They only got to play 11 games together – Ivey missed one October game – before Cunningham was shut down 12 games into the season and the Ivey that evolved over the ensuing months was a very different player than the one Cunningham experienced. But the high end of expectations the Pistons held for the synergy their pairing could create is now looking more like a realistic probability than a remote possibility. Ivey still has plenty of room for growth as a finisher and with his scoring feel in the mid-range, but the strides he took as a decision-maker and a 3-point shooter in just a few months – combined with the sense the Pistons as an organization reached for Ivey’s work ethic and quest for greatness – give everyone involved boundless confidence he’ll get there. While Cunningham is highly likely to remain in place as lead playmaker, it could be a lot closer to a 50-50 partnership than anyone envisioned even six months ago. Look for Ivey to come back with improved strength and look to establish more of a defensive presence in his second season while continuing his offensive maturation. An All-Star future appears within his reach.
MONEY QUOTE: “It takes everything you’ve got, every single night. It takes a certain lock-in, certain focus, from Game 1 to Game 82. I feel like this year it was getting the grasp of that, growing along the way. I made steady improvements all year from what the coaches said and that’s the most important thing. There’s still more to look forward to.” – Jaden Ivey on learning what it takes to succeed in the NBA as a rookie