Jaden Ivey’s speed proved a major component of the case to make him the first guard taken in the 2022 NBA draft, but sometimes college players who succeed due to speed go nowhere fast in the NBA.
So far, there is every indication Ivey’s speed is going to translate in the way he and the Pistons desired. Through two preseason games, Ivey has shown a consistent ability to get into the paint unimpeded. And once he’s gotten there, good things have invariably transpired.
Against New York in Ivey’s debut, he opened eyes with his decision-making and vision in finding 3-point shooters stationed in the corners. Against New Orleans in his second game, Ivey got to the foul line for nine attempts. It’s very early in the process, but in two games and throughout training camp he’s learning how to gear down and speed up to leave defenders grasping at air.
“I felt comfortable in both preseason games with the change of pace, change of speed,” Ivey said Monday. “Trying to every day in practice get better at it and that’s what we’re here to do – just keep getting better. I feel like when I go at full speed, it’s another advantage. I try to utilize my speed any way I can.”
“Huge,” Dwane Casey said of Ivey’s ability to draw fouls. “With his speed, he’s going to get there. What he’s got to do now is recognize gaps – how quickly those gaps close up, how long guys are. They close up a lot quicker now than they did in college.”
Ivey averaged 5.8 free throws a game as a Purdue sophomore with a free throw rate – the number of free throws per field goal attempt – of .469. For comparison, Jerami Grant last season had a free throw rate of .371, Saddiq Bey .224 and Cade Cunningham .163. The greater space available to Ivey created by the prevalence of 3-point shooting in the NBA has – as the Pistons anticipated – given Ivey more frequent opportunities to get into the paint and create scoring chances or get fouled.
“I think it’ll make it easier for others, too,” Ivey said. “I feel like teams are going to try to all suck in and that makes it easier for my teammates – to kick out to my teammates – and they get open shots.”
Ivey has picked Cunningham’s brain to get a sense of what a rookie’s first rodeo will entail. Knowing how Cunningham’s first season unfolded – missing all of the preseason with an ankle injury, struggling initially but fighting through to finish with a flourish – should help Ivey navigate the inevitable ups and downs ahead of him. But the early going could not have gone much better so far.
“That first game – Madison Square Garden – that was special,” Ivey said. “That was really special. I had a little bit of jitters out there, but I feel like I’m in the league now, so I’m just trying to do what I can every single day to become a better player. This is my job now, so I just take every day and I’m thankful every day.”
Tuesday figures to be another special day – Ivey’s first home game with the Pistons hosting Oklahoma City in their third preseason game. There’ll never be another first game, but Casey has seen enough from Ivey to believe there surely will be many bigger games ahead for him as he grows with Cunningham, Bey and the rest of the young core.
“He’s got something you can’t teach,” Casey said. “We all know that. Now we’ve got to know how to pick our spots to use it. But we’re excited about his future.”