A Sleeper in Slawson: Jalen Slawson's Case for the NBA
FEATURING: Furman forward Jalen Slawson | Prelude: Sleeper Season
A Sleeper in Slawson: Jalen Slawson’s Case for the NBA
Over the years, the month of February has become a weird time for scouting NBA prospects. In the rat race of evaluating the players that seem like they have a real shot of hearing their names called in June, this is a part of the season where things get a little strange. The holes that are in the games of the players that have been on the top of draft boards become a little bigger in our eyes. Players that are “sure things” don’t get discussed as much—if at all. Strong performances seem to matter a little more, as do the letdowns. In the midst of this madness, or “pre-madness” players that have had next-to-no shine (shout out to you sickos that have shouted out these deep cuts) begin to infiltrate the draft community’s feeds.
This isn’t a bad thing, by the way, as the new names attract the eyes of everyone that is begging for something new to be excited about. These shiny new prospects have their film devoured within hours, with definitive takes being formulated almost as quickly as the name was dropped. Within the past weeks, there has been no shortage of low-major/no-major/D-3 players that “no one is talking about” that many feel deserve more consideration and notoriety. Whether or not these players are what some may call “real” names, they get their moment in the public square.
The featured prospect in this piece, Jalen Slawson, has received a little bit of buzz within certain corners of the draft space, but he hasn’t been heavily discussed within the “mainstream” discussion. The reasoning could be understood: He’s “old” by prospect standards, with some outlets reporting him to be 23 years old. He plays for a smaller school at Furman University. There have been significant holes in his leading up to his final season of college basketball—all things that don’t scream “must draft” in a prospect. However, with the love that has been shown to these lesser-discussed players, Jalen Slawson simply must get some shine.
Jalen Slawson is in his fifth year of playing—all five with the Furman Paladins. He is listed at 6’7” and 215 pounds. Slawson wasn’t a highly regarded player coming into college hoops. He played for Pinewood Preparatory School and was named an All-State and All-Region player in AAA ball. His averages as a senior were 14.6 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 4.1 BPG, and 3.5 APG. His recruitment wasn’t that of a blue-chip prospect, but there were a great deal of schools that were interested in having Jalen join their team. Charleston Southern, Appalachian State, New Orleans, and Jacksonville were among the many schools that offered him a scholarship, but Slawson chose Furman as the school for him.
As a freshman, Jalen only played six minutes per game in 26 games played. The numbers weren’t spectacular, but it’s obviously hard to make an efficient impact with such a small amount of time on the floor. His next two seasons saw him play 22.6 and 25.5 minutes per game, respectively. He saw his points per game rise to 6.9 and 8.7 during those seasons, with his shooting efficiency waxing and waning in a number of areas. His 2021-2022 campaign saw him featured more as a focal point, and Jalen didn’t let that opportunity go to waste. He averaged 14.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 1.7 BPG, with shooting splits of 48.6/30.6/79.5.
In an age in which elite players in a smaller conference look for their opportunity to make a leap into more prominent ones, Jalen chose to spend his final college season with the Paladins. After being named to the All-Southern First team and All-Southern Defensive Player of the Year, Slawson has saved his best work for last.
At this point in the season, Slawson is averaging 15.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 1.6 BPG. His shooting splits have all improved, as he is shooting 56.3% overall from the floor, 36.4% from deep, and 80.0% from the free-throw line. Out of 27 games played, Jalen has only been unable to reach double-digit scoring in three contests. He’s also only had one game in which he didn’t register an assist. His rebound has been very consistent, as he’s grabbed double-digit boards in seven games. Looking at the production Slawson has put up thus far, let’s see how Slawson compares to his peers:
Minutes Percentage: At least 75%
BPM: At least 7.0
Offensive Rating: At least 115
There is a list of 25 names that meet those few metrics in college this season. Slawson is included with names like Brandon Miller, Gradey Dick, Taylor Hendricks, Marcus Sasser, Azuolas Tubelis, Drew Timme, Oso Ighodaro, Brandin Podziemski, Jalen Pickett, and Tyson Degenhart.
Reset the query and enter the following:
BPM: At least 7.0
Offensive Rating: At least 115
Usage: At least 23%
True Shooting Percentage: At least 60%
There is a list of 18 players, including Brice Sensabaugh, Kris Murray, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Azuolas Tubelis, Kobe Brown, Drew Timme, Adama Sanogo, Zach Edey, and Hunter Dickinson.
Reset and enter:
Block Percentage: At least 5%
Steal Percentage: At least 3%
Three Point Percentage- At least 35%
There are only 24 names in the entire BartTorvik database that appear. Slawson is in the company of players like Robert Covington, JaMychal Green, Tari Eason, Andre Roberson, and Chuma Okeke.
Jalen Slawson has long been a versatile offensive talent during his time at Furman. In his final act, he has been even better. On the season, Synergy grades out all of his offensive possessions in the 92nd percentile (Excellent), as he has scored 1.085 points per possession. With his assist percentage being over 21%, his points per possession including assists have equated to 1.380 points per possession. The holistic offensive output is hard to ignore, as if someone would want to ignore it.
Slawson has great splits between the halfcourt and in transition, as he is in the 89th and 81st percentile in those two areas, respectively. In 18 offensive putback opportunities that Jalen has had thus far, he is in the 99th percentile converting them. Slawson is 58th in all of college basketball in offensive rating among players that have a minutes percentage of 75%. Within that same group, Jalen is 23rd in terms of true shooting percentage, and he is 31st in effective field goal percentage.
The shooting is where we’ll start, as it is a massive area of improvement for him thus far. Since the turn of the new year, Jalen has shot 39.4% from deep on 2.8 attempts per game. While the volume is lower than some, it looks to be real. To appease the free-throw truthers out there, Slawson has shot 82.4% from the free-throw line on 6.2 attempts during that same stretch. Even prior to the turn of the calendar, he shot 34.1% from deep on 2.9 attempts per game—which is still a respectable stretch for a player that isn’t looked at as a shooter first.
The thing that will most likely be what Slawson would be asked to do in the NBA is to shoot off of the catch vice the dribble. That’s good, as he is in the 67th percentile (Very Good) in catch-and-shoot opportunities on the year. In this clip, we see Furman guard JP Pegues (#1) with the ball. Slawson comes up to fake a screen and slip to the top of the key, as Pegues curls around him to the right wing. Wofford opts to double JP on the ball, which leaves Jalen open. Slawson wastes no time getting his shot up for three points.
The shot here is very much a set one. There is a lot of bend in the knees. The base seems sturdy. The ball comes up high above the head and has a nice, high release point, with good follow-through. The mechanics work and looks very repeatable. Again, the idea of Jalen as a shooter is that it’ll most likely have to be coming off of an assist. Coming off of the bounce, the mechanics change considerably, thus making it less reliable. Synergy grades his dribble jumper as Poor (3rd percentile).
This clip serves two purposes: 1) It gives a tease of the defensive film to come. 2) It shows how Slawson can be used as a trailing shooter within the transition. Slawson times the layup beautifully and gets the prime-LeBron stuff against the board. Seven seconds later, the ball trades hands between Marcus Foster (#5) and then back to Slawson, who cans the trailing three-pointer. This type of shot is encouraging for Jalen’s shooting prospects. It shows that the mechanics are adaptable depending on what the situation dictates.
The creation that Jalen brings as a passer makes him a valuable player for his team and in this class. There has only been one game that Slawson has not registered an assist, and that was in the first game of the season—November 11th. Ever since that point, he has had nine games with 5+ assists, and 17 games with 3+ assists in 27 games played. With the defense (we’ll get there, I promise), athleticism, and shooting potential all present, Slawson’s connective ability is contingent on what could possibly be considered his greatest strength.
This clip against VMI is a prime example of how Slawson could be utilized as a real rotational player in the NBA. Being able to make a good pass is totally dependent on the possessing to be able to find the right pass. Sometimes, it means you have to wait for the opportunity to present itself.
Slawson has the ball to start this one off and kicks the ball to his teammate, Pegues. After the kick, Slawson goes to set a screen for Carter Whitt, to which he curls off toward the rim. VMI drops for the cutter, which means Pegues has to get the ball back to Jalen at the free-throw line. Pegues runs from the right wing to get into a DHO action. Pegues runs off of Slawson’s right hip and cuts down the lane. With Carter having drawn the attention of the defense, Pegues cutting down the opposite side of the lane forces the defense to become even more condensed. The help slid all the way into the restricted area, leaving Mike Bothwell—Furman’s leading scorer—wide open in the opposite corner. The zip that Jalen puts on the ball makes this play possible. The combination of placement, timing, and mustard he showcases here leads to three, very easy points.
The passing from Jalen can come from a multitude of angles and degrees of difficulty. Against Chattanooga, we get to see how he looks hitting his man in motion. This play starts with Whitt bringing the ball up the floor and giving Slawson the ball above the arc. There isn’t a lot going on here to cover, just Jalen’s teammate Ben VanderWal stunting a rub off a shallow cut, then making a line for the cup. The timing of the cut is perfect, as the Chattanooga defense isn’t ready for it. The help defense is nonexistent. Jalen’s defender, KC Hankton (#1), has to play up to the free-throw line, which leaves an open lane for VanderWal once he beats his man. The bounce pass from Slawson is gorgeous, as it hits Ben in stride for a two-handed jam.
In this section, we’ll look at different types of cuts Slawson can make to the rim. Traditional slashing, some roll activity, and out of some handoffs: Slawson grades out well in all of these areas. The number of ways he can find his way going to the rim with the ball is overwhelming to gameplan against, but fun to watch.
In this action against Chattanooga, we get to see how Jalen looks going through progressions—but we also get to see him become the benefactor of a nice pass. Furman is in a 5-out scheme with Slawson serving as the de facto Center. The first read is figuring out whether or not there will be a DHO with Whitt. Whitt opts to cut to the rim, which leads to Jalen and Pegues being the next set of Paladins to engage in an action. Pegues gets a screen from Slawson and proceeds to the left elbow. The Chattanooga defense steps up to stop Pegues, who then hits the diving Slawson. The help defense isn’t in position, which gives our guy the runway to finish with a slick dunk.
Furman ranks 12th in college basketball in effective field goal percentage, and it is because of plays like this. Jalen has the ball to start here. Tyrese Hughey (#15) sets a back screen for Marcus Foster (#5) and then gets into position to work a two-man game with our guy. With Hughey working at the elbow, the Catamounts big man is forced to leave a cutting lane open. Joe Anderson (#22) and Slawson look as if they are going to work an off-ball screen, but Anderson makes a cut to the rim, and Slawson steps back behind the three-point line. With Hughey at the elbow, Foster in the left corner, and Anderson making a cut to the rim, the Catamounts leave a wide-open lane. Slawson recognizes the opportunity to cut to the rim, following Anderson. Foster makes a nice bounce pass to the cutting Jalen, who throws down the dunk.
Speaking of with, our guy has 35 dunks out of 37 attempts. Giving him the lane typically results in two points.
This possession begins where the last one ended: after a make by Winthrop. The ball is inbounded to JP Pegues, and Furman looks to establish a quick offensive attack. I love the way this plays out. Winthrop has three defenders in a wall just inside the three-point line as Pegues and Slawson complete a handoff. It doesn’t take long for Jalen to turn the corner, hit the afterburners, and throw it down.
What’s interesting about how Slawson has done in handoff plays, is that Furman doesn’t run it that often. Synergy has 11 recorded handoff possessions for Jalen, of which he has finished 7-of-11. From what we’ve seen from his traditional cutting and the ability to roll to the rim as a screener, it’s not difficult to see the footwork, timing, use of angles, and athleticism not being able to translate on these types of actions.
This is the area of the game where Slawson can make significant contributions to an NBA roster. Having a play that glories in making the grimy plays. His defensive playmaking is evident. The ability to create transition opportunities out of thin air is spectacular—as we’ve already seen in a previous clip. Advanced defensive stats/metrics are always difficult to nail. These numbers are a bit more team-centric, despite them being credited to an individual. It’s a good thing we have the film!
Jalen Slawson is averaging 1.7 steals per game—matching the career-high average he put up last season. Of the 27 games he’s played so far, he’s only had eight games without a steal. Within the same number of games, Jalen has had nine games in which he logged 3+ steals. That production has yielded a steals percentage of 3.0. That steals percentage has him tied at 54th for the highest percentage for prospects that have a minutes percentage of 70% or more.
On this play, we see that our guy is capable of stealing the ball from the ball handler—even though that’s not his assignment. Chattanooga’s Dalvin White starts this clip off with the ball. Slawson’s teammate, Bothwell, is defending White, with Jalen in a denial position. White runs a handoff action with Khristion Courseault (#13) which leads to a faux with Hankton. That pretend screen causes a switch between Jalen and Garrett Hien (#13). With Jalen defending away from the ball on Hankton, Courseault looks to take Hien off of the bounce. As he attacks to his left, Courseault does not see Slawson step off of his man to strip the ball away. Incredible instincts from our guy.
VMI has 13 seconds left on the shot clock to begin this clip. Watch the amount of ground Slawson covers with the remaining time. He’s on the ball handler to start. He stays with his man after the attempted screen. Slawson gives no room to do anything, forces the dribble to stop, and puts pressure on his assignment. Asher Woods (#3) comes to get the ball off of the handoff. Slawson switches to him. He picks up his new assignment on the left wing, goes over the top of a screen at the top of the key, and sticks to Woods’ hip. Woods picks up the ball on the right elbow. After a few counters, Woods is forced into a difficult shot to beat the buzzer. Knowing the time remaining and how his assignment has to go up with the shot, Slawson uses his processing and length to block the shot and create a possession from thin air.
Jalen Slawson will likely get initial criticism based on the low-major, level of competition. Furman playing within the Southern basketball conference will do more to hurt his stock as opposed to helping it—even though, the Paladins are tied for first place within the conference. There are some relevant sleeper prospects that Slawson has lined up against, but there’s no denying that it’s not that competitive in comparison to what other prospects are dealing with. Slawson is a big fish within that little pond, and he chose to stay as opposed to transferring to a bigger program—which could be viewed as a positive in some aspects.
In terms of talent, Slawson has so much going for him. His versatility on both sides of the ball gives him a great chance of making a roster. The likelihood of him actually being drafted is low, but I don’t believe it will be based on his skill; it will be based on his age, class, and where he plays. For a team that has multiple second round picks, Slawson would be a worthy selection. He’ll make a Summer League team. He’ll probably end up being a two-way contract, or an Exhibit 10 guy but, in terms of sleeper prospects that have a shot of making the NBA, he’s as good of a prospect as they come.