Breaking Down Trayce Jackson-Davis's Passing | The Friday Screener
Trayce Jackson-Davis is one of the most fascinating centers in the 2023 NBA Draft not because of his athleticism, but because of his passing.
Very little about Trayce Jackson-Davis’s profile suggests that he should be an NBA-caliber center. At 6’9”, Jackson-Davis is giving up a tremendous amount of size to his peers. His lack of traditional center size may lead you to believe that he survives by spacing the floor, but only 4.98% of his 1,124 shot attempts from the last three seasons have been jumpers, per Synergy. Despite these hurdles, the Indiana Hoosier upperclassman continues to prove why he’s worthy of a first round pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Jackson-Davis is a freakishly explosive athlete, which helps him as a rim protector, but his main value stems from his obscene offensive creation. Jackson-Davis is a tenacious rebounder, legitimate vertical spacer, and old-school scorer. He has blindingly quick feet that allow him to score at the rim in a myriad of ways. Jackson-Davis currently ranks in the 88th percentile with 1.039 points per possession (PPP), with 73.4% of his shots coming at the rim. These are insanely productive and impressive college numbers, but they don’t necessarily engender supreme optimism for his translation to the NBA. If all Jackson-Davis was on offense was a scorer, he’d likely be barely considered draftable. What separates him from most players who peak at just being an excellent college player (by no means is this a slight), though, is that Jackson-Davis has turned into a truly dynamic passer.
When we take Jackson-Davis’s scoring possessions and also factor in his passing, his points per possession jumps to 1.256. Among all centers, Jackson-Davis’s assist rate of 22.8 ranks second highest in the country this season and 11th-highest since 2008, per Barttorvik.com. He has a higher assist rate than Anthony Black, Jalen Hood-Schifino, and Keyonte George, all first-round and lottery hopeful guards/wings. Jackson-Davis is proving on a nightly basis that he can beat double teams, read every inch of the floor, consistently create for others, and be the hub of the offense.
This season, Jackson-Davis’s most common possession is the post-up (36.7%), where he scores 0.911 PPP. His effectiveness and scoring versatility in the post require defenses to double him regularly. In the past, this caused Jackson-Davis some issues; now, though, he’s seeing every inch of the floor and regularly punishing defenses for their aggressiveness.
Here, Jackson-Davis initiates the post-up and shows his patience, waiting for the defense to make a mistake. Jackson-Davis patiently probes as he eyes Jett Howard coming from the baseline to double. Jackson-Davis immediately knows that he has an advantage on the weak side now. Instead of rushing his decision, Jackson-Davis takes a few dribbles back toward the wing. This move drags both Howard and Hunter Dickinson with him, allows Malik Reneau to drag the lone weak side defender into the post, and improve the passing angle to the weak side. Once his teammate lifts a few steps out of the corner, Jackson-Davis fires a perfect skip pass for the open three.
A lot of centers have (or at least should have) this skip pass in their arsenal. If that’s all they have, though, they become incredibly easy to defend. Here, Jackson-Davis is in a similar situation where the double comes in the post and he has a teammate under the rim and in the opposite corner. Michigan State knows that Jackson-Davis is more than adept with that skip pass, and they are sitting on it. Jackson-Davis isn’t a robot, though, and he shows off his lightning-quick processing. As Jackson-Davis turns to make the pass, he sees that both weak side defenders scramble to the corner. Instead of making the skip pass, Jackson-Davis dumps off the pass to his teammate for the easy two points.
I know, I know, most of you cringe when you see anything about post-ups potentially translating to the NBA—especially for a 6’9” center. Jackson-Davis certainly won’t be getting as many post-up opportunities in the NBA with the intention to score, but that doesn’t mean he won’t receive any. Instead of thinking about these clips translating identically, think of how they can be used in an NBA context. Teams with high IQ bigs like the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Philadelphia 76ers, and Denver Nuggets regularly run sets where the play initiates from the post. It provides a different look and an opportunity to create offense from an advantageous position. Jackson-Davis won’t regularly be drawing and countering doubles in the post, but he can certainly find cutters and shooters from there.
What is more likely to happen, though, is Jackson-Davis being used as a creator out of dribble handoffs and pick-and-rolls. Jackson-Davis is a very quick processor, has the skill to handle the ball, and consistently makes high-level decisions. His versatility in both these play types makes him a versatile scorer who has no issues beating defensive rotations by finding his teammates.
Here, Jackson-Davis goes to set the screen, but the drop defender shows his hand too early by aggressively shading the ball-handler to the side. The ball-handler and Jackson-Davis read this at the same time. As the ball-handler attacks early, Jackson-Davis bails on the screen and floats to the free-throw line. As he catches, the weak side defender steps up aggressively. Since Jackson-Davis has his head up and is a quick processor, he’s able to avoid the charge and immediately find his cutting teammate for the dunk.
Some bigs have no issues finding cutters out of these situations as their eye line is already aimed in that direction, but some struggle to find corner shooters in a timely fashion. Here, Jackson-Davis sets a good screen that gets both defenders to commit to the ball and frees him up to roll into space at the free-throw line. This action forces the weak side rotation. Jackson-Davis already knows the floor layout, so he knows that his non-shooting teammate is cutting from his right while the shooter is in the corner to his left. Jackson-Davis delivers the ball directly to his teammate’s shooting pocket for the open three.
Jackson-Davis can also be trusted to put the ball on the floor and create for himself or others. This skill will most prominently show itself while running dribble handoffs. Defenses will have a tough time defending these actions as they’ll have to respect both the shooter and Jackson-Davis’s ability to attack off the bounce.
Here, Jackson-Davis keeps the handoff and quickly initiates a post-up. As Jackson-Davis fakes a spin over his left shoulder to the middle of the lane, he sees the weak side defender coming to double, so he knows that his teammate on the baseline is open. Jackson-Davis takes one more dribble to fully draw the help defense before exploding to the baseline. He now has a better angle to make the pass to his cutting teammate.
This time, Jackson-Davis fakes the pitch back, which freezes his defender for a split second. This gives Jackson-Davis a half-step head start on his drive, which forces the weak side rotation since the primary defender can’t recover rim side. Jackson-Davis immediately reads the rotation and delivers a perfect live dribble pass that leads to a foul.
Finally, Jackson-Davis can be used as a creator from the middle of the floor. Here, he’s at the top of the arc while Indiana runs some motion in the corner intended for Jalen Hood-Schifino. Jackson-Davis sees that the defense is keyed in on Hood-Schifino’s movement and has almost forgotten about the corner shooter. Jackson-Davis promptly delivers a laser of a pass to set up the jumper.
This time, Jackson-Davis receives the inbound pass and casually moves to the middle of the floor. He quickly recognizes the split second of defensive miscommunication and pounces. He rifles in another one-handed pass to set up the easy score.
Even on the rare occasions that NBA teams run zone, Jackson-Davis can be used as a zone buster. We’ve seen a multitude of examples of his preeminent floor awareness, and that doesn’t change when facing a zone. As the ball swings around the perimeter, Jackson-Davis flashes to the middle of the zone. Without hesitation, he executes a perfect touch pass that should end up in two points.
Trayce Jackson-Davis is a bit of an enigma. Given his lack of shooting, his translation to the NBA should be clunky. Instead, it’s rather exciting. All Jackson-Davis has done every season is produce and improve. It would be great if he develops a jumper. Even if he doesn’t, though, he has the skills to be a lethal offensive option and one of the better centers from the 2023 NBA Draft class.