Jaedon LeDee and The Older Prospect Conundrum | The Prospect Overview
San Diego State's Jaedon LeDee is off to an outrageous start. Maxwell examines his game, but also how his age may work against him. PLUS: Dayton vs. SMU in the MMGOTW and Quick Hits!
Feature: Jaedon LeDee and The Older Prospect Conundrum
The 1999 film Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me begins with one of the greatest betrayals in the history of cinema. In the first installment of the franchise, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, stunning bachelor/spy Austin Powers made a life-changing decision. He abandoned his promiscuous ways to settle down with his now-wife, Vanessa Kensington. But in The Spy Who Shagged Me, mere moments into the film, both Austin’s heart, and ours, get broken. Kensington is revealed to be a humanoid robot controlled by Austin’s nemesis, Dr. Evil. She attacks him before destructing, leaving Austin single once again.
Now, you’re probably asking yourself, “why the hell are you starting off a basketball column with a paragraph about a nearly 25-year-old comedy movie?” Don’t worry, we’ll get to that later. But for now, let’s seamlessly segway into talking about Jaedon LeDee. He’s having an outstanding season for the San Diego State Aztecs. One rule I’ve always abided by is that if a player is producing at an obscene level, regardless of where they are playing or my prior opinions about a player, I’ll take a fresh look at them. During his stops at Ohio State, TCU, and even last season with San Diego State, I never gave LeDee much consideration. However, after a blazing hot start to the year, I owed him as a prospect, and myself as an evaluator, another look at him.
LeDee is one of the college basketball’s top scorers at the moment, averaging 22.6 PPG on 56.4/33.3/76.5 splits. He’s also faced real competition—high majors like BYU, Cal, Washington, and the always-tough mid-major Saint Mary’s. These aren’t inflated numbers. It’s hard to start talking about LeDee and how he gets his work done without immediately making note of his body. Simply put, Jaedon LeDee looks and moves like an NBA four. He’s listed at 6’9” and 240 pounds. He’s built like he was carved out of granite, with a sturdy frame and broad shoulders. Most importantly, he’s willing to put these tools to work to create advantages.
A lot of LeDee’s buckets come on the block. He does a great job of establishing position inside and relishes the chance to bully smaller players when he gets a mismatch inside. His toughness, willingness to embrace contact, and touch are a stellar combination. Per Synergy, he’s scoring an outrageous 1.320 points per possession on post-ups so far this year.
LeDee loves putting his body on opponents, whether it’s to seal off his man to get a driver a clean look or to box out. He’s averaging 4.0 offensive rebounds per game and currently boasts an OREB% of 13.0—a number that nearly matches the output of big men like Mark Williams and Charles Bassey during their final pre-draft seasons. These boards give him easy, efficient second-chance buckets. This may seem like a dated approach, stylistically speaking, but there’s room for optimism. While he doesn’t get to operate much as a roller out of ball screens, his athleticism, physicality, and ability to set good picks indicate that he could do well for himself in that context. He shows these flashes as a cutter. On those play types, he can explode off two feet and finish above the rim.
Where things get hairier is with his shooting projection. His 33.3% from deep on low volume (3.1 attempts per 100 possessions) is far from enticing. The prior sample isn’t much better, as he was a complete non-shooter from long range before this season (career 0-for-14). Over the course of his college career, LeDee has been a solid free throw shooter, going 73.1% from the stripe. LeDee has also been electric in the mid-range this year. Per BartTorvik, he’s 56.8% on his 37 field goal attempts labeled as “far 2s.” The glass-half-full thought here is that he’s new to shooting, so there should still be growth ahead, and the indicators point in a positive direction.
It’s still complicated, though. LeDee’s mechanics are downright funky. When it’s a pullup, he jumps and brings his arms up, then the entire motion comes to a halt for a brief moment as he continues to ascend. Then, at the top of his motion, he shoots the ball from the top of his head with a forward-flinging release. Off the catch, the energy transfer is better, but this time, his hand starts to push the ball from directly in front of his face. Again, it ends with a very outward, shotput-level release. Players have succeeded with unconventional jump shots before, but I’d feel more encouraged if I felt better about LeDee mechanically. Right now, it would be too easy for other players to contest and block his jumpers.
Still, he could carve out a role despite those warts because he’s so good at the ancillary stuff. LeDee has a high work rate. He tries to find ways to help his team get a clean look, even if it doesn’t involve him touching the ball. He’s always doing something, whether it’s working for position, moving, or screening. While his handle isn’t mesmerizing, he does manage to keep the ball low and isn’t an easy strip target. I like his vision, too. LeDee creates looks for his teammates behind the arc. He’ll spray it out from the post or kick it on a drive when he doesn’t like what he has going for himself. In total, there are real concerns about LeDee’s range, but he’s selfless, high energy, and an efficient finisher.
There’s a lot to like on the defensive side of the ball. LeDee is an effective playmaker, but he does it with care, fouling only 3.6 times per 100 possessions. His 2.1 STL% and 3.0 BLK% are both solid numbers for a four. As a help defender, he can rotate to the basket and soar above the rim to reject opponents. He’ll make hustle plays like tipping passes and diving on the floor for loose balls. LeDee does a tremendous job of using his long arms to swipe the ball away from unattentive ball-handlers. He has a keen sense of awareness and is ready to act, but rarely does he gamble and give up something easy as a result. Even at his worst, he’s dependable, and at his best, he’s a problem.
Where LeDee shines the most is guarding the ball. There are few guys who can give him headaches. Because he’s built like a linebacker, even college big men aren’t able to make him budge inside. When wings and guards try to go at him, they often regret it. His defensive stance and posture are textbook. He slides his feet well and elevates from his slide without much trouble. This year, he’s done a much better job of keeping his arms up and playing with better balance at the point of attack. Though he’s not the quickest or fleetest of foot, these adjustments have made him quite imposing. LeDee is also fantastic with his hands, and he’s great at getting into his man’s dribble for a steal. While I’d feel best about LeDee covering the opposing four-man at the next level, I’d feel comfortable enough with him switching throughout the higher end of the positional spectrum.
The Older Prospect Conundrum
Okay, so you know how I opened this column talking about the cinematic masterpiece Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me? There are a few reasons for that. The first is that the film opens with heartbreak, which was a sensation I felt when I went to Jaedon LeDee’s RealGM page and saw his birthday: July 25th, 1999. That means he’ll turn 25 years old shortly after the 2024 NBA Draft. If you thought me opening up an article by talking about an Austin Powers movie was a dated concept, you were right. But here’s the kicker—LeDee is nearly as old as that movie, which hit theaters only a month and a half before his birth.
Older prospects can be tough to pin down. On one hand, some players simply develop later than others. Not everyone is LeBron James, ready to rock in the NBA at 18 years old. There are guys like Keegan Murray and Jalen Williams, who took a few years post-high school to put it together. Where it gets tricky with LeDee is that he’s not just an older prospect, he’s an archaic prospect. Let’s do a quick exercise. Below is a table of stats, per 40 minutes, for two different players. Who would you rather have?
19.1 PPG, 13.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.9 TOV, 3.2 BPG, 2.4 SPG
26.0 PPG. 11.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 2.4 TOV, 1.0 BPG, 1.4 SPG
It’s close, right? Player 1 doesn’t score as much, but he’s going to bring a lot more defensive firepower. Player 2 is Jaedon LeDee. Player 1 was Paul Reed during his junior season at DePaul. Now, here’s the problem—Jaedon LeDee is only a month and a half younger than present-day Paul Reed. Imagine the numbers Reed would be putting up if he was in college right now! Personally, I like Paul Reed. It feels like the game has started to slow down for him, and it’s earned him the most MPG (14.3) of his career. He’s a good backup big man, but he wouldn’t start for most teams. And that’s okay! Most guys in the NBA aren’t starters. But it raises questions about the potential value of going after Jaedon LeDee. If he’s in a similar place to where Paul Reed was four years ago, but they’re the same age, what are the odds that I’m getting a rotation player if I draft him?
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. I compiled the list below to the best of my abilities. It includes players from the last ten years who were drafted, or immediately signed “proper” NBA contracts (standard or two-way, excluding Exhibit-10s), while being over 23.5 years old on draft night. Asterisks represent undrafted players.
Cameron Bairstow, 23 years 6 months 19 days
Corey Jefferson, 23 years 6 months 0 days
Rakeem Christmas, 23 years 6 months 24 days
Buddy Hield, 23 years 6 months 6 days
Malcolm Brogdon, 23 years 6 months 12 days
A.J. Hammons, 23 years 9 months 27 days
Michael Gbinije, 24 years 0 months 18 days
Kadeem Allen, 24 years 5 months 7 days
Jaron Blossomgame, 23 years 9 months 6 days
*Chris Boucher, 24 years 5 months 11 days
George King, 24 years 5 months 6 days
*Duncan Robinson, 24 years 1 months 30 days
*Yuta Watanabe, 23 years 8 months 8 days
*Kenrich Williams, 23 years 6 months 19 days
Cody Martin, 23 years 8 months 24 days
Marial Shayok, 23 years 10 months 26 days
*Caleb Martin, 23 years 8 months 24 days
Grant Riller, 23 years 9 months 10 days
Sam Merrill, 24 years 6 months 3 days
Chris Duarte, 24 years 1 months 16 days
*Sam Hauser, 23 years 7 months 21 days
*Jay Huff, 23 years 11 months 4 days
*JaQuori McLaughlin, 23 years 6 months 0 days
*Eugene Omoruyi, 24 years 5 months 15 days
Jalen Pickett, 23 years 8 months 0 days
Jalen Slawson, 23 years 8 months 0 days
*Leaky Black, 24 years 0 months 8 days
*D’Moi Hodge, 24 years 6 months 2 days
There are 28 guys on that list. Let’s exclude the 2023 guys because it’s too early to tell and say 24. Of the 24, here are the players who have logged, or are presumably on pace to log, more than four NBA seasons playing over 12 minutes per game:
-Chris Duarte (this one may be iffy)
That’s not a terrible hit rate! And, some of those guys are really good! You’ve got a number of legitimate, playoff team rotation players in there. It’s especially impressive considering how many of those guys were undrafted. Low risk, high reward. However, here comes another reality check: Jaedon LeDee is going to be older on draft night than every single one of them. Also, reliable outside shooting seems to be a common denominator among those who stuck. None of those guys shot below 33.8% from deep in their final college season. That number occurred during Caleb Martin’s final college season, where he took over nine per game.
They were also all more eager to shoot than LeDee, too. Cody Martin’s 4.6 threes per 100 possessions is the lowest volume output on that list, and it’s still quite a bit heftier than LeDee’s 3.1 per 100. LeDee is both less efficient and less willing from behind the arc than everyone noted above. For whatever reason, bigger, more interior-based players at his age haven’t panned out. On the opposite end of the spectrum, none of these dudes are tiny, either. It appears that size, malleability (all of these guys could find minutes on any team), and shooting is what gets older prospects over the hump. Unfortunately, LeDee, at least on the surface, looks more fit-dependent and struggles from the outside.
The deck appears to be stacked against Jaedon LeDee. There isn’t an example of a true, out-of-college rookie his age latching on in the NBA. Then, there’s the fact that older prospects who do stick tend to be at least good, and in many cases excellent, at shooting threes. As a non-shooting four less than ideal measurements for an NBA five, LeDee doesn’t fit that bill. It’s easy to get discouraged and the evidence is difficult to ignore. But here’s the thing—I’m not comfortable slamming the door shut on LeDee. This is a guy who averaged less than eight points per game a year ago. No matter what, this massive improvement deserves both recognition and celebration. Plus, there shouldn’t be hard, fast rules in scouting, as no two prospects are the same. This could be a bizarre, lightning-in-a-bottle case of a guy who simply put it together super late. Part of me asks: “Who suddenly learned how to shoot at 25 years old?” But another part of me asks: “Why couldn’t a high-motor winner like Jaedon LeDee overcome the odds once again?”
The good news for LeDee is this—if he keeps it up, he’ll get a foot in the door. Teams will always be intrigued by guys who produce at a high clip and guys who win. For high-clip producers, I’ll point to one of my favorite deep cuts from last year, Jake Stephens. He was also an older prospect, and he had serious athletic concerns. But at 7’0” with a 7’10” wingspan, he was a knock-down guy from three-point range and a dynamite passer. He got an Exhibit-10 with the Sacramento Kings and currently plays for their G Leauge affiliate in Stockton. On the winner’s front, there’s LaDee’s old college teammate, Nathan Mensah. He was even older than LeDee will be on draft night, and he still got an Exhibit-10 from the Charlotte Hornets. Now, he’s blocking shots left and right for their G League program. LeDee checks both of these boxes with authority. Right now, he has a BPM of 12. Look at the list of the guys below who have hit that threshold over the last decade, and you’ll see a lot of guys who are thriving in the NBA. It’s not foolproof, but it’s encouraging.
If the draft were tomorrow, would I expend draft capital on Jaedon LeDee? No. I worry about how much developmental potential he has left, his poor outside shot, and how fit-dependent he appears to be at this point in time. Still, the draft isn’t tomorrow, it’s in June. And here’s the thing—recent history has shown that if you are productive enough, teams will still kick the tires, even if you are older or less conventional. I’d anticipate that if LaDee continues to score, rebound, and defend at this level, he’ll get an Exhibit-10, or at worst, a Summer League invite from an NBA team. If the shot falls, a two-way is on the table, just as it was for D’Moi Hodge last year. From there, LeDee will have the opportunity to make another leap like the one he did prior to this season. And there’s still the possibility that he could make me look like an idiot for writing a column where I said I wouldn’t expend draft capital on him. After all, I didn’t see this breakout coming. Who’s to say there can’t be one more?
Mid-Major Game of the Week
This week’s Mid-Major Game of the Week, as voted on by you, The Sickos, was Dayton vs. SMU. Once again, you all picked a wildly entertaining game. This one went until the final horn, with Dayton prevailing 65-63 after SMU couldn’t convert their final scoring attempts.
The likely reason this game prevailed in the polls is interest in Dayton’s big man, DaRon Holmes II. Holmes has been on the NBA cusp for some time now. The junior big man was invited to the NBA Combine this past cycle, but ultimately decided to return to school. The version of Holmes that showed up on Wednesday is exactly the one that could get him over the hump come June. He scored 20 points on 6-10 shooting while also tallying seven rebounds, three blocks, one steal, and six assists to only two turnovers.
One part of Holmes’s appeal is his defense. He’s going to be able to play in any ball screen coverage his team desires at the professional level. He’s agile enough to switch onto smaller players, and when showing or dropping, he does a good job of maximizing his length to take away easy options for the ball handler. Holmes protects the rim, but his ability to get off the floor without much load time enabled him to swat a mid-range jumper in this game. His presence around the basket also forced multiple kickouts and pullouts, making him a genuine deterrent. While his relative lack of strength can lead to him giving up position against stronger bigs at times, there aren’t many areas on that side of the ball where Holmes isn’t going to hold his own and then some.
Another selling point for Holmes, which I’ve been leerier of, is his playmaking. At times, he can be over-ambitious and too eager to show off his bag. In this game, though, he was stellar. He stayed poised against doubles and didn’t get out of control. He wired a beautiful bounce pass to Kobe Brea. He had a face-up drive on the baseline where he kicked it to the corner for an open three. With five minutes left in the second half, they let him bring the ball up his court, and he burned the opposing big man off the bounce for an easy layup. Few guys his size can dribble like him or see the floor like him, and he has creativity to boot. This is a massive value add for his stock.
Holmes’s scoring package is evolving, too. He’s always at the top of the NCAA dunks leaderboard, but he’s added a mid-range jumper and three-ball over the past two seasons. He’s 36.4% from deep on 1.6 per game as of this writing, but teams respect him out there, and that opens up his driving game. Despite his thinner frame, he’s been fully embracing contact this year. He’s getting to the charity stripe almost nine times per game and hitting 72.6% of his shots there. In this game, he got to the line nine times and made seven of them.
The DaRon Holmes who lit up SMU looked like an NBA center. He guarded multiple positions, turned away drivers, showed prowess as a playmaker, did the dirty work inside, and stretched the floor. It’s not a wrap for Holmes—he has to continue to be a steady decision-maker, show he can compete night in and night out on the glass, and be more physical. But his work as a lob target, potential as a floor spacer and short roll passer, and his defensive acumen make him a player worth investing in on draft night.
On the SMU side, the hot name is junior guard Zhuric Phelps. To be frank, I’ve always been lower on Phelps than consensus. At 6’3”, he’s on the skinny side, he’s never shot above 31% from three, and his playmaking for others needs to come along. Guys do get stronger, though, so there’s hope. His nice mid-range pull-up and sweet stroke off the catch give reason to buy into his shooting numbers turning around, too. He has real quickness on the defensive end, which he displayed in the opening minutes. He picked off a pass for an easy layup, then tipped a pass out of bounds immediately afterward. He’ll fight to get around screens on that end, too. He’s got a handle, some wiggle, and he can contort himself to finish at the rim. Still, he often stops and surveys, and his turnovers (four of them to only one assist in this game) can be frustrating. Early in the second half, he coughed one up a transition pass that could have been intercepted by three different defenders. In spite of his warts, Phelps still has a path. His steal and block rates have always been strong for a guard, he’s tough, and he’s fast. If the range expands while the game slows down for him, he could find himself deeper in the mix.
Next week’s Mid-Major Game of the Week will be Drake vs. Saint Louis! Make sure you’re following me on Twitter/X to vote for the Mid-Major Game of the Week in the future!
-Every time I watch Pacome Dadiet, I end up asking myself why I haven’t been higher on him. The 6’8” forward doesn’t turn 19 until after the next draft, but this isn’t just a “raw tools bet.” Dadiet’s jumper looks clean off the catch. He can get out and run in transition. He’s got enough of a handle to straight line drive effectively and he can fly off one foot to finish. On the defensive end, he’s light on his feet, but it feels like he could be capable of more as his awareness and feel continue to grow with experience. Dadiet’s NBA athleticism, defensive upside, effective jumper, and inside scoring skills make him one of the more intriguing upside plays in this class. I’d be pretty surprised if he doesn’t rise up boards as June comes closer.
-While he hasn’t been mesmerizing statistically, I’m still quite liking Oregon’s 6’9” freshman Kwame Evans Jr. There are flaws, to be sure. He’s scoring 6.5 PPG on 36.1/23.5/60.0 splits. At times, he can look jittery, tentative, and nervous on offense. But he’s done a nice job defensively. He knows how to guard in a ball screen, is light on his feet, and boasts strong anticipation skills. His 3.6 STL% and 3.4 BLK% are both great marks. As our own Albert Ghim noted, there’s some playmaking juice to him, and he’s done a great job of limiting his mistakes with the ball, posting nine assists to only one turnover this year. Evans has still remained confident in his jumper despite some poor shooting luck thus far, and his high motor on the offensive glass (10.2 OREB%) gets him easy ones inside. I’m excited to see him progress throughout the season.
-His performance got lost in the sauce of Kentucky’s buzz after a drubbing of the Hurricanes, but Miami’s Wooga Poplar still had some standout moments. He’s averaging 18.2 PPG and scoring efficiently at all three levels thanks to his combination of power and finesse. A career 38.6 % from deep, he’s a real-deal threat from long range. The icing on the cake is that Poplar knows how to leverage that gravity to get inside. He’s able to create space for himself before displaying a buttery pull-up in the mid-range and he can sky for a dunk in traffic. If he can make plays for others more consistently and show a greater consistency with his engagement on defense, a first-round grade is on the table.
-Jalen Bridges is off to a great start for Baylor. The 6’7” wing always been an average three-point shooter, but he’s hit 45.8% of his threes thus far. Even better, he’s been more confident off the catch, getting his shot off quickly from further behind the line. He’s shown more as a ball mover, too. If he can continue to prove he’s an above-average shooter from long range and keep showing connective passing chops, there’s a path for him to really shoot up boards. He’s already a versatile defender, smart cutter, and above-the-rim finisher. I’m buying more Bridges stock, personally.
-I’ve been blown away by Viktor Lakhin’s improvements. The 6’11” big man from Cincinnati has been on my radar for a while, and I covered him during my No Stone Unturned series this offseason. In that article, I raved about Lakhin’s defensive impact and versatility. However, I noted two serious flaws. On offense, he rarely passed, and his hookshot-oriented style was outdated. This year, Lakhin has gone from being a non-shooter to hitting 47.1% of his 2.8 threes per game. He’s also boosted his assist rate from a miserable 4.4% to 11.9%. He’s passing the eye test, too, as the shot looks pretty, and he’s making some nice passes. Making such significant strides in both of these departments is a remarkable testament to his work. The percentage from deep will probably settle down, but this version of Lakhin is a draftable prospect—a scheme versatile defender who can finish, make basic decisions, and space the floor.
-I’ve also got to shout out the leading man in that No Stone Unturned column, Amari Williams. Prior to the season, the appeal with Williams was that he had the best defensive rating in the country last year and also demonstrated enticing passing flashes. At 6’10” and 265 pounds, he’s harder to move than a house but is light on his feet like a ballerina. I watched him twice this week—once against Old Dominion, and once against Villanova. Against ODU, I was frustrated. He settled for inefficient jumpers and tried to get too fancy with it as a passer. However, against Villanova, he restored the faith. He led the Drexel Dragons to an upset win, held a ranked team to 55 points, and blocked five shots, including a game winner. Ultimately, where I settle with Williams is this—he’s flawed, and he has bad habits he needs to break. But he’s genuinely a special defender, and he’s always held up well against high-major opposition. I’m falling back in love with him as a second-round swing.
-Prior to the season, I noted Brandon Garrison as a longer-term prospect I had interest in. After watching him against Creighton, I remain intrigued. At 6’11” and 245 pounds, Garrison looks and moves like an NBA big. He had two blocks in that game—one on a post-up against Ryan Kalkbrenner, and a second on a rim rotation against Baylor Scheierman in an early offense setting. These demonstrated his grit, speed, and leaping ability. He’s got nice touch on his baby hook but needs to expand his scoring range, and he’s struggled at the charity stripe. That said, Garrison is more than comfortable orchestrating handoffs and zoom actions. At the youth level, he often operated as the primary playmaking hub for his teams. If you like Oso Ighodaro, keep an eye out for Brandon Garrison, who is cut from a similar cloth but has more size.
-Let’s talk about Evansville senior Ben Humrichous! The 6’9” senior transferred up from Huntington University, an NAIA program, but he’s looked right at home in Division I. He’s averaging 18.3 PPG on 58.5/47.4/73.7 splits, 4.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.7 BPG, and 0.6 SPG. He’s got a sweet stroke from behind the arc. Humrichous can move into his shot and convert from NBA range, which is always enticing at his size. Though he lacks a great first step, he’ll use his shot fake well, along with his savvy to get to his spots inside the paint. He can finish above the rim off one foot and convert with his touch when a dunk isn’t there. He sees the floor well, too. On defense, he’s an okay mover with shaky recovery tools, but he does jump well and work hard to cover ground. He’s one to keep tabs on.