Talking Trayce: Trayce Jackson-Davis's Pro Outlook
FEATURING: Indiana star prospect Trayce Jackson-Davis
Trayce Jackson-Davis’s Pro Outlook
It’s not often that I will work in conversations that have taken place on the podcast I co-host, Draft Deeper, into my written work. I try to keep those mediums separated. However, on the episode that came out last week, my co-host Maxwell Baumbach said something that has been ringing in my ears since I heard him say it. It was only amplified when I decided to focus on one of my favorite prospects in this year’s class, Trayce Jackson-Davis.
“If you feel like a guy is an NBA player, you should probably take him.”
He went on to say that it isn’t the sexiest way to build a board, which is true. How often do we try and fit in as many promising freshmen into our Top 30, disregarding what history has taught us about how many of those one-and-done prospects actually get taken? The higher you get in class (sophomore, junior, or senior), the fewer the players that get taken within those respective groups. Over and over—year after year—we are routinely reminded by motivated second round picks that, if you feel like a guy is an NBA player, you should probably take them.
Trayce Jackson-Davis’s Background
In the 2019 class that included LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Maxey, Anthony Edwards, and Jaden McDaniels, Jackson-Davis was ranked 26th. This was ahead of Ball, along with NBA players like Patrick Williams, Isaac Okoro, James Bouknight, and Nah’shon “Bones” Hyland. “TJD” was dominant in high school, which led to him becoming a McDonald’s All-American, playing in the Jordan Brand Classic, and playing at the 2018 FIBA Americas Championship. These accolades would attract the attention of many NCAA universities.
Out of all of the schools that made him offers, Trayce narrowed his list to six schools: Iowa, Michigan State, Purdue, UCLA, Wake Forest, and the school he ultimately committed to, Indiana. TJD was an impact player from the jump. As a freshman, he averaged about 13 PPG, 8 RPG, and just under 2 BPG. He took home Third Team All-Big 10 honors and was named to the All-Big 10 Freshman Team—among many other impressive freshmen awards. In his sophomore campaign, he averaged close to 19 PPG, 9 RPG, and 1.4 BPG. His junior year yielded an 18/8/2.3 season. After his spectacular junior season, Jackson-Davis declared for the NBA draft while maintaining his eligibility to return—a great mechanism that the NCAA recently implemented.
A poorly-timed bout with COVID-19 (if there is ever good timing) prevented TJD to play in front of NBA teams, which was a major factor in his decision to return to Indiana. Before his return, Jackson-Davis reported that he received a lot of training in preparation for the draft. That training was regimented to improve his “bag”—dribble-catch-shoot, hand-eye drills. We’ll get into how this training has become abundantly obvious in his play this year a little bit later, but it was clear that he was sent back to school with homework.
To say that he is excelling this season would be an understatement.
The analytics numbers that TJD has produced are in elite company. Again, e-l-i-t-e company. That’s no surprise, as he has shown a propensity to be able to stuff the stat sheet even before this season. The way he’s doing it this season, though, is the best he’s looked. The analytics are so crazy that I have to segment it. Let’s look at this very simple BartTorvik query.
Minutes Percentage: At least 70%
BPM: At least 12.0
Only 32 players have accomplished this feat. The majority of the names that populate this filter are “real” NBA players—including names like Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Kemba Walker, Victor Oladipo, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, etc. Basically, like 80% of the names that Trayce Jackson-Davis’s name is in company with are/were real NBA players. But, wait! There’s more! Add the following to the two previously-mentioned fields:
Offensive Rating: At least 117
Usage Percentage: At least 27%
Effective Field Goal Percentage: At least 57%
True Shooting Percentage: At least 60%
TJD is now on a list with nine other names—Stephen Curry, Frank Kaminsky, Keegan Murray, Kevin Love, Denzel Valentine, Thomas Walkup, and Luka Garza. Zach Edey is also doing the same thing this season. Let’s mix it up a bit from here, reset all of the filters, and just plug in two categories for the old database.
BPM: At least 12.0
Block Percentage: At least 10%
There’s a list of seven. Anthony Davis, Brandon Clarke, Mark Williams, Chet Holmgren, Walker Kessler, and Karl-Anthony Towns. All current NBA players. Want to see something else? We’ll reset and plug in these four fields.
Offensive Rebound Percentage: At least 10%
Defensive Rebound Percentage: At least 25%
Assist Percentage: At least 20%
Block Percentage: At least 10%
One name. It’s Trayce Jackson-Davis. I could have run his entire field of numbers to isolate his name—to make him seem more impressive—but these four fields aren’t obscure ones. These are areas of the game that most people pay attention to for the majority (if not all) prospects. The one analytical “knock” against him is his low steals percentage—which is at 0.9.
That query knows ball, but let’s see the film!
Trayce Jackson-Davis probably doesn’t jump to the front of most people’s minds when thinking about who are the most dominant offensive forces in this year’s draft class, but he has been one of the most consistent players this year. He’s averaging the most points per game of his collegiate career this season, at 19.8 PPG. His field goal percentage is just under 58%.
Synergy grades out TJD’s overall offense within the 89th percentile (Excellent) at this point—grading out in the 69th percentile (Very Good) in transition, and in the 90th percentile while operating in the half court. The sample size in transition is very small at 24 total shot attempts. He graded out within the 84th percentile (Excellent) in transition on 34 attempts as a freshman, in the 75th percentile (Very Good) on 21 attempts as a sophomore, and in the 98th percentile (Excellent) on 31 attempts last season. He’s also never been lower than the 85th percentile in halfcourt scoring, having plenty of opportunities to show off his scoring in that area of the game.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Trayce Jackson-Davis does not shoot threes. He’s 0/3 from downtown over his career, with all three attempts coming last year. Part of the previously-mentioned training regimen Trayce partook in to prepare for his NBA workouts included some catch-and-shoot drills, but we have yet to see that flesh out this season. Synergy shows TJD shooting 10% on his 10 jump shot attempts this year.
Out of the 10 jump shot possessions that TJD has on the season, this was the only one that wasn’t either a jump hook/push shot or a shot within the last eight seconds of the shot clock. Even the small sample size has a small sample size. After Morehead State misses their shot, Indiana gathers the rebound and gets into their offense. Trayce is isolated on the right free throw line extended. He gets the ball, faces up, takes a second to read the floor, and gets into his jumper. The shot misses but there really isn’t much to pick apart. In fact, the majority of his jumpers within this small sample look fine. If you’re one of the many partial free-throw truthers out there, Jackson-Davis is shooting just under 71% from the line—currently the best he has shot his time at Indiana. From what he’s shown this season, there is reason to believe that he can become serviceable from the mid-range. The long ball is in a “to be determined” state simply due to the lack of film.
Going from the incredible analytics to seemingly TJD’s worst area of his game may feel like a little bit of a letdown, but now we can get into the fun stuff!
TJD has just 57 possessions credited as cuts, per Synergy, which still counts for the second-highest play type this season. We’ll touch on the highest soon. Despite how skewed his possessions are, Trayce’s decisiveness when making a line to the rim is quite impressive. He is graded out in the 87th Percentile (Excellent) on his cuts, converting on over 74% of them. Listed at 6’9” and 245 pounds with nice strength and hops, Jackson-Davis poses a major threat if he gets a step on the defense.
In this game against Michigan State, we get to see an example of Trayce Jackson-Davis’s overall feel and processing. Trey Galloway (#32) starts this clip off with the ball. After a little bit of repositioning, the Hosiers end up in a four-flat set. Galloway and Jalen Hood-Schifino (#1) run a shallow cut action, while TJD and Miller Kopp (#12) swap positions on the block. Trayce gets into a post-up—something Michigan State probably focused on in their film study, as Jaxon Kohler (#0) fronts him pretty hard as he gets to his spot. Notice Trayce’s footwork. He slows at a pace that Kohler is likely expecting him to stop and go to work. TJD doesn’t stop. Instead, he makes a split-second cut to the rim with no help defense in sight. Hood-Schifino throws him a dime above the basket, to which Jackson-Davis finishes with authority. Smart play and great execution.
This play looks a lot like something Trayce will be asked to do in the NBA. Tamar Bates (#53) is bringing the ball up the floor against Iowa. Trayce Jackson-Davis comes up to get the ball on the three-point line. He faces up and dribbles to around the left elbow. Hood-Schifino comes up from the block and engages in a DHO with our guy. The Iowa defense shades over to stop Jalen with the ball and leaves TJD alone to cut to the rim. The help defense doesn’t seem to be concerned about Trayce without the ball because there is no help. Jackson-Davis doesn’t give them time to get set as he dives to the rim, gets the feed, and throws down a two-handed slam.
We may as well call TJD “Mr. Postman” with how he plays. Of his 368 cataloged possessions, 136 of them have come on post-ups. This play type has a plus-79 possession advantage over his cutting. Synergy ranks him within the 72nd percentile (Very Good) on post-ups, with 37% of his time coming from there. Even with defenses specifically scheming to stop him from hurting them from the block, TJD gets to his spots and finishes with spectacular regularity.
While the post-up seems to be all but phased out in the NBA, there are still those that contribute from that play type at the next level. Players like John Collins, Jock Landale, Montrezl Harrell, and Bobby Portis are among those of a similar height and frame that have about 20% of their shots come from posting up the defense. It makes sense for some of the 7-footers in the Association to score around the basket, but even some of the more undersized frontcourt players get opportunities from there.
On this clip against Illinois, we see Trey Galloway bring the ball up the court. Galloway gets to the left wing and finds Jalen Hood-Schifino at the top of the key. TJD is defended by Coleman Hawkins (#33), who is considered a fairly versatile and capable defender. Hawkins tries to get ahead of the post-up by positioning himself in front of Trayce. Thanks to Hood-Schifino's soft touch and excellent ball placement—along with good footwork, stupendous positioning, and top-tier strength from Jackson-Davis, our guy is able to jump up to catch a pass only he could catch, get the defender to bite on the up-fake, and finish with a nice shot off the glass.
Kansas has the difficult task of trying to stop TJD on this possession. Galloway inbound the ball to Jackson-Davis, with Zuby Ejiofor (#35) of the Jayhawks set up to defend him. Both players are of similar builds, but Trayce goes right into him as soon as he gets the rock. The pressure our guy puts on the basket attracts the attention of the entire defense, as every defender steps significantly farther away from their assignments to try to force TJD into making a mistake. That doesn’t happen. Jackson-Davis is able to work into a post spin and float up a pretty make.
Going from a seemingly archaic area of the game for modern big men, we now come to an area of the game that we expect bigs to contribute within the game today. It also happens to be the part of Trayce’s game that has taken the biggest leap. Prior to this season, Jackson-Davis never averaged two assists per game. He came very close last season at 1.9, but it was never a prominent part of his makeup. That has changed in a major way. It was mentioned earlier, but a large part of the workouts TJD took part in to prepare for the NBA combine were drills usually reserved for guards. That has resulted in our guy now averaging 3.4 APG.
In the matchup versus Maryland, we get a chance to see Trayce make a pretty good read out of a tough place to do it. The ball works through a number of teammates along the three-point line before Indiana hits their star player on the block. The Terps likely prepared for this scenario in practice, as Patrick Emilien (#15) gets into position early to make TJD’s life a little more difficult. Trey Galloway cuts into the paint and goes to the baseline. His defender, Donta Scott (#24), breaks away from his assignment to apply additional pressure. Instead of forcing something that isn’t there, Jackson-Davis faces up and surveys the floor. As our guy begins to face up, Race Thompson (#25) gets in the way of the lone help side defender, giving Galloway the corner to get a shot off. TJD kept his head up and the ball secured the whole time, and he makes the pass from the left short corner to the right corner. Galloway gets the ball and cans the three.
Against Ohio State, TJD is able to corral a miss on one side of the court and bring it up all the way up the floor. It’s simple, but for TJD to keep his dribble alive within the halfcourt here is huge. The defense isn’t looking to pressure him here, as his creation off the bounce isn’t considered to be a strength. Even still, the Buckeye defense plays him a little too lax. Trayce is given the opportunity to move from the left side of the court to the right elbow unchallenged. The defense sagged off him, but Jackson-Davis is able to find a window. As he approaches the right wing, he draws the focus of Trey Galloway’s defender, Brice Sensabaugh (#10). Sensabaugh gets caught ball-watching, and Galloway makes a perfectly timed cut to the hole. TJD makes a gorgeous bounce pass through three people, into the hands of Galloway. Trey finishes with a nice reverse layup.
The ability to have part of the offense go through him makes him very valuable to an NBA team.
Trayce Jackson-Davis has a promising role on the offensive end of the floor, but his defensive ability to what makes him such an intriguing big prospect. TJD is one of 30 players in the BartTorvik database that is at least 6’9” to have:
Minutes Percentage: At least 70%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: At least 25%
Block Percentage: At least 10%
That list includes players like Joel Embiid, Chet Holmgren, and Robert Williams III. Those are the top-tier names, but there are some other player real NBA players as well. TJD is able to contribute in a number of ways on defense, so let’s dive into it.
On this play, we see Maryland’s Jahmir Young (#1) attacking the hoop on the break. The shot is well-challenged by Tamar Bates and Young misses the shot. Young’s teammate, Julian Reese (#10), gets the offensive board. Reese gets the rock, takes a power dribble away from the rim, and looks to get up a quick hook. Trayce times his leap beautifully and sends Reese’s shot in reverse at its peak.
As we all know, switchability is as in demand now as it has ever been. Playing drop coverage exclusively limits a prospect’s demand. Even switching for a few possessions during a game could make-or-break how a player fits into a team’s rotation. TJD may not be able to be in a “switch everything” scheme, but he has routinely shown the ability to stick with players that are more perimeter-oriented.
Back to the Kansas game. Jackson-Davis begins this clip on KJ Adams (#24) but very quickly switches onto Jalen Wilson (#10) after a screen. Wilson is a good athlete, that has some zoom to him. Wilson dribbles along the arc, with TJD sticking with him. Wilson passes the ball to Dajaun Harris (#3) and sets him a screen, which the defense declines to switch. The ball goes back to Adams and then to Gradey Dick (#4) on the right wing. Dick throws the ball back to Wilson, who relocated in the right corner. With Wilson having the ball defended by Trayce, Kansas clears out to let Jalen cook. Or, so they think. When Wilson catches the ball, he makes an immediate line to the rim along the baseline. Trayce stays with Wilson every step of the way—even as he quickly applies the breaks on the right block. Now with the ball on the block, Wilson attempts a shot, but TJD rejects his efforts. Indiana gets the board and heads the other way.
Same game, but here we’ll see Trayce in a different concept against a different type of wing scorer. After a made basket by Indiana, Gradey Dick inbounds the ball to Bobby Pettiford (#0), who then gets the ball to Harris. Kansas runs an interesting motion here that puts TJD in a position to where he has to account for his man, Ejiofor, but also help with the two-man game between Harris and Dick. TJD drops. Gradey drives the lane, and we see our guy in position to help. However, Ejiofor sets an off-ball screen for Kevin McCullar (#15). McCullar runs off the screen and continues to get the handoff from Dick. McCullar has space to shoot but opts to dive to the rim. Since Ejiofor isn’t a shooter, TJD is able to stay in his drop stance and stay affixed to the ball handler. McCullar has the lane to drive to the cup, but Trayce is able to recover. That, to me, speaks volumes about his defensive processing and athleticism, as McCullar is an exceptional athlete. The layup is taken, but it is sent flying back, as Jackson-Davis is able to leap up and swat it at its apex.
Nailing down a range in the draft that Trayce Jackson-Davis could go has been a bit of a process. There’s no denying his productivity, but the system and shots he’s able to take within the flow of the offense aren’t ideal for a big man prospect. There aren’t a lot of DHO sets. Horns actions aren’t as featured as they should be. Multiple screen actions would be nice, but we typically see Indiana set him on the block and let him go to work. With that being said, when evaluating the film, it’s important to see how certain aspects of his game could translate to different spots on the floor.
Offensively, Trayce continues to show contact doesn’t bother him. That translates well to screen setting, diving to the rim, and second chance opportunities. Of course, there may be times that whatever team he goes to lets him get a post up or two. With the growth he’s shown at finding teammates, Jackson-Davis looks to function well operating within DHOs and in the short roll.
Defensively, there is no denying the rim protection, the rebounding, and the capability to switch out in concentrated doses. His footwork and timing have been there for him for several years. Though undersized in a traditional sense, the NBA features multiple 6’9 pivot men that are more than serviceable for their team.
The film and numbers both show a player that will be able to play in the NBA for several years. Finding a multi-year contributor is hard to do at a certain point in the draft, so many often look to take a flyer on a concept player. What’s interesting about Trayce is that, while he is an upperclassman, he still has untapped potential because he has yet to be utilized in more modern sets. For a player that obviously sees the game at a level most can’t, there is no reason to doubt TJD’s ability to grasp and master those areas of the game. Given his character, competitive nature, athleticism, power, production, and upside in more modern concepts, Jackson-Davis is a first round pick.