Discover more from No Ceilings
The Journey of Jalen Hood-Schifino
Jalen Hood-Schifino had his draft stock swing wildly up and down throughout his strange journey of a season, but his Green Room invite indicates that NBA teams are interested in his two-way skill set.
Even among the many confusing journeys of players preparing for the 2023 NBA Draft, Jalen Hood-Schifino has had a particularly strange journey as a draft prospect to this point. After finishing his high school career at Montverde Academy as the 20th-ranked prospect by RSCI, Hood-Schifino chose to continue his basketball journey with the Indiana Hoosiers under Head Coach Mike Woodson.
The start of his journey to college was perfectly normal, but things started to get weird early in the season for Hood-Schifino. While he did have some ups and downs in November, he began free-falling down boards essentially as soon as the season began. While we here at No Ceilings had Hood-Schifino at 18th on our first BIG Board of the year, the consensus was nowhere near as positive. Hood-Schifino ranked 38th on the first $DRFT rankings of the year, with some of the outlets aggregated by our own Corey Tulaba not even ranking him in the Top 60. Rumors were flying about potential medical concerns that may have led to him being red-flagged, and there seemed to be an undercurrent of concern about his future.
Hood-Schifino missed Indiana’s first three games of December with a back injury, and he returned to the court on December 17th against Kansas. However, the consensus concerns about him had only grown since the start of the season—he did not even crack the Top 50 of the second edition of the $DRFT rankings in early January, and it seemed like all but a lock that he would have to return to school and give the 2024 NBA Draft a shot if he wanted to hear his name called in the first round.
The consensus on Hood-Schifino did start to trend back toward preseason levels after that—he ranked 24th in the third edition of the $DRFT rankings, and he has not fallen out of the first round since.
Despite his early-season struggles, Hood-Schifino still averaged 13.5 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, and 3.7 assists per game. He also earned the Big Ten Rookie of the Year award and a spot on the All-Big Ten Third Team. Furthermore, the fact that he received a Green Room invite for the 2023 NBA Draft (per Jonathan Givony) all but assures that he will be taken in the first round.
So…what gives? Why did a prospect who was considered in the Top 20 of his high school class fall so far down boards so quickly? Why did the consensus make such a quick U-turn after that to put him back in the first round?
Let’s get the first part out of the way upfront: I have not seen any medicals on Jalen Hood-Schifino, nor would I have any idea what they meant if I had seen them. I’m not a doctor, and I’m certainly not going to pretend to be one to give a strong opinion about the medical history of a person whose medical history I have never seen.
With that part out of the way, we can get into the discussion about what he did on the court. Jalen Hood-Schifino is a primary ball-handler with exceptional passing vision, great touch on his floaters, and really solid shooting off the dribble. He’s one of the most menacing on-ball defenders in this class, and at 6’6” with a sturdy 213-pound frame, he won’t struggle against bulkier players anywhere near as much as most teenage guards.
Jalen Hood-Schifino is also a surprisingly poor finisher around the basket, a terrible spot-up shooter, and a complete non-threat as a cutter. While he did run an incredibly effective two-man game with his and my fellow hyphenate Trayce Jackson-Davis, Hood-Schifino struggled to provide offensive value when he did not have the ball in his hands.
The end result is a prospect who is a confusing player to evaluate completely outside of the confines of any medical concerns. He could be a serious boon to a team in need of on-ball creation—but will he be worth it on a team with other primary initiators? He could provide a playmaking spark as a pass-first point guard—but will his finishing be good enough to justify it? He could be a lethal threat as a point-of-attack defender—but if he doesn’t improve as a spot-up shooter or finisher, will his defense be good enough to justify putting him out there and gumming up the offense when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands?
Those questions will have different answers depending on where he ends up on draft night. Some teams will be able to mitigate those concerns; others will exacerbate them. Hood-Schifino has a wide enough array of skills that he could potentially fill a number of different roles for a team. He also has an odd combination of weaknesses that make it difficult to project which role would fit him best.
Jalen Hood-Schifino will take the next step in his strange journey one week from today when Adam Silver (presumably) calls his name in the first round. While there are many possible paths that he could travel from here, that next step could easily determine if he ends up living up to the most optimistic projections of his all-around game, or if it molds him into a specialist who might be able to carve out a long NBA career—but not one that reaches the peak of his possibilities. So…let’s dive deep!
Scoring: On-ball Brilliance, Off-ball Scuffles
The confusion (at least for me) around Jalen Hood-Schifino’s game begins with his ability to put the ball in the basket. On the surface, his 42/33/78 shooting splits are not exactly anything to write home about. Dig a little deeper, though, and you realize the strangeness of Hood-Schifino as a scorer. He has excellent touch in areas that are extremely important for a modern-day NBA point guard, and quite rare to see in young prospects; he also struggles mightily to be effective on offense without the ball in his hands.
Let’s start with the positives here. Hood-Schifino ended 40.4% of his offensive possessions as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, and he was quite effective on those possessions, ranking in the 67th percentile, per Synergy. He has a tight and well-controlled handle that helps him get to his spots, and he knows what to do when he gets there.
His pick-and-roll craft is helped by the intricacies of Hood-Schifino’s skill set. Unlike most young point guards, Hood-Schifino has an exceptional in-between game. He does not struggle with what to do when he gets into the mid-range area; in fact, that’s often where he does his best work. He ranked in the 61st percentile on runners this season, per Synergy, and he ranked in the 81st percentile in terms of runner frequency. In other words, he’s got a great float game, and he’s not afraid to use it:
Hood-Schifino’s touch in the areas where young point guards often struggle doesn’t just show up on his runners/floaters. He has also already mastered a shot that many young point guards have to put in many hours in the gym just to add it to their tool kit: the pull-up jumper.
Hood-Schifino took a staggering 74.2% of his jump shots this past season off the dribble, which ranked in the 97th percentile in frequency, per Synergy. It’s not just that he likes taking those shots, though; he’s really good at them as well. Hood-Schifino ranked in the 72nd percentile on jump shots off the dribble, per Synergy. His ability to create space for himself both in the mid-range and from beyond the arc lets him take advantage of the openings that even veteran point guards often struggle with:
That leads us to the confusing weak points of Hood-Schifino’s scoring package. Remember those not-particularly-impressive shooting splits? Well, it’s not the off-the-dribble shots that are getting him there. Hood-Schifino ranked in the 49th percentile on all jumpers due to his catch-and-shoot struggles; he ranked in just the 32nd percentile on those shots. The results were even worse on the unguarded catch-and-shoot looks (25th percentile) that would in theory be his bread-and-butter when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands.
His lack of a standstill game would be less of an issue if he were an active cutter off-ball, but that simply isn’t an element of his game. Hood-Schifino registered nine possessions as a cutter the entire season, per Synergy, and scored five points on those looks.
Now we get to the strangest part of his game in my mind: his finishing around the basket. For someone who shows such advanced touch on pull-ups and in his in-between game, Hood-Schifino struggles to a surprising degree when he actually gets all the way to the basket. He ranked in the 31st percentile at the rim, per Synergy, and had just four dunks the entire season. That’s odd enough on the surface, but especially odd for a 6’6”, 213-pound point guard with a sturdy frame.
When breaking down some of his misses on tape, I began to feel slightly more confident about his long-term finishing ability and slightly less confused about why someone who seems to have such great touch struggled at the rim to the degree that he did. Hood-Schifino had a tendency to force the issue around the basket, in a way that he might not be as willing to do without Trayce Jackson-Davis as a last-second lob threat or potential clean-up guy around the basket. While there were times that I couldn’t help but admire Hood-Schifino’s audacity, there were also shots that he forced up around the rim that he will hopefully cut out of his shot diet sooner rather than later. He can finish those difficult looks, but he is sometimes a bit too eager to try them:
Ultimately, I buy into Jalen Hood-Schifino’s touch enough to quiet some of the scoring concerns. As long as he gets more comfortable as a standstill shooter, he will still be a threat without the ball in his hands. Given that he took such a sizable majority of his shots off the dribble, and given his success on those looks, I believe that he’ll be able to get to the point where he shoots in the mid-30s on catch-and-shoot looks from deep instead of the 30.4% that he converted this year. Since he took 56 of his 64 catch-and-shoot looks from long range, it seems like a fair bet that he’d continue to have a three-point-heavy catch-and-shoot diet at the next level.
The finishing concerns around the basket are more troubling in my eyes. However, I also think that he cannot be at his best without pressuring the rim on at least some of his drives and forcing the defense to account for everything that he can do with the ball in his hands. That leads us right into the next part of his game.
Playmaking: Passing Prowess
In retrospect, it might have made more sense to start with this section, since passing is probably the best skill in Jalen Hood-Schifino’s tool kit. He instantly developed impeccable two-man game chemistry with Trayce Jackson-Davis, and they ran an Indiana offense that was far more than the sum of its parts.
If anything, and despite the remarkable boon of playing his freshman year with a big like TJD, this Hoosiers offense was actually a terrible fit for Hood-Schifino. Outside of Miller Kopp, the team had no shooting threats to speak of—Hood-Schifino himself was second on the team in three-point attempts and tied for second for three-point makes. On the whole, the Hoosiers lacked long-range shooting to a staggering degree—they ranked 352nd out of 363 Division I teams in three-point attempts, with 15.5 3PA per game.
I want you to read that last sentence again, if you don’t mind. This team that employed two of the best passers in college basketball had fewer kickout options beyond the arc than all but 11 of the other 363 Men’s NCAA Division I basketball teams. Liberty’s Darius McGhee put up 11.4 3PA per game BY HIMSELF. Akron’s Xavier Castaneda and UConn’s Jordan Hawkins (who ranked eighth and ninth in three-point attempts, respectively) put up a combined 16.7 3PA per game.
Hood-Schifino’s ability to generate good looks for his teammates at his age was remarkable. When you combine that with an atrocious offensive fit outside of one other star and one other complementary player, it’s almost a miracle that Indiana finished with the 68th-best Offensive Rating in basketball, per sports-reference.
Much of the credit for that should certainly go to Jackson-Davis, but all season long, TJD and JHS did their best work together. Even with a very cramped floor, opponents struggled to come up with anything that could manage to contain both of them at once, and their mutual elite passing ability opened up some fascinating possibilities:
Jalen Hood-Schifino is elite enough as a passer that he could demonstrate those gifts regardless of the surrounding environment. When you do account for the team context around him, though, it somehow elevates his ability even further. Hood-Schifino might have had Jackson-Davis to lean on inside and Kopp to lean on outside, but the team overall made his life on offense far more difficult than it would have been almost literally anywhere else. For him to succeed in the way that he did in that context is nothing short of remarkable.
Defense: Lockdown Potential
As with his shooting splits, a look at the box score defensive stats for Jalen Hood-Schifino are nothing to write home about. Hood-Schifino had 26 steals and just eight blocks on the year; clearly, he’s not a defensive playmaker.
However, the film and the advanced stats paint a much brighter picture of Hood-Schifino’s defensive prowess. He might not be generating a ton of transition looks by forcing turnovers, but Hood-Schifino is a relentless defender who fights over screens really well for a young guard. He has the requisite size to switch across multiple positions as well, further boosting his potential value to NBA teams. Some of the advanced numbers back that up in the way that the pure steal and block numbers do not; Hood-Schifino ranked in the 71st percentile defensively overall, per Synergy.
Hood-Schifino isn’t the most explosive athlete, but he makes up for it in fluidity. He bodies guys up as soon as they cross halfcourt, and often before that; Hood-Schifino ranked in the 84th percentile while pressing defensively, and he clearly takes pride in his play on that end of the floor:
Look at how he navigates screens here to stick with fellow Green Room invitee Kobe Bufkin and force Bufkin to make a bad pass. This is not a big-bodied guard bullying an overmatched opponent; this is a defensive stopper in the making, operating against one of the best guards in this class. Hood-Schifino fights over screens with the enthusiasm and anger of a fifth-year senior, not a first-year player on track to hear his name called in the first round:
The lack of defensive playmaking for Hood-Schifino can’t be spun into a positive; it would be nice if he had the explosiveness to throw back shots and leap into passing lanes to pick off what appeared to be sure-thing passes.
However, focusing on that element of his defense overlooks what the film and the non-box score numbers tell us. Jalen Hood-Schifino might not get his team out in transition with highlight-reel plays defense, but he has the ability to lock down his man at the point of attack and either force him into a bad decision or take him out of the game. Hood-Schifino is not the flashiest defender, but he’s an incredibly effective one—and one that coaches will love to employ in their defensive schemes.
The future outlook for Jalen Hood-Schifino seems clearer than it has been all season—at least, for the next week. While a Green Room invite isn’t a first round guarantee, it’s about the closest indication that any prospect will get (publically, to be clear) that they are likely to hear Adam Silver call their name within the first thirty picks.
After that, though? Hood-Schifino’s next chapter might be as wild and strange of a ride as his journey to the 2023 NBA Draft has been this season. He could end up hearing his name late in the lottery, and with that would come the expectations of being the lead guard sooner rather than later. He could also end up sliding to a team later in the first round, where he could end up being a defensive specialist rotation player and connecting piece offensively.
The situation ahead might be strange, but this season has shown us that Jalen Hood-Schifino will find a way to adapt. His defensive ability gives him a relatively high floor as a player, and his mastery of the more difficult elements of the offense might mean that a few tweaks to the rest of his game could lead to everything coming together for him very quickly. If that happens, Hood-Schifino’s NBA journey could reach loftier heights than any of us could have expected.