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The Justified Josiah-Jordan James | The Weekend Warrior
FEATURING: Tennessee Volunteer senior Josiah-Jordan James | PLUS: Stephen's Storylines | ALSO: Weekend Warrior Awards
The Justified Josiah-Jordan James
The path for Josiah-Jordan James to become a senior NBA Draft prospect out of the University of Tennessee has been an interesting one. What started out as him being ranked a Top 30 point guard out of South Carolina has led to him becoming one of the more intriguing defensive wings for the 2023 NBA Draft. The success that he achieved in high school was fairly certain to follow him in college. With the NBA looking for jumbo playmakers, he figured to make a real case to be a one-and-done prospect, and be on his way to an NBA job. If life was Hollywood, that would have been the reality; unfortunately, though, things didn’t go according to that script.
Josiah-Jordan James led his high school, Porter-Gaud, to three state championships. To add to his incredible pre-collegiate resume, James was also on the 2018 USA team that brought home the gold in FIBA Americas play. Josiah-Jordan averaged 5.3 points per game (PPG) and shot just north of 35% from deep on almost three attempts per game. That may seem low for a prospect being featured in an article, but he was on a team comprised of NBA players such as Tyrese Maxey, Quentin Grimes, Cole Anthony, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, and established college players like Armando Bacot and Trayce Jackson-Davis. The fact that James could see the floor the way he did and shoot the way he did was an endorsement of who he could ultimately become.
Or maybe, should have become. As we have seen players come and go over the past three seasons, Josiah-Jordan James has morphed from potentially becoming the next jumbo creator to what we see now as a versatile wing defender. As role and responsibility changed according to positional assignment, the skills required to make it to the next level changed as well. With the burden of becoming a playmaker, so comes the necessity to be an efficient finisher. James couldn’t do that as a freshman. He shot a lowly 37% from the floor overall. Despite shooting close to 37% from deep on about 3 attempts per game, James only shot 37.1% on his two-pointers. With a lack of rim pressure, the help defense wasn’t as paranoid.
Needless to say, the jumbo creator role wasn’t in the cards. What was the next move? The frame that James came to the Volunteers with proved more than capable of adding some additional mass over the next three seasons. He reported to Rocky Top at roughly 200-ish pounds, but he is currently listed at 224 pounds. At a reported height of 6’6”, James transformed his body to facilitate becoming a versatile, defensive-minded X-factor. This switch resulted in a gradual decline in assist and three-point numbers, but Josiah-Jordan was able to improve in his efficiency, rebounding, and defense. The outcome of his third season would be James deciding to try his hand at being drafted.
During the 2021-2022 season, James averaged 10.3 PPG, 6.0 rebounds per game (RPG), 1.7 assists per game (APG), 1.4 steals per game (SPG), and 1.1 blocks per game (BPG). His efficiency numbers were 38.8 on his FG%, 32.4% on his three-pointers, and 80% on his free throws. He didn’t have his strongest offensive season, but there was enough interest in his potential that Josiah-Jordan James would declare for the NBA Draft but maintain his eligibility—a move that I remain tremendously supportive of when players choose that route. It was a good thing he maintained his eligibility too, as he also underwent a procedure on his knee during the offseason. With there being questions regarding his offense, along with the surgery, James decided to return for another hoorah under head coach Rick Barnes.
To answer questions on his efficiency, James suffered a torn ligament to a finger on his shooting (left) hand. This would be a chief concern among scouts and executives to see if he could improve on his shooting consistency this year. On top of that, could he continue to make strides as a decision-maker on offense? If he could address and correct some of those deficiencies, then NBA teams would be more comfortable about adding the senior prospect. How has he done so far?
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I mentioned the transformation that James undertook over the past few seasons, which resulted in a transformation in his game. Moving from an initiator to a wing—or sometimes, a forward—he had to get shots from areas on the floor that weren’t his primary areas or his most instinctually inclined spots. Playing off others meant he had to spot up more often, while also having the offense run through him on the elbows, blocks, or short corners. The added functional weight empowered Josiah-Jordan to operate closer to the basket against more physical individual matchups. However, like many other players that grew up playing point but changed positions due to physical developments, James has maintained the ability to handle the ball and see the floor well. His well-rounded approach coupled with his frame makes him a versatile prospect that should be able to contribute within a number of systems.
Coming off surgery, James has played in three games but only started in one contest. The early offensive results have been encouraging.
Three Point Shooting
This has to be the most encouraging development so far for James this season. Although he shot close to 37% from distance in his freshman year, he shot approximately 31% and 32% from there in his sophomore and junior seasons, respectively. That’s not exactly what NBA teams are lining up to see. In his first three games, James is shooting over 52% from deep on over six attempts per game. The shot is coming in a variety of ways too.
In Tennessee’s season opener, they matched up against Tennessee Tech. Josiah-Jordan went 2-for-5 on some nice looks. On this possession, Zakai Zeigler (#5) hits Olivier Nkamhoua (#13) on the left elbow. As that’s taking place, freshman Julian Phillips (#2) stunts a screen while James cuts around him to the right wing. Josiah-Jordan catches the ball and steps confidently into his shot. Tennessee Tech’s Brett Thompson (#5) steps out to close on him, but James is unphased. Clean make.
This second make is not well contested, and Josiah-Jordan makes Tech pay because of it. On what begins as a scramble, the loose ball finds its way to Santiago Vescovi (#25). James’s floor awareness is on full display here. Scrambles can be just as unorganized for an offense as the defense, but we see some excellent improvised spacing between Nkamhoua and James on the left side of the court. As Vescovi swings it to Nkamhoua, James relocates to the left corner and hits the open jumper. I love how he lets the arena know it, too, as James holds up a “3” while back-pedaling to play defense.
Tennessee squared up against Colorado in their second game of the season. Following his 40% three-point shooting performance against Tennessee Tech, James went 4-for-8 against the Buffaloes. We won’t look at all of the makes moving forward—just ones that come from different looks. In this clip, we see Josiah-Jordan taking a quick shot. After the converted free throw, the ball is quickly inbounded to Tyreke Key (#4). Almost as fast as the ball is inbounded, Key races up the court and feeds James on the left wing. After the catch, James lets it fly with Javon Ruffin (#11) closing out on him. James cashes in a three-pointer only four seconds into the shot clock.
In the same contest, we see James shooting out of a pick-and-pop set. The screen wasn’t all that picturesque, but James is still able to make the most out of the opportunity that comes from it. As he is in position to set the screen with Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan recognizes that Lawson Lovering (#34) is playing the drop very deep. As Vescovi continues to his right, James slips to the arc and is open for the deep ball. Splash! We can see that he is really putting an emphasis on becoming a reliable weapon from the perimeter.
In the final game we’ll look at (because it’s the only other one he’s played), we’ll look at some supreme confidence in a player that is riding the wave of hot shooting. Coming into this game against Florida Gulf Coast, Josiah-Jordan was shooting about 46% from deep. He went 4-from-6 on this night. This possession shows how much James is feeling himself. We see Tyreke Key bringing the ball up the floor, with James trailing. Why on earth would you have the man defending James get into his chest just a few feet past half-court? Who do you think he is; Stephen Curry? Well, you can’t just get into your half-court defense against Josiah-Jordan anymore. James stops at the “T” with nobody (maybe rightfully so?) in his area code. Josiah-Jordan lets it go and chimes up the string music. Again, he looks incredibly confident in his shot—which is a dangerous development for the opposition.
As is the case with most players that grew up with point guard responsibilities, you can see those tendencies in the way James plays the game. James’s ability to recognize openings gives me confidence in his connection abilities. The precision that has been shown by James throughout his collegiate career has been evident, albeit somewhat less frequent to start this season. As a freshman, he came into the season being profiled as a creator and had an Assist Percentage of 20.8%—which was above average. The next two seasons resulted in percentages of 14.7% and 11.2% for him. While that may not be the sexiest representation of a ball mover, remember his role shifted. Also, while those numbers aren’t necessarily eye-popping, they remain about average for all college basketball players. Despite it not being asked of him as a primary task, he is certainly capable of playmaking.
Now that Josiah-Jordan is profiling more as a forward, the way that he can make a difference as a facilitator is quite exciting. Back to the matchup between the Volunteers and the Golden Eagles—Zeigler starts off with the ball on the left wing and feeds Phillips at the top of the key. James steps up to get the ball. As Phillips runs off James’s hip, he cuts hard to the basket—drawing a lot of attention. The help defense shades over to prevent Phillips from getting an interior touch, but James notices Zeigler all alone on the left wing and hits him for an open three. NBA teams covet players that can hit the deep balls and that can find an open teammate for them.
Here’s another example of making the right read. On this possession, Tennessee lets Josiah-Jordan get the ball at the top of the key. I love how James lets the play unfold here, instead of forcing an issue. The Volunteers run an action that looks like it’s designed to get Phillips a paint touch on the left block. As Vescovi sets a back screen for Phillips, James really sells an eye fake that freezes the defense. That shift in the help defense gives Vescovi enough time to set yet another screen that Nkamhoua uses for an open jumper—off of the timely dish from Josiah-Jordan James.
Yes, you can use this term to describe players other than Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams, and it is also something NBA teams should look at when adding players that may go later in the draft. What can a player do when they don’t have the ball in their hands? What can they do when they don’t have the ball and when they aren’t the recipient of the ball? These are the types of plays that make players into “connectors” and that’s exactly the type of player James is: a connector.
On this possession, Tennessee is using James as a screener to get an open three for Vescovi—and it worked. James starts with the ball at the top of the key and hands it off to Tyreke Key. As Key takes the handoff, James sprints to stunt a screen for Vescovi, who comes off of the left wing. James is in position to create separation for Vescovi, who hits the open shot. Being able to contribute to scoring without passing or shooting is in full effect here, folks.
Here’s another example of James being used to create an easy bucket simply by being in the defense’s way. The play really starts when Zeigler receives the ball on the right wing. As he starts to attack the center of the lane off of the bounce, the defense begins to collapse. Take a look at the left side of the floor. While Zeigler is driving, James sets a flair screen for Key in the left corner. A great display of spatial awareness by James to make a good shot into a great one.
The offense is improving, but the defense is what separates James from his peers. As a freshman, Josiah-Jordan posted a block percentage of 3.3% and a steal percentage of 1.8% as well. For context, those percentages are higher than (or close to) what Ochai Agbaji, Jalen Williams, Paolo Banchero, Christian Braun, Jaden Ivey, Malachi Branham, and AJ Griffin posted in their drafted seasons. In his sophomore year, James posted a block percentage of 4.4% and a steal percentage of 3.2%; last year he had a block percentage of 4.4% and a steal percentage of 2.9% as well. Needless to say, the defensive instincts he’s shown are worthy of NBA consideration alone. We’re seeing more of the same this season. His block percentage is at 4.2% and has a steal percentage of 4.0% in the early going. Oddly enough, James hasn’t been named to an All-SEC Defensive Team either.
This will be my favorite clip I post of James’s defense from this season, so far. He doesn’t do anything that will end up on a highlight reel. If you watch the ball, eventually you’ll see it end up in his hands, but I would implore you to watch him throughout the entire possession. I’ll spare naming everyone that touches the ball on this play—because there are a ton—but watch Josiah-Jordan as the ball starts from the center of the arc to the right wing. As James’s man, Ethan Wright (#14), runs the baseline to the left corner, James helps off to the center of the floor. The ball is on the left wing, and our guy is quarterbacking the defense as the help defender from this moment on. As the pick-and-roll is happening away from him, you can see him communicate with Nkamhoua about where to be. The pressure being applied might get the credit for the turnover—and it certainly should get credit—but the perfect help defense is what allowed the pressure to continue. Communication on the defensive end wins the possession.
As important as help defense can be, Josiah-Jordan will need the requisite footwork to switch out on the perimeter. James is back in help defense at the beginning of this clip. As Colorado drives to the basket, the ball is swung to the right corner. James has to recover to his man, Luke O’Brien (#0). O’Brien tries to drive past James after a pump fake. Josiah-Jordan stays with Luke, stride for stride. His defensive footwork forces O’Brien to have to counter into a jump hook—the type of look you want to give him. James closes out the play.
What makes a defensive playmaker a defensive playmaker is having smart hands to go along with sound footwork. That’s what we see in this clip. Josiah-Jordan is manned up against Tristan Da Silva (#23), who has to sky over our guy to make an entry pass to Lovering. As Lovering is working the post, Nique Clifford (#32) sees a lane to cut through. Clifford—who is Vescovi’s assignment—shoots the lane for a pass, and he gets it. James sees this unfold and jets from the top of the key to the restricted area in order to deny what many thought would be two easy points. These are the types of plays Josiah-Jordan James is capable of making on any given night. As good as he looks now, we have to assume he’ll look even better after readjusting to game speed coming back from injury.
I brought back the Weekend Warrior Awards last week, but the storylines were an omission from what I had normally put out on a weekly (when I have been available) basis. That’s simply because there weren’t enough stories that I felt should have been included—unless I wrote about injuries. As enthralling as that may have been, it would have made me (and possibly you all) a little sad for opening week. Who wants that? BUT NOW there have been enough games and prospects to live up to, and exceed, many expectations. Mine included.
Instead of highlighting some of the high-end prospects, I decided to show some love to some lesser-known players that I have happily stumbled across. Thanks to the influence of Maxwell Baumbach and Evan Wheeler, along with the types of shows that I am a part of with Nathan Grubel, these unturned stones have come up in games I’ve watched, or in some aspects of my draft model. I’m not proclaiming that all of these prospects are going to be NBA players, but they are all very productive in aspects of the game that NBA teams should, at least, be aware of.
Taylor Hendricks | Freshman | Forward | UCF | 6’9 | 210 lbs.
Hendricks is going the be the most popular of these lesser-known prospects. Hendricks garnered notoriety from me based on his performance against Florida State. Although he was a Top 50 prospect in RSCI—as well as a Top 60 prospect by ESPN—prioritizing his film wasn’t something I felt I needed to do. Boy, was I wrong. Hendricks does show some promise as a long forward that can stretch the floor while also demonstrating some defensive flashes. In a class that is making it hard to narrow down a board, adding a player that shows the unique combination of size, skill, and potential that Hendricks has shown makes our job at No Ceilings more fun and more difficult!
Kadin Shedrick | Junior (RS) | Big | Virginia | 6’11 | 231 lbs.
Shedrick came up while running some statistical queries, and his film was very interesting. Looking at his role and how it could apply moving forward, it’s simple but important. Shedrick covers a lot of ground on the defensive end and has some nice hands. It’s only three games, but the way he can play passing lanes and time shots is impressive. He’s very springy, which allows him to contest a number of shots. Offensively, he’s never finished with a field goal percentage lower than 52%. Right now, he’s shooting 50% from the floor and 90% from the free-throw line. His outing against Baylor was very encouraging.
Tavionte Jackson | Freshman | Guard | Colorado State | 6’2 | 165 lbs.
Jackson is another query result for me. His shooting is incredible. Right now, his percentage from deep is 50%. It’s only on six attempts, but watching him shoot the shots he is taking, it’s fair to assume that he can steady out as a high-30s (or greater) shooter. On top of that, he’s a good athlete that can crash the glass and moves the ball well. He has to tighten some things up on the defensive end—what freshman doesn’t?—but the foundation is enough for him to be solid there.
Jevon Porter | Freshman | Forward | Pepperdine | 6’11 | 220 lbs.
This prospect is on one of the more fun teams in all of college and has NBA bloodlines. Despite not being a plus-athlete, Porter has the type of shot you would expect from his namesake. He’s shooting just shy of 43% from distance on over three attempts per game. His defense is what you may expect from a freshman, but he is averaging a block per contest. In his most recent outing against Vanguard, he put up 23 points on 9-of-12 scoring. His size-to-skill ratio is tantalizing. The fact that he’s getting real minutes on a highly competitive team should indicate he’s a real player. The biggest question isn’t if he makes the NBA leap. It’s when.
Sam Hastreiter | Freshman | Wing | North Dakota State | 6’7 | 210 lbs.
Two words: Pure shooter. Hastreiter is probably the best shooting prospect that you have never heard of. That title may not mean much, but I may go so far as to say that Sam could be the best shooter in the country—you just simply may not know him. In four games, Hastreiter is shooting 70% from the floor but 78.6% from deep on almost three attempts per game! That includes a 7-of-7 performance against Pacific University. Rebounding is really the only other thing he has displayed on the court, but he’s a shooting machine and super young. His development will be fun to watch.
Weekend Warrior Awards
As Tyler Rucker would say, after speaking to the streets, the streets have informed me that they are pleased with the way the awards were dished out. Maxwell Lewis—who will be discussed by my colleague, Maxwell Baumbach, very soon—has been an utter joy to watch from the WCC. Cason Wallace was one of the most promising prospects from the Champion’s Classic and was discussed by our own Albert Ghim. Jalen Wilson looks to be drafted this year. Colby Jones is creating some real buzz. Terquavion Smith looks as if he is the best returning player in college ball, and Azuolas Tubelis is picking up where he left off last season. Let’s take a look at this week’s standouts.
Taylor Hendricks | Forward | UCF
11.0 PPG | 0.5 APG | 7.5 RPG | 0.5 SPG | 2.0 BPG | 61.5 FG% | 60.0 3P% | 100.0 FT% | 2.0 TOPG | 2.0 FPG
Kyle Filipowski | Big | Duke
17.5 PPG | 0.5 APG | 7.5 RPG | 1.0 SPG | 2.0 BPG | 41.9 FG% | 27.3 3P% | 85.7 FT% | 3.0 TOPG | 2.5 FPG
Tyrese Hunter | Guard | Texas
26.0 PPG | 2.0 APG | 3.0 RPG | 1.0 SPG | 0.0 BPG | 64.3 FG% | 62.5 3P% | 100 FT% | 2.0 TOPG | 1.0 FPG
Ryan Kalkbrenner | Big | Creighton
17.0 PPG | 0.5 APG | 5.5 RPG | 0.5 SPG | 2.0 BPG | 93.8 FG% | 66.7 3P% | 66.7 FT% | 0.5 TOPG | 0.5 FPG
Terrence Shannon Jr. | Perimeter | Illinois
29.5 PPG | 3.5 APG | 9.0 RPG | 0.5 SPG | 1.0 BPG | 66.7 FG% | 66.7 3P% | 64.7 FT% | 2.0 TOPG | 1.0 FPG
Azuolas Tubelis | Big | Arizona
20.0 PPG | 5.0 APG | 8.0 RPG | 1.0 SPG | 1.0 BPG | 81.8 FG% | 100.0 3P% | 100.0 FT% | 3.0 TOPG | 2.0 FPG
Brandon Miller | Forward | Alabama
23.5 PPG | 3.0 APG | 8.0 RPG | 0.0 SPG | 1.0 BPG | 50.0 FG% | 61.1 3P% | 66.7 FT% | 2.0 TOPG | 3.0 FPG
Brandin Podziemski | Wing | Santa Clara
16.5 PPG | 3.0 APG | 8.0 RPG | 2.5 SPG | 1.0 BPG | 40.0 FG% | 33.3 3P% | 60.0 FT% | 2.5 TOPG | 2.0 FPG