The Prospect Overview: Jalen Wilson and the Chance to Finish Strong
Jalen Wilson has had a rollercoaster journey at Kansas. Can he finish strong? PLUS: thoughts on Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson, Bryce Griggs, and Jazian Gortman!
Jalen Wilson and The Chance to Finish Strong
It wasn’t the start anyone wanted.
Jalen Wilson was a four-star recruit out of Texas who committed to Kansas. There was plenty of reason for Jayhawks fans to be excited about Wilson, listed at 6’9” with excellent speed for his size. In his first game, he saw a mere two minutes of play in a loss against Duke. That’s alright, though. Not everyone gets everything they want right out of the gate. Besides, there was an entire non-conference slate against lesser opponents where Wilson could get minutes and carve out a spot in the rotation. Kansas’s next game was against UNC Greensboro. UNCG is a smaller school playing in the SoCon, so while they’re generally a competitive group, there was likely to be a bigger opportunity for Wilson in game two. Instead, Wilson played for one minute. It wasn’t because he did anything wrong— he didn’t make an embarrassing mistake or get yanked by his coach due to a poor decision. Jalen Wilson played less than one minute because he broke his ankle.
Year Two was a different story.
Coming off the devastating injury that robbed him of his first year, Jalen Wilson looked hungry and determined. After six games, Kansas was 5-1, with their only loss coming against a loaded Gonzaga squad. Wilson himself was on a tear, too. He was averaging 16.3 PPG and 9.0 RPG on 50.0/38.5/62.5 splits. Unfortunately, his production wasn’t sustainable. The rest of his season was a mess of inconsistency. Wilson struggled through the early part of Kansas’s in-conference schedule. Then, he ended the year on a whimper. Over his final four games, he averaged 5.3 PPG and 6.3 RPG on 23.1/18.2/58.3 splits. Even worse, he was yanked from the starting lineup for the team’s final game of the season.
Jalen Wilson had a rough start to his first year and a rough ending to his second. Year Three was about to get off to a bad start, too.
On October 31st, 2021, Wilson would be arrested for Driving Under the Influence. He would be suspended for the first three games of the regular season as a result. When he finally stepped on the floor, the results were uninspiring. Through ten games, Wilson was averaging 5.5 PPG and 6.8 RPG on 36.5/08.7/38.9 splits. The chances of an NBA career looked farfetched. Wilson had an off-court incident and was struggling to perform on the court, so what was the appeal?
Jalen Wilson did what he does best— rebound. In conference play, he posted 13.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, and 1.2 SPG on 53.4/33.9/76.1 splits. He looked like a completely different guy. Wilson was more poised, confident, and aggressive. His momentum carried over to the NBA’s Combine events. At the G League Elite Camp, Wilson knocked down four of his six threes on day one. He looked good on day two, also, and secured an invite to the proper NBA Combine. Wilson impressed yet again, but he ultimately decided to return to school.
Coming off a national championship win, Kansas is in an odd state of flux as a program. Athletic sniper Ochai Agbaji and floor spacer/defender Christian Braun both heard their name called on draft night. Big man David McCormack and sparkplug guard Remy Martin graduated. Jalen Coleman-Lands and Mitch Lightfoot moved into a lovely retirement community (I kid, I kid). Jalen Wilson is the top returning player. He’ll be flanked by Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar, returning guard Dejuan Harris Jr., and a slew of intriguing freshmen such as Gradey Dick, MJ Rice, and Ernest Udeh Jr. There are plenty of questions to be asked about the Jayhawks— what is this team’s identity? Who is their leader? Who will handle the bulk of the playmaking? There are questions about Jalen Wilson, too—can he actually shoot consistently? What does he look like without proven shooters around him? Is he an NBA player? For those reasons, the Kansas situation, and Wilson’s in particular, is endlessly fascinating to me. Before I reveal where I’m at with Wilson currently, let’s examine why NBA teams would be interested and what he needs to do to grow that interest. If Jalen Wilson can make those improvements, he’ll fit exactly what front offices look for in a modern role player.
The Good Stuff
Attacking and Finishing
Jalen Wilson is an aggressive driver who finishes effectively at the cup. He’s quick for his size with a great first step, and on top of that, he’s strong. The combination of those characteristics makes him a perpetual mismatch for opposing defenses. If Wilson is covered by a big, he’ll leave them in the dust. If he’s covered by a smaller player, he can still get to his preferred destination and use his length to finish over them. Off the ball, he has a good knack for the positioning of the defense and times his cuts well. At the rim, he has soft touch and uses clever angles to keep the ball out of reach from opponents. He’s also able to absorb contact and adjust his body in mid-air while still getting off a clean look. His body control is sublime and allows him to finish shots that other prospects wouldn’t be able to convert. Wilson made 60.5% of his shots at the basket in the halfcourt last season, per Synergy. That includes his slow start, too. In conference play, Wilson made an absurd 63.8% of his twos, an exceptional number for a power conference player who doesn’t subsist off easy dunks. Wilson could develop even further as a rim finisher if he worked on his left-hand finishes. While his use of angles, leaping ability, and touch compensate well for that weakness, it’s the final piece to the rim conversion puzzle.
Passing on the Go
When Jalen Wilson drives, he does so with his head up. If an off-ball defender starts ball-watching and Wilson’s teammate cuts, he’ll reward them with a pass for the easy lay-up. When a big man’s defender tries to get in Wilson’s path, he’ll simply dump it to his center for an easy two points. Best of all, Wilson generates a lot of open looks from three for his teammates. As the defense shrinks toward him, he has his eyes primed for the corners and top of the key, waiting for one of his shooters to open up. Wilson grasps where help comes from and has a knack for making ball-watchers look foolish. He’s experimented with live-dribble dishes in transition. That isn’t a part of his halfcourt game yet, but it could be in time. Wilson is smart in that he understands what he can and can’t do. He doesn’t get too much dip on his chip trying to drop the jaws of fans, instead opting to make the most sensible passes in the most effective manner possible. While his passing bag isn’t the deepest or flashiest at this stage, the basics are top-notch.
Jalen Wilson is a constant presence on the glass. His motor runs high in this area. He’s always competing for rebounds. If he can’t grab it straight away, he’ll tip it up to himself and grab it the next time. His tenacity, vertical pop, and ability to get off the floor in a hurry make him difficult to contain. While defensive rebounding isn’t valued as highly these days, he does manage to cut off a few extra chance opportunities each game because of it. On the offensive end, he’s a putback artist. When defenders are standing up straight and waiting for the ball to come off the rim, Wilson slithers through their bodies before exploding off the ground for a dunk or tip-in. Per Synergy, 10% of his halfcourt shots were putbacks after grabbing an offensive rebound. His tip touch and speedy second jump enabled him to convert 68.4% of these looks, too. Teams have to be cognizant of what he can do on the boards and make the effort to box him out every single play. It’s annoying and taxing for his opponents, but it’s great for his team.
Point of Attack Defense
Jalen Wilson does an exceptional job of guarding on the ball. NBA teams that utilize a switch-heavy defensive scheme should have a particularly close eye on Wilson this coming season. He uses his near-6’9” wingspan, flexibility, and footwork to nullify opponents. Wilson’s length stifles even the quickest players from getting by him. His fluidity allows him to slink around screens, avoid contact, and recover in a timely manner. His fleet feet enable him to slide quickly and prevent him from getting crossed up. Players have an exceptionally hard time getting where they want against Wilson. They often find themselves forcing bad, contested looks in the mid-range when they go at him. Wilson stays on opponents every step of the way, giving them minimal airspace and holding strong against attempted counters. He does a phenomenal job of guarding down, holding pick-and-roll ball handlers to a measly 0.636 points per possession last season, per Synergy. That ranked him in the 92nd percentile in college hoops. Wilson cannot be picked on or exploited. His blend of size, speed, and skill makes him the type of defender who would theoretically hold up well in a playoff series.
Three-point shooting is far and away the most common swing skill for NBA hopefuls. For Wilson, it’s been a work in progress. He started this past season ice cold from long range, hitting just 9.1% of his threes during non-conference play. Although he did hit nearly 34% of his triples during conference play, he dipped back down to 22.6% during the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. While the inconsistency is difficult to pin down, there are a few clear mechanical issues. The first is one that plagued another recent forward prospect, Jalen Johnson. Wilson’s feet aren’t always squared toward the basket on his shot. Instead, his feet will often both be aligned on a harsh angle to the left. Wilson’s strange base can inhibit his balance and, in turn, his fluidity as he goes through his motion. His confidence isn’t always there, and his reluctance can cause a slower release. No Ceilings’s resident Shot Doctor Corey Tuluba also noted that there is a “snakebite” motion at the top where Wilson retracts his hand rather than holding his follow-through. At the NBA Combine events, Wilson’s shot looked the best it’s ever looked. While his feet weren’t square, he was more assertive with his shot, getting it up quicker and holding his follow-through more often.
Help Defense Consistency
While he isn’t a bad help defender, it feels like Jalen Wilson is leaving something on the table in this department. Given his speed and leaping ability, the fact that Wilson has never averaged over half a block per game is perplexing. On paper, he has all the makings of someone who should be an excellent weakside rim protector. In reality, he’s hit or miss. He’s physically capable of getting into position to prevent easy buckets, and sometimes he does just that. Other times, Wilson will fly by the ball-handler and leave his man wide open. In some instances, his overall willingness to engage isn’t there, and he doesn’t meaningfully contest shots. He doesn’t recklessly chase for blocks often, but he can be too content to stay grounded when opponents go up with a runway. It appears as if he doesn’t track the ball that well, and it enables savvier guards to place their shots around him. His help defense is frustrating because his tools are there, and the effort should have been when he was playing a more ancillary role offensively. Honing his consistency on this end could be a tall task if it’s paired with an increase in offensive responsibility.
Jalen Wilson had a rocky start to his college career, bounced back, then faltered, and then bounced back again. On his Twitter account, he seemed to hint that he plans on making the jump to the NBA after this season.
If this is Jalen Wilson’s last college season, I hope it’s a great one. In a piece where he addressed his arrest, Wilson sounded genuinely remorseful about his mistake, and it seems like he grew from the experience. Wilson is no stranger to adversity, and the fact that he’s now overcome it several times in his college career is encouraging.
Ultimately, the jump shot is likely to tell the tale for Wilson. If he can’t hit shots from the outside, everything suddenly becomes more complicated. His athleticism won’t be as special in the NBA, and it will be harder to coax defenders to play up on him if he isn’t a threat to drain a three. However, if he shoots it at a high level, I could easily see him launching himself into the first round. His quicker trigger at the combine has me optimistic about that possibility. Even with an average jumper, his athleticism, offensive feel, and on-ball defensive acumen could open the door to an NBA career. Jalen Wilson has been no stranger to rough starts, but this year will be about doing something else he’s familiar with— finishing strong.
The Expanding Big Board
The Expanding Big Board is a continuous, rolling Big Board. Each week, one player is added to the board.
Last week, we debuted this year’s Expanding Big Board
Current Board, last week’s ranking in parenthesis.
1. Victor Wembanyama (1)
And the latest addition to the expanding Big Board is…*drumroll*
2. Scoot Henderson!!!!!!
I’m sure you’re all shocked! We have more Scoot content coming down the pipe for you this week (make sure you’re subscribed), so I’m going to keep it simple here. Henderson is a mesmerizing north-south athlete who can stop on a dime. There’s deceleration, and then there’s whatever Scoot does. He can slam on the breaks at high speed with perfect balance in a way few others can replicate. Few players his age have shown an understanding of that athletic power and utilized it to create for teammates the way he has. His knack for throwing the right type of pass is uncanny. Henderson’s footwork on both ends of the floor is beyond his years. His jumper, especially on pull-ups, looked cleaner and more confident in his first exhibition game. I cannot wait to watch his season unfold.
-I watched a lot of Overtime Elite this past week. Obviously, Amen Thompson is the guy everyone is excited about as a prospect. It’s easy to get worked up about his offense, and understandably so. He’s a walking paint-touch with absurd creativity and the ability to throw advanced passes on a string. What really blew me away was his defense, though. It’s always been a big selling point to his game, but it felt even more polished, especially on the ball. Guards can’t get anywhere against him. His foot speed, length, and pesky hands are totally overwhelming, especially for less experienced opponents. The biggest thing holding Thompson back out of the gate will be his strength. He can be bumped off his spot while attacking, and he can take problematic angles at the rim to avoid contact.
-Bryce Griggs made a gigantic leap from year one to year two. To be rude, I found his game pretty obnoxious last season. He was an incessant over-dribbler, and his play oozed “more style than substance.” In the OTE kickoff games, he looked like an entirely different player. Not only is this a big win for the Overtime program from a proof-of-concept standpoint, but it’s a big win for a young man who has clearly put in a ton of work. Griggs reeked of the best point guard intangibles in a game where he led his Cold Hearts squad to the biggest comeback win in OTE history. He’s in much better shape but he’s still strong, enabling him to hold up at the point of attack, bully his way inside, and deal with contact at the basket. He’s getting downhill more, playing with more patience when needed, and making more impressive passes. His lobs are on-point, and the experience of facing good competition on a consistent basis has allowed him to see the game quicker. Bryce Griggs is absolutely on the map for the 2023 NBA Draft.
-I thought OTE’s other draft-eligible point guard of note Jazian Gortman looked better, too. He measured long at their pro day event, boasting a 6’8” wingspan. Obviously, being longer helps defensively, but Gortman is more than just a pair of long arms. He’s engaged on that side of the ball and he’s continuing to fill out his frame. He’s trying more off the bounce, and his vision and pace have come along nicely.
-Finally, a moment of Zen from the OTE commentary team: