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The Prospect Overview: The Stunning Potential of Jalen Hood-Schifino
The Prospect Overview is back with in-depth breakdown of the intriguing Jalen Hood-Schifino! Plus, Maxwell’s preseason #1 and Quick Hits on international prospects!
Folks. Welcome back to The Prospect Overview! The NBA and multiple international leagues have started, and I couldn’t be more excited. If you’re new to The Prospect Overview, I’m glad you’re here! This is a weekly column that will run throughout the season. Each week, there will be a feature piece, The Expanding Big Board (we’ll get to that later), and quick hits touching on prospects all over the world. Enjoy!
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Feature: The Stunning Potential of Jalen Hood-Schifino
The Unusual Comparison
Most of my friends like basketball. When we talk hoops, the conversation will occasionally turn toward the NBA Draft and players I’ve been scouting. Whenever I tell them about a prospect, the inevitable question arises: “Which player would you compare them to?”
I hate player comparisons. I used to like them because it was an easy, simplified way of getting an idea as to what a player does. But as I became a bigger Draft Sicko, I found myself increasingly frustrated with them. There are too many nuances to the game of basketball and too many minor variables that give me hang-ups when it comes to making direct one-to-one comparisons. Even players of similar archetypes can vary substantially. One may be a more engaged off-ball defender, a quicker decision-maker, or a more ambidextrous finisher. There are several micro-skills on the margins that differentiate players, and it feels reductive to overlook them. My brain won’t allow it. I prefer to look at what a player does, struggles with, and what type of scheme/roster they would fit best rather than drawing a straight line between them and someone else.
Over the summer, I started to dive into the high school film of players who could be one-and-done talents in this coming draft cycle. There was one prospect who continually stole my attention: Jalen Hood-Schifino. He most recently played at Montverde Academy and is headed into his freshman year at Indiana. It wasn’t one thing in particular that drew me to him so much as it was the multitude of ways he left his fingerprints on the game. He was constantly making winning plays for his team on both ends of the floor. It was easy to imagine an NBA future for him as a high-end connector. Still, there’s one missing piece. If he finds it, there’s a path to him being a Top 10 pick come June. I hate comparisons, but there was someone Jalen Hood-Schifino reminded me of when I watched him. It wasn’t a basketball player—it was professional wrestling legend Steve Austin.
If you’re familiar with Steve Austin, it’s likely from his run in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in the late 90s and early 2000s. Austin was the biggest star in the wrestling business. Crowds exploded the second his entrance music hit. His character embodied the everyday working man, a guy who liked drinking beer and was constantly at odds with his wealthy employer, Mr. McMahon (portrayed by his real-life boss, the now disgraced Vince McMahon). Austin did the things people wished they could do, giving the middle finger to authority figures and even beating the tar out of his boss on several occasions. But those who aren’t as obsessive as I am about the professional wrestling industry likely don’t know about Austin’s career prior to this iconic run at the top of the industry— and it’s THAT Steve Austin that comes to mind when I think of Jalen Hood-Schifino.
In 1995, Steve Austin was considered to be a “Good Hand,” fundamentally the professional wrestling equivalent of a high-end role player. The Good Hand can work with a less experienced or less talented wrestler and guide them to a solid match, making their opponent look believable and competent. The Good Hand can also pair well with wrestlers at the top of the card and hold their own, but don’t exude the charisma or flashiness to outshine them. If you need to make someone bad look good, or make someone good look great, the Good Hand is your friend. They won’t line your pocketbooks, but they have a place in every wrestling promotion. “Stunning” Steve Austin filled that role for World Championship Wrestling (WCW), where he would function as a middle-of-the-card performer who occasionally flirted with the main event. He had blonde hair and an athletic physique. He was handsome, but he didn’t make women scream at the top of their lungs or inspire awe like a herculean bodybuilder. His in-ring work was rock solid, keeping crowds captivated and entertained, though not wowing them or getting them to their loudest levels. When he spoke, he was a convincing actor, but he didn’t jump off the screen like mega-stars Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. This made him the perfect complimentary piece and someone who made everyone around him better. That’s what Jalen Hood-Schifino looks to be right now. Still, he might turn into much more than that. I truly believe there are All-Star level outcomes on the table here. We’ll discuss that later, but let’s start by examining what makes him such a special “connector piece” prospect first.
When talking about Jalen Hood-Schifino’s fit at the NBA level, it all starts with his playmaking. He’s good at the boring stuff— if you need someone to make the easy “extra pass” decisions in a jiffy, he’ll do that without any problems. What makes him so enticing is his sophistication and manipulation. Hood-Schifino is intellectually savvy off the bounce, operating like a veteran and maintaining a tight command over the ball. His timing and pace are outstanding, and he’ll do things like reject screens in pick-and-roll sets that his less experienced opponents don’t anticipate. Hood-Schifino is patient, but if he catches the defender off balance, he’ll immediately eat their lunch. His understanding of rotations and his ability to have a map of the floor in his head at all times are a sublime combination. When help defenders get overzealous and find themselves out of position, Hood-Schifino punishes them at warp speed. The sharpness of his passes allows him to wait until the last second before making a decision, forcing defenders to commit to him before the window closes. Once they commit, Hood-Schifino betrays their senses with a quick dish. He’s ambidextrous and able to sling live dribble passes with either hand, and he’s quick to act when he finds an open teammate. His lob chemistry with Dillon Mitchell was off the charts. Hood-Schifino’s ability to read cutting big men and reward them with accurately placed passes bodes well for his pairing with Trayce Jackson-Davis this coming season. My favorite micro-skill in his game is his inbound passing. He’ll reliably find the best option when his team runs a play. However, if the defense isn’t prepared prior to the start of the play, he makes a big show out of communicating with someone who is covered. In doing so, he creates a distraction, then whips the ball to the wide-open man as soon as he gets it for an easy bucket. In total, his passing is deceptive, creative, calculated, and precise.
While I just finished raving about Hood-Schifino’s passing, part of the reason it’s so effective is that he pressures the rim and can finish when he gets there. His ability to collapse defenses and convert at the cup opens up what he does as a playmaker. Hood-Schifino’s footwork and craft as a dribbler force opponents to dance. His rhythm is further accentuated by his ability to burst forward out of it when he sees an opening. He has a great knack for when a defense isn’t prepared in early offense, too, and he’ll regularly exploit that particular type of sloppiness. When he gets to the cup, he uses his body control to avoid defenders and does a stellar job of protecting the ball from them on the way up. He’ll vary his finishing angles at the basket, adding a positive degree of unpredictability and making his shots difficult to telegraph. Hood-Schifino can sneak one off the glass, convert with a floater, or lay it right through the hoop against contact. Much like with his passing, Hood-Schifino is proficient with both hands at the rim, making him even more dangerous. He’s a threat going either direction, and there isn’t a convenient direction to funnel him on the floor.
Jalen Hood-Schifino is a nightmare in the mid-range. The man has a bag full of moves and counters. His smooth footwork, misdirection, and ability to lunge backward while maintaining his balance enable him to create separation in what is typically a crowded area of the court. Still, he can hit tough ones when required. Mechanically, he’s fluid getting into his shot off the dribble. His release is high, and he manages to stay in control of his body even when jumping to the side. Hood-Schifino is also comfortable shooting the ball at different trajectories. While it may look inconsistent on film, it’s actually clever. When defenders outstretch their arms, he can launch it high over the top of them. If the look doesn’t require him to do that, he’ll release a more traditional ball. His efficiency, volume, and touch in this department is the biggest reason I’m bullish on his three-point shooting development in the coming years.
Jalen Hood-Schifino might be the best incoming freshman in college basketball when it comes to on-ball defense. Sure, the basic intangible elements are there— he’s competitive, he gets after it, etc. But from a technical standpoint, it’s hard to nitpick. He does a wonderful job of funneling players to inconvenient and crowded spots on the court. He’s light on his feet, gliding side to side with quickness and preventing blow-by scenarios. Still, when he needs to move backward, he does it seamlessly and doesn’t get turned around or cede much ground to his opponent. This allows him to recover and force players to re-set the offense after he stifles their initial attempts at penetration. The icing on the cake is Hood-Schifino’s hand speed. When players get walled off by him or find themselves stuck, he preys on them and knocks the ball loose on a consistent basis. If opponents dribble in front of their body, they may as well serve him the ball on a silver platter; he’s taking it every single time.
Growing up, one of my friends had a dog. She was an absolutely enormous golden retriever. She was friendly— she always greeted guests, she loved to be pet, and she would never even consider biting someone. We all loved her. But she went totally bonkers for food. If you dropped a potato chip on the ground, that dog would make gazelle-like strides from wherever she was in the house to make sure she got the chip, and you didn’t. And when I watch Jalen Hood-Schifio, it’s almost as if…he has that dog in him.
My sincerest apologies for that. Just kidding, I’m not sorry at all. While Hood-Schifino is best on the ball, his instincts and tools off it are beyond encouraging. He’s still a firm net positive in this department for a player his age. There are two standout skills for him as an off-ball defender: his feel for the game and his ability to cover ground. When offensive players throw looping passes or don’t properly anticipate his presence, he makes sure to capitalize and get a pick-six steal. Offensive players will think he’s too far outside of a passing lane to nab the ball, and he’ll prove them to be dead wrong. His ability to force these live ball, interception-style turnovers and turn them into easy transition buckets is a key difference-maker for his team. The level of attentiveness he plays with creates a lot of these opportunities. Even if it’s not a lazy pass but a loose ball or an interior player getting too comfortable on the block, he can still make a snappy read and take the ball away. Offenses have to be leery of his presence at all times.
Taking the Leap
Later in 1995, WCW’s best role player Steve Austin found himself at a crossroads. The company’s Senior Vice President, Eric Bischoff, was star-hunting. He was making moves to bring in established names from his competitor, the WWF, such as Diesel and Razor Ramon. Just like in basketball, when you want a star, sometimes you have to part with good role players to make the financials work. Bischoff didn’t see star potential in the then-30-year-old Austin. To make matters worse, from a political standpoint, Austin was a man on an island. He wasn’t buddied up with WCW’s power players like Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan. When his name came up on the chopping block, there was no one to come to his rescue, no Kevin Durant to say, “I need you to sign DeAndre Jordan.” While Austin was at home recovering from a biceps injury, Eric Bischoff fired him via a FedEx package.
In the wake of his release from WCW, Steve Austin was fuming. He went to Extreme Championship Wrestling, the country’s third-largest promotion at the time. ECW was a far step behind WCW and WWF by every metric— television distribution, production values, attendance, you name it. But it was there that Austin began to evolve. In his talking segments, he ranted with tremendous passion and elicited a greater emotional response from the audience. In the ring, he was more vicious, precise, and arrogant. Soon, Austin would be snatched back up to the major leagues after being signed by the WWF.
Things didn’t click right away for Austin in the WWF. His character was introduced as the understudy of “The Million Dollar Man,” Ted DiBiase, a past-his-prime wrestler-turned-manager who would later be a part of the Mississippi welfare fraud scandal. Austin was given the name “The Ringmaster.” Vince McMahon, then portrayed as merely a commentator and not the company’s owner, exclaimed, “this man’s skills are very well known…you talk about a grappler!” It was somehow even lamer than it reads on paper. DiBiase gave Austin his old Million Dollar Championship belt to a lukewarm reception. Austin gave an unexciting spiel about being destined for success to a tepid response. His thinning, receding hair gave him an aged appearance. The Ringmaster was plain, generic, and uninspiring. To top it off, The Ringmaster was a horrible name. Austin knew that he wasn’t in a position to thrive. He began to stew and think up ways to give his character a hook. He reached out to the creative team and told them he wanted a tougher moniker to fit his idea for an edgier, icier character.
The creative team’s response to Austin was comically inept. According to WrestleCrap: The Very Worst of Professional Wrestling, they gave him a list of names that included “Otto von Ruthless,” “Ice Dagger,” and my personal favorite, “Chilly McFreeze.” One day while sitting at home, his then-wife (a British woman named Jeanie Clarke) warned him that he better drink his tea before it became stone cold. A lightbulb went off in his head. Gone was The Ringmaster; in his place was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. “Stone Cold” would be relentless, he would beat the crap out of whoever was in front of him, and he would pound beers on the turnbuckle after doing it. Wrestling was never the same again. Steve Austin found the missing piece and went from role player to superstar.
The Missing Piece
Right now, Jalen Hood-Schifino is not a three-point shooter. In the nine game sample listed on InStat, he shot 17.8% from distance on 3.8 attempts per game. His wrist often flares out to the right, and it almost looks as if he’s shooting off his index finger. The ball occasionally has an odd sidespin on it, and he doesn’t consistently miss in one particular direction. It’s an odd departure from his mid-range jumper. His threes that go in look like his mid-range shot, with his body in rhythm and a straighter follow-through. Ultimately, I’m still fairly optimistic about what he can become as a shooter. His touch inside the arc is fantastic. Hood-Schifino’s volume shows that he’s confident and willing to work through the kinks. The level of competition he faced was also as good as you can get in high school, so he won’t be totally unfamiliar in the deep end of the college basketball swimming pool. Plus, most players his age struggle from three-point land. Shooting is typically one of the last things to come around while also being one of the easiest skills to work on improving. While it’s fair to have concerns and reservations about his shooting potential, I think it’s equally fair to be optimistic, given Hood-Schifino’s number of attempts, mid-range scoring acumen, and age.
Jalen Hood-Schifino is highly intriguing. He has good size at 6’5” and his feel is off the charts. He’ll make cunning reads on offense and wreak havoc defensively without needing to gamble. The early reports out of Bloomington have been encouraging, too.
There are reasons to have concerns. He’s yet to be a consistent outside shooter, and Indiana has struggled to field line-ups that offer credible spacing the past few seasons. If he’s left to make plays on a cramped court, it’s easy to see a world where things could get ugly. Still, I can’t shake the idea of what he could be from my head. The film is too tantalizing. His mid-range bag is so filthy for a player his age that it’s difficult to imagine his range never coming along. As young, smaller point guards struggle to stick, his size at 6’5” gives him a longer leash, especially given that he’ll be able to cover multiple positions well on the defensive end.
Let’s say the shot never comes along. I still think Hood-Schifino offers enough on the court to stick in the NBA if he can get to around 27% from three this season, a similar number to what Nassir Little shot in college. There are differences; as a prospect, Little was stronger and guarded up more effectively, while Hood-Schifino guards down better and is a much more efficient playmaker. But both are scrappy, high-energy players who will do enough on the margins to earn the trust of a coaching staff and get minutes. If Hood-Schifino can become a decent, solid outside shooter in time, I believe he will be a long-term starter in the NBA, given all that he brings to the table. Should he become an above-average or great outside shooter, there is an All-Star level outcome for him. Hood-Schifino is undoubtedly a Good Hand, but if he finds the missing piece, he’ll be a star.
The Expanding Big Board
Welcome to The Expanding Big Board! If you’re new, you’re probably asking what this is, so let me explain. I think Big Boards can be a bit silly early on in the season. We have few data points, and it’s hard to have firm, meaningful opinions about so many prospects early in the draft cycle. So rather than simply throwing out a board or wasting time fussing over who is the 37th best prospect, I devised The Expanding Big Board. Each week, I add one player to the board. This way, I can take my time to develop a focused board based on developed convictions. I don’t have to worry about where to slot a player I’ve only seen in one game this season or any of that nonsense. That being said, let’s get to it. The first player on the 2023 NBA Draft Expanding Big Board is…
Victor Wembanyama! Look, I get it. You’re not surprised. That’s fair. We’re going to have more in-depth coverage of Wembanyama later in the week, so I’ll keep it simple for now. He’s 7’4” with an 8’0” wingspan, he’s constantly making plays on defense, and his shot-making profile is obscene. We’ve never seen anyone like him. It’s also been encouraging that he’s attacked the rim more often. In a recent game against Le Mans, he punished a smaller defender inside with a simple drop step to get to a dunk. There are fewer moments of unnecessary finesse to his game now. He’s showing a nasty competitive streak. I’d like to see his playmaking for others come along, but his recognition as a passer is solid, and it should come in time.
-While he’s yet to prove efficient in ABA play, I like what I’ve seen from Mega’s Nikola Djurisic. The 18-year-old prospect has great size at 6’8” and his feel is off the charts. His maturity as a pick-and-roll ball-handler is enticing for someone his age and with his measurables. He uses his size, fakes, and footwork to pressure the rim, then does a lovely job of finding his big man when the help defender comes his way. Year after year, we’ve seen big players with playmaking prowess stick, even when they didn’t post eye-popping shooting splits against lower levels of competition (See: Banton, Dalano). Djurisic is definitely a player to monitor with lottery upside.
-His teammate, Malcolm Cazalon, is off to a solid start. He’s taken on a bigger offensive load in the wake of the departure of Nikola Jovic. Though the numbers might not indicate it, he’s done well as a passer, splitting tight seams to get the ball to open teammates. His defense in “gray areas” are outstanding, and few players in this draft class will do a better job of scrambling when plays get messy. Given that he’s not a blazing or powerful athlete, he’ll need the three-ball to stick. Through six games with Mega, he’s at 35.3% on 5.7/game. He’s respectable for now, but that’s the area where he can swing his stock most dramatically.
-NBL NextStars prospect Rayan Rupert has been up-and-down offensively. Including his pre-season games, he’s averaged 9.9 PPG on 40.6/39.3/88.9 splits. However, he’s recently gone cold from three (one make in his last 12 attempts as of this writing), and it feels like his tougher shots never drop. His base can be too narrow. Sometimes he won’t have his feet aligned with the basket, even off the catch, and with proper time to get set. Still, his on-ball defense, especially when guarding down, has been a treat to watch. At 6’9” with a 7’3” wingspan, his length helps him wall players off, but his feet are the key to his success. He glides laterally and north-south with ease, and even when the dribbler manages to shake him, he regains his balance quickly. Off-ball, his instincts are tremendous. He knows when to close out hard and when to merely stunt. Given that he’s gifted as a passer, too, all he needs to do is pose somewhat of a shooting threat from the corner. If he can do that, he has a bright NBA future.
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