After leading Washington to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011, both Matisse Thybulle and Jaylen Nowell will be waiting to hear their names called during the 2019 NBA Draft.
Thybulle, a senior, was named the back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year after leading the country with 3.5 steals per game and finishing 18th in blocks with 2.3.
The Huskies’ leading scorer as a sophomore last season, Nowell announced at the end of March that he would forego the remainder of his eligibility to enter the draft. He was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year after averaging 16.2 points and shooting 50.2 percent from the field, including 44 percent from beyond the arc.
“At that level to play in (the NBA), it’s not just the skillsets that make you make it,” UW head coach Mike Hopkins told The News Tribune. “You have to have that, that’s a non-negotiable. But the thing that makes them last and play and impact teams is the people that they are, the work ethic that they have and the selflessness that they have. And those guys have all of that.”
So where do they stand with the NBA Draft just days away? We talked to three NBA Draft analysts — The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone and Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo — to find out.
Today, we look at Jaylen Nowell.
‘One of the most impressive risers at the combine’
Boone was originally surprised by Nowell’s decision to leave UW early and enter the draft. Before the NBA Combine, he had him ranked just outside the top 100 prospects. Afterward, Nowell shot up his board. He’s now at No. 56.
“I think he was one of the most impressive risers at the combine,” Boone said. “He was a guy who I watched this season, obviously, but he really stood out to me (at the combine). He had a little more athleticism than I initially saw when I watched him at Washington.
“He’s like first-team all-confidence. He has no fear, goes right at players. He was playing against Tacko (Fall), who was the 7-foot-7 kid from UCF, and just attacking the basket. Just no fear. That really stood out and I think impressed all the scouts at the combine, too.”
After announcing his decision to enter the NBA Draft in March, Nowell still could have decided to return to the Huskies. But on May 28, Nowell released a statement confirming his choice to turn professional.
Nowell is widely considered a mid- to late- second round pick. Woo and NBADraft.net both have Nowell going to Indiana in the second round at No. 50 overall. Nowell has made multiple visits to work out for the Pacers, including their first pre-draft workout on May 21.
In his latest mock draft, Vecenie has Nowell going No. 47 overall to Sacramento while Boone has the Clippers selecting him at No. 56.
“I think (his decision) was a little bit surprising at first,” Woo said, “just because I don’t think he was someone that was talked about a lot over the course of the season as a prospect. But I thought the numbers were really good with him.
“At some point I think the question just becomes, how much more do you have to show at the college level and might want to start developing as a pro? For him, I guess that makes sense. I think he’s done enough to get drafted in the second round. If that happens, I think that’s a fine outcome for him.”
Boone expects that Nowell will get drafted. But even if he doesn’t, he said Nowell will likely sign a two-way contract. Players under two-way contracts will spend the majority of the season in the NBA G League. They can join their NBA team for no more than 45 days.
“It gives NBA teams the option to call you up,” Boone said. “I think he really improved his draft stock (at the combine). He just looked like he had a little bit more pop as a player … He looked really impressive to me. He’s really been working on his game.”
‘They’ll take him and try to develop him’
Nowell is just 19 years old, and analysts agree that works in his favor. With a 4-year college player, Woo said there isn’t much mystery left. With Nowell, there’s room for improvement. He hasn’t reached his ceiing.
“They’ll take him and try to develop him,” Woo said. “He’ll probably have to go to the G League for a while next year, but that’s fine.”
Nowell has proven his scoring ability, which is sure to catch the attention of scouts. From his freshman to sophomore season, his field goal percentage went up 5.1 percent and 3-point shooting percentage improved by 8.9 percent. He also became more efficient. Despite playing in two more games last season, he took 16 less shots.
ANd Vecenie didn’t hesitate when it came to pinpointing the most intriguing aspect of Nowell’s game.
“I think it’s definitely the shot making,” he said. “No question. It’s 100 percent the shot making. Anytime you can get a guy that was 50-40-80 (percent) as a shooter who is also the primary threat for an NCAA Tournament team like Washington was … that guy is incredibly valuable. If you can knock down shots off the dribble and off the catch, you’re a multi-faceted, versatile offensive shot maker.”
Nowell was also underrated as a passer, Vecenie added. During the NCAA Tournament, both Nowell and his teammates pointed to his focus on distribution as a key factor behind offensive improvement.
“He’s such a great scorer he felt like if he got to his spots he could score,” senior point guard David Crisp said then. “He did that a lot and that’s a big part of why we are successful. But this year, he gets in that lane and he’s aware that a lot of people are collapsing in and he’s looking for those kick outs to wide open guys. When he’s doing that, it’s contagious.”
Boone sees Nowell’s ability as a shot creator as his biggest selling point, and it’s what stood out the most for him during Nowell’s time at UW and at the combine. He was not only impressed not only with Nowell’s ability to grab rebounds and run the floor, but also finish at the basket. It’s also a plus that Nowell has shown the ability to play on or off the ball in a system.
“When you’re talking about guys that can play in the NBA, there’s not a lot of efficient shot creators,” Boone said. “So that specific skill set stands out to me and it’s something I think could really benefit him.”
‘Just an awesome shooter’
There isn’t anything about Nowell’s game that Boone would necessarily call a concern. He described him as a “high-floor guy,’a player will likely see quality minutes in the NBA but won’t develop into a superstar.
In order to stick, though, Vecenie said Nowell will have to prove his ability as a defender.
“NBA teams, they just need to know more about the defense,” Vecenie said. “There were times where I thought if Washington’s zone broke down, he was the culprit of it breaking down.
“But just because you’re not necessarily a great zone defender doesn’t mean you’re going to not be a great man defender. Teams certainly just want to learn more about Jaylen as a defender.”
Vecenie would also like to see more confidence from Nowell when it comes to 3-point shooting. Nowell proved last season that he can make long-distance shots. Now he just needs to show more willingness to take them.
Ever since high school, Vecenie said Nowell has been an “assassin” from mid-range, and he only sharpened that ability during his two years with the Huskies. But that will only take him so far at the next level.
“I do think there is a place for the mid-range shot, especially for the way that NBA defenses play guys now,” Vecenie said. “If you can knock down 50 percent from the mid-range, that shot is basically always there now. It can be an efficient shot for you, but you have to be a hyper-elite mid-range jump shooter to do that.”
Those elite mid-range shooters — think Klay Thompson and Steph Curry — set what Vecenie called an “incredibly high standard.” So even though Nowell is a strong shooter off the dribble, Vecenie wants to see him pull up from the 3-point line more often.
“NBA teams, they aren’t going to live with him taking two-dribble pull-ups into the 18-foot range because in the NBA, that’s not a particularly efficient shot,” Vecenie said, “especially for somebody who has the ability to step out and knock down shots from three.
“I think Jaylen is actually just an awesome shooter. He’s a really tough one because you really need to buy into him becoming an elite-level shot maker, which I think he has in him.”