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Puzzle Pieces: Jaden Ivey Provides Uncanny Athletic Ability to OKC Thunder

Jaden Ivey should have scouts and front offices in awe with his above-the-rim play.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are accustomed to high flyers. Since the franchise relocated in 2008, Russell Westbrook sparked the energy to Loud City with rim-rattling dunks and highlight plays. Intertwined with his success, players such as Hamidou Diallo filled in on poster duty. Leading into this draft, Purdue guard Jaden Ivey has the proper skill set to be an offensive firework at the next level.

Ivey, age 20, made some noise for the Boilermakers last season, but his breakout campaign as a Sophomore has him soaring up draft radars. At 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Ivey has a build akin to a modern-day point guard. But, with an elite ability to play above the rim – he’s slotted in at either guard spot.

Ivey finished the year averaging 17.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists across 36 games.

Offensively, Ivey comes with no true glaring holes. He dominates as a ball-handler with a shifty array of size-up combinations and between-the-legs moves to get around his defender. Once given the corner, he switches into fifth gear, accelerating to rack for high-flying layups and dunks. Even in contact, Ivey is able to find the opening on his drives. From the perimeter, Ivey utilizes his blend of speed and dribbling ability to create shots off of stepbacks and pull-ups. This season, Ivey made significant strides as a shooter, launching from a 25.8% three-point shooter as a Freshman to nailing 35.8% of tries on a five-shot clip. In all, Ivey has shown the knack to torch defenders in one-on-one situations while having a sneaky good game as a playmaker, especially in the fastbreak.

In Oklahoma City’s system, Ivey’s fit is not the easiest, but his talent is clear as day. The Thunder dealt with backcourt turmoil this season with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, Tre Mann, Theo Maledon, and Ty Jerome, among others, all vying for consistent guard minutes. Likely, Gilgeous-Alexander, Giddey, and Mann are the only guards to have their minutes carry over, but as part of that ripple – Lu Dort had to slide up to the small forward. If Ivey were to join Thunder ranks with SGA, Giddey, and Dort remaining, someone is bound to get shorted in development. If Oklahoma City were to buy in on Ivey’s play, he’d be an explosive scorer in a backcourt with Gilgeous-Alexander as he’s shown competence both off-the-catch and creating on his own.

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On the defensive front, Ivey is about as hyperactive as you could ask. At 6-foot-4, Ivey ranked third on Purdue’s roster in rebounds per game (4.9) behind a 7-foot-4 Zach Edey and NBA hopeful Trevion Williams. His tenacity at salvaging those boards goes a long way as he’s able to kick things into transition. Ivey pops out as a defender with his leaping ability, finding his way on highlight tapes for improbable chasedown blocks. He has some issues with fouling. However, his high aggression on-ball is a promising trait going forward.

Ivey slides in as an ideal combo guard under the Thunder’s current system. With 6-foot-5 guards in SGA and Mann splotching the rotation, Ivey can be that interchangeable cog that should bode alright with either defensively. The rough patch comes with sifting how Giddey and Dort coexist in minutes. But, he does fit with the franchise’s cornerstone in the backcourt.

The Oklahoma City Thunder may not be in dire need of an additional guard. But Ivey’s mesmerizing blend of playmaking, freakish athleticism, three-level scoring potential, and defensive acumen make him worthy of Top 3 consideration in this year’s draft.

At Pick No. 2, it’s unlikely Thunder GM Sam Presti will take Ivey’s name to the podium. However, he’s still someone to keep an eye peeled for moving forward.

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