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NBA Draft Prospect Breakdown: Terence Davis

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Terrence Davis wasn’t always touted as an NBA prospect, but his improvement at Ole Miss put him on scouting radars. Will Davis fizzle at the next level or continue to exceed expectations?

Oklahoma v Mississippi Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

An NBA future wasn’t always in the cards for Terence Davis. Five years ago, he was a highly touted high school wide receiver and received scholarship offers from twenty power conference schools. “I was a 6-4 wide receiver with long arms and huge hands who could catch everything that came my way. Why wouldn’t I play football?” Davis told Chris Dortch of NBA.com. Following his junior year of high school, Davis ranked 40th among shooting guards in the 2015 recruiting class and had received only one scholarship offer from a power conference school: Ole Miss. “My high school coaches all thought I was going to choose football. A lot of people did,” Davis said. But he didn’t. Before his senior year started, he signed his letter of intent with Ole Miss to play basketball.

Things didn’t look promising during his freshman season, in which he averaged 1.8 points in 6.6 minutes per game, shot 27.3 percent from three and only connected on 36.8 percent of his free throw attempts. Davis looked far from an NBA prospect, let alone a D-1 shooting guard. According to Dortch, Davis’ father advised him to choose basketball because it would be a greater challenge. “After I didn’t play much my freshman year, I thought, did I choose the wrong sport?” Davis wondered.

Those doubts were erased the next season. During Davis’ breakout sophomore campaign, he scored 14.9 points per game, averaged 5.3 rebounds and shot 72.3 percent from the line. From freshman afterthought to burgeoning SEC star, Davis was quickly validating his decision to pass on college football. He continued to steadily progress over the next two years. In his senior season, he shot a career-best 37.1 percent from distance and was named to the All-SEC Second Team.

Still, despite improving by leaps and bounds during his time at Ole Miss, an NBA career was unlikely. Following his junior season, Davis entered his name in the NBA Draft but chose to return to school after it became clear he was a long shot (ESPN ranked him 78th in its top-100 rankings). Following his senior season, it appeared Davis would be on the draft bubble. However, after impressing at both the Portsmouth Invitational and G League Elite Camp, Davis received an invitation to the 2019 NBA Draft Combine. Although Davis impressed in both combine scrimmages — he shot 12-for-21 from the field — his measurements were what stood out. The 6-foot-4.5 shooting guard’s wingspan measurement is listed as 6-foot-8.75. Of the four combine participants whose hand width measurements are listed as 10.75 inches, Davis is the only one shorter than 6-foot-8.75.

It is likely that Davis will be selected in the second-round of the 2019 NBA Draft, though where he is projected to be taken is wide-ranging. Matt Norlander of CBS Sports has Davis going 45th overall in his most recent mock draft. Sam Vecenie of the Athletic has Davis taken by the Sixers with the 34th overall pick. At this point in the pre-draft process, a player’s selection range is usually set. Why, then, is Davis an outlier? His unlikely rise from three-star recruit to legitimate NBA-caliber prospect has surely left some wondering whether he’s good enough to play at the next level. A close examination of his game shows why his rising stock is well-founded.

For Davis to find minutes in the NBA, he’ll need to prove he’s capable of spacing the floor. Three-point shooting is an area he improved considerably in during his time at Ole Miss, and has become one of his most notable strengths. According to Synergy, Davis scored 1.07 points per possession on spot-up jumpers during his senior season, which ranked in the 79th percentile. He’s shown solid mechanics on spot-up attempts and starts his shooting motion the moment his feet are set:

After corralling a slightly off-target pass with his right hand, Davis sets his feet and takes an above-the-break three before his defender has time to close out. Though he misses, his quick release is encouraging and should bode well against NBA defenders with good recovery speed. He also has a fairly high release point, which, considering his length, allows him to get clean looks over most perimeter defenders.

In projecting how his shooting might translate at the next level, it helps to look at where his shots are coming from:

The majority of Davis’ shots were taken in the lane or above the break this past season. He has never been a prolific shooter from the corners, but his unwillingness to take shots there could hurt him in the NBA, especially if he’s not involved in a ton of on-ball action early on. Strangely, his form looks different on spot-up corner threes than it does on spot-up threes above the break:

After the ball is kicked to him in the corner, Davis takes a moment to set his feet before firing long on his three-point attempt. He gets very little lift on the shot, lands awkwardly inside the arc and seems less confident in his shooting motion. The deviation in form he exhibits in the corners could be from a lack of reps, but is concerning nonetheless. He’ll need to work on correcting these issues ahead of his rookie season.

Davis is a very decisive shooter on pull-up jumpers. According to Synergy, he scored 0.92 points per pull-up jumper in the half court, which ranked in the 74th percentile last season. He demonstrated fluidity collecting his dribble and transitioning into his shooting motion:

After receiving the dribble hand-off, Davis comes around a ball screen, squares up and confidently drains a triple. Though he spends a lot of his time running around off-ball screens in the half court, he’s proven increasingly capable of receiving the ball near the top of the arc and creating offense for himself and others. His growth as a shot creator could lead to opportunities as a secondary ball-handler in the NBA.

Despite Davis’ growing comfort as a ball-handler, he’s struggled to score in isolation situations. According to Synergy, he scored 0.5 points per possession when isolated against a defender, which ranked in the 12th percentile last season. He hasn’t shown much creativity off the bounce, oftentimes opting to drive hard at the rim and hope for the best:

Davis sizes up his defender, drives left and is promptly denied at the rim. At times, he appears to rely too heavily on his length to make up for his limited layup package. There’s also not much shake to his dribble game, so he rarely gets the separation he needs around the basket. His struggles attacking in isolation shouldn’t affect him at the next level, though, seeing as he was rarely put in those positions during his time at Ole Miss. According to Synergy, only 2.2 percent of his shots in the half court came on isolation plays. Despite this, he was occasionally able to create space on isolation jumpers:

Here, he crosses his defender out of their shoes, uses a strong step-back move to get behind the arc and fires away. Having the ability to effectively create space with a step back could lead to cleaner looks from three-point range, which he’ll need against taller, longer defenders in the NBA.

Though Davis only ranked in the 19th percentile scoring off cuts last season, his effective first step and ability to change direction at a moment’s notice presented him with opportunities to attack the basket:

As Davis arrives in the right corner, he abruptly changes directions and cuts baseline before his defender is able to register what is happening. From there, he gathers the pass with his right hand, rises up and finishes over the big. His movement off-ball resembles route running, which is apt considering his football background. One of the reasons he didn’t score efficiently on cuts is because he had difficulty making well-contested layups. In the play above, he’s able to throw it down because the big isn’t in a great position to contest the shot. When the defense is ready for him, he’s less successful. Because of this, he’d be wise to rely on his floater more often when cutting or driving toward the basket:

Davis splits a pair of defenders, drives into the lane and tosses up a soft floater off one foot over the outstretched arms of the big waiting for him down low. His in-between game will make up for his struggles around the basket at the next level, and will keep defenders on their heels.

When Davis isn’t looking to score, he’s been a more than willing passer who makes smart reads and rarely forces the issue. As a senior, he averaged 3.5 assists per game, which is a solid number for a secondary playmaker. Davis is a composed facilitator when pressured and uses his length to fire passes over defenders:

In both plays, Davis is doubled but calmly collects his dribble and finds the rolling big man for the bucket. He does most of his damage as a facilitator within the offensive rhythm — locating cutters, swinging the ball to open shooters and hitting his teammates rolling toward the basket. Understanding not only where he should be, but where his teammates will be in the half court should help him earn minutes as a rookie.

For Davis to be trusted as a ball-handler in the NBA, he’ll need to improve as a passer off the dribble:

As Davis crosses half court, he begins to lose control. When he enters the lane, he attempts to kick the ball out to the perimeter as he’s stumbling but fires it in-between two shooters spotted up on the left wing. Even in the half court, Davis has a habit of driving recklessly into the lane before he’s sure whether he should attack the basket or kick the ball back out to the perimeter, which often leads to forced shots or turnovers (he averaged a career-high 2.8 turnovers per game as a senior, per Sports Reference). Barreling toward the basket without a plan will earn him a seat on the bench his rookie season, so he’ll need to learn how to play the game at different speeds in order to maximize his passing ability and playing time.

On the other end of the floor, Davis is much easier to project. He’s a smart, physical on-ball defender who uses his athleticism to contain dribble penetration and length to contest shots. His fouls per game have decreased each of the last three seasons, in part because he’s relied less on his physicality and more on his anticipation and footwork when defending on-ball:

Davis stays attached to the offensive player when they initiate their drive and is able to stop on a dime to contest the elbow jumper. If he shows this level of poise defending like-sized players in the NBA, he’ll be able to utilize his length to bother their shots. Also, because of his length and lateral quickness, Davis could potentially become a multi-positional defender capable of guarding one through three. He will occasionally foul if the offensive player gets a step on him, but it happens less frequently than it used to.

As a help defender, Davis uses his quick hands and length to be a disruptive force:

He leaves his man for a split second to strip the ball-handler, leads the break and dishes to a trailing teammate for the three-point basket. Davis’ ability to turn defense into offense will be valuable to whichever team drafts him. This isn’t to say he is flawless as an off-ball/help defender. He’ll occasionally lose track of his own assignment when he’s focused on the ball-handler:

By the time Davis realizes his man is cutting backdoor, the lob has already been thrown and it’s too late for him to do anything. For a guy who usually plays with great defensive poise, it’s frustrating to see these mental lapses from time to time. However, plenty of young players struggle with off-ball awareness, and for Davis, it doesn’t happen often enough to be considered a red flag. He’ll just need to be more cognizant of his defensive assignment at the next level.

There is plenty to like about Davis, from his pull-up jumper efficiency to his disruptive help defense. There are also things he’ll need to fix, such as off-the-dribble facilitating and his corner three-point shot. If he’s drafted by a rebuilding team, he’ll likely receive plenty of opportunities to play his rookie season. If he’s drafted by a contender, he may need to spend time in the G League to work out the kinks before getting his shot in the big leagues.

Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis had this to say about Terence Davis when he spoke with Chris Dortch:

“TD is going to know exactly what his job is [in the NBA]. It doesn’t matter what role they put him in, he’s going to accept it. That’s a big part of his success. He’s going to live in the gym and hang on every word they say.”

If his basketball career has taught us anything, it’s that he’ll be up for the challenge.