At this point in the pre-draft process, a prospect’s strengths and weaknesses are clearly outlined and accessible to the basketball-viewing public. Their game film has been parsed and their NBA Draft Combine measurements and drill results have been entered as data points on the internet, ready to be copied and pasted into countless blog posts. For some players, the combine can deliver encouraging, if not surprising, results — their wingspan might be longer than expected, their speed and agility drill times might be faster than expected, etc. These players usually see their draft stocks rise. For others, it can serve as discouraging confirmation of what was expected — their wingspan might be as short as it looked in game film, their speed and agility drill times might match their slow-footed tendencies, etc. These players will occasionally see their draft stocks fall.
Ty Jerome, the 6-foot-5.5-inch, 194-pound point guard from the University of Virginia, perhaps best exemplifies a player in this latter grouping. Even before throwing his hat in the proverbial draft ring, concerns surrounding Jerome’s lack of foot speed, length and general athleticism had begun to mount. Unsurprisingly, these concerns were well-founded. At the combine, his official wingspan measurement was listed as 6-foot-4-inches. It took him 11.21 seconds to complete the lane agility test, the slowest time among point guards. Both his standing vertical and maximum vertical were the second shortest recorded this year. None of these results came as a surprise, but reinforced the notion that his physical limitations could severely hamper his impact at the next level.
Jerome’s rise from prep school afterthought to NBA-caliber prospect was unforeseen, even in the eyes of Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. “In Bennett’s words, the prep-era Jerome didn’t exactly pass the ‘eye test’ ,” Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic wrote last month. “I kept saying, man, he’s really good, but in my mind, I’m like, no, no, he’s not moving that well,” Bennett recalled after seeing Jerome play for the first time. However, Jerome was able to erase, or at least alleviate, initial skepticism. “There’s something there. I think he’s got a chance. And I bull-dogged him and followed him, and he kept making a believer out of me more and more,” said Bennett.
This has been a recurring theme in the 21-year-old’s decorated career. He is physically unspectacular. He doesn’t fly around screens like a typical sharp-shooter. His lack of lift leaves him prone to strong contests. He struggles to contain athletic guards and wings. Yet, despite these issues, his game is undeniable. Jerome is projected as a late first-round, early second-round pick in most mock drafts. Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington wrote that “one source put his draft range at 18-22 based on teams interviewing the Virginia guard.”
What is it about Jerome’s game that makes his weaknesses seem less conspicuous? Like Bennett, you might find the initial eye-test to be discouraging, for reasons already laid out. But after some time, it clicks. You see the pick-and-roll ball-handling, the off-ball spatial awareness, the cerebral court vision. Jerome is slow-footed but quick-minded, a vertically-challenged guard with the advanced footwork to make up for it. Most notably, he’s got some serious range:
Jerome is a prolific shooter who can comfortably drain triples well beyond NBA three-point distance. In his final season at Virginia, he made 40 percent of his 198 three-point attempts. Per Synergy, Jerome scored 1.19 points per possession on threes, which ranked in the 85th percentile this past season. More impressively, he scored 1.44 on catch-and-shoot jumpers, which ranked in the 97th percentile. He also scored efficiently coming off screens (1.07 points per possession) and as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (0.82 points per possession).
Due to Jerome’s short wingspan, his fairly low release and lack of lift on jump shots could spell trouble for him against NBA defenders with even moderate length. If he struggles to get off clean looks against strong closeouts, minutes will be sparse his rookie season. Luckily, Jerome’s adept footwork and anticipation should help alleviate this issue:
Jerome receives the pass as he’s relocating to the corner, pumps his defender into an ill-advised contest, takes a half step in as though he’s preparing to attack the closeout and quickly steps back for the corner three. His movement is fluid and decisive the moment he receives the pass, which will come in handy at the next level against long, athletic defenders. He is also comfortable attacking off the dribble when facing defensive pressure:
As Jerome comes around a screen to receive the pass, the screener’s defender switches to contest a potential shot. Jerome waits until the defender is behind him, drives along the baseline and delivers a pretty bounce pass through traffic to Mamadi Diakite for the soft floater. Jerome is often a step ahead (both literally and figuratively) of a rotating defense, comfortable either shooting off the catch or driving toward the basket in search of open teammates. He does a fantastic job keeping his head up and his dribble alive in tight spaces, which are skills required of NBA playmakers. Jerome is also effective attacking closeouts in transition:
He streaks down the sideline, receives the ball on the left wing, attacks the haphazard closeout, pumps outside the lane to draw the big toward him and calmly passes it down to Braxton Key for the slam. His comfort functioning as a secondary playmaker in transition could help him earn minutes as a rookie next season. Because of his shooting prowess, he must be accounted for in the open court, which gives him opportunities to attack closeouts and pick apart scrambling defenses.
Although Jerome’s lack of athleticism prevents him from effectively scoring in isolation situations — Per Synergy, he scored 0.65 points per possession on isolation plays, which ranked in the 28th percentile last season — he’s still a great one-on-one facilitator. Last season, he accounted for 1.3 points per possession when passing out of an isolation. Jerome will never be able to blow by like-sized defenders in a one-on-one setting, but his intuitive passing makes up for his lack of foot speed:
One of my favorite Ty Jerome passes. Just filthy. pic.twitter.com/alQVH0SPeX— Waiting for Draft Night Anžejs (@mdelNBA) May 30, 2019
After initiating the drive, Jerome only needs a few inches of space as he rounds the corner to fire a one-handed laser between two sagging defenders to the shooter camped in the far corner. If he makes this pass a half second later, it probably gets tipped or stolen. It is a testament to his quick-twitch passing instincts, which he’ll need if he serves as a primary ball-handler in the NBA.
When Jerome looks to create for himself on drives, he struggles near the basket. Per Synergy, he scored 1.05 points per possession on shots around the rim (not including post-ups), which only ranked in the 37th percentile last season. This is in large part due to his lack of burst and an inability to create consistent separation off the dribble. When he does choose to attack, he’s better off taking in-between shots. Last season, he scored 0.89 points per possession on runners, which ranked in the 71st percentile. Runners require solid touch, which Jerome definitely possesses:
Before the big can come out to offer resistance, Jerome throws up a high-arcing floater that kisses off the top of the glass and softly rattles through the hoop. This shot requires a high level of difficulty, to say the least. The object of a floater is to catch the interior defender off guard before they can fully commit and contest it. This is even more important for a player like Jerome whose feet barely leave the hardwood when he releases the shot. Considering his lack of lift, he may need to extend his distance from the rim in order to float shots over the outstretched arms of NBA seven-footers.
He doesn’t get very much lift on his pull-up midrange jump shots, either:
Jerome drives into his defender to throw him off balance and give himself a clean look on the pull-up. Against disciplined NBA defenders, he’ll likely struggle to get these types of shots off. Even if he’s being defended by a smaller guard, his lack of lift and length could make things more difficult than expected. Jerome will need to figure out subtle, creative ways to initiate contact with his defender in order to create space.
On the other side of the floor, Jerome is an alert off-ball and team defender who communicates well on rotations and rarely gets beat on cuts. He’ll need to maintain that level of alertness in the NBA to make up for his lack of athleticism. When defending on-ball, his length can be an issue, even when he does a good job staying with his assignment:
Here, he cuts off the offensive player’s driving lane and offers up a solid contest on the three. He shows discipline in not fouling, but doesn’t possess enough length to really bother the shooter. Even when he does everything right, his physical limitations come back to bite him. Jerome will likely struggle defending NBA players with strong step backs and hesitation moves. When the offensive player forces him off balance, his weaknesses become more glaring:
To be clear, Jerome rarely stumbles out of position like this. But his slow recovery after he loses balance is still a bit concerning. Even after the stumble and recovery, he would have had a decent chance to contest the shot if he possessed greater length. To be a passable on-ball defender in the NBA, he’ll need to rely on his defensive instincts in order to anticipate step backs and other change of direction moves.
Jerome’s weaknesses have been with him his entire career. They’re a major reason only three power conference schools offered him scholarships. They’re also a major reason his draft projections are so wide-ranging. There is no questioning his talent or basketball intelligence. Jerome is an exceptional passer and knockdown shooter. He reads defenses as well as any player in this year’s draft class, and has found ways to effectively run an offense despite his lack of physical tools. He may be unable to overcome his limitations at the next level. He may be inserted into an NBA rotation right away.
It’s difficult to predict whether Ty Jerome’s NBA career will pan out or not. In the words of Tony Bennett: “I don’t know. But, man, he’s really good.”