After leading Washington to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011, Jaylen Nowell will be waiting to hear his names called Thursday during the 2019 NBA Draft.
The Huskies’ leading scorer as a sophomore last season, Nowell announced at the end of March that he would forgo the remainder of his eligibility to enter the draft. He was named the 2019 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 3-point line.
“At that level to play in (the NBA), it’s not just the skill sets that make you make it,” UW coach Mike Hopkins said. “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.”
So where does Nowell stand with the NBA Draft just days away? The News Tribune talked to three NBA Draft analysts — The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie, CBS Sports’ Kyle Boone and Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo — to find out.
Boone originally was surprised by Nowell’s decision to leave UW early and enter the draft. Before the NBA Combine, he had Nowell 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 could have decided to return to the Huskies. But on May 28, he released a statement confirming his choice to turn professional.
Nowell is widely considered a second-round pick, likely to be chosen in the second half of the round. 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. 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. … 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 said he expects Nowell to get drafted. But even if he doesn’t, he said, Nowell likely will sign a two-way contract. Players under two-way contracts 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.”
Nowell is just 19 years old, and analysts agree that works in his favor. With a four-year college player, Woo said there isn’t much mystery left. With Nowell, there’s room for improvement. He hasn’t reached his ceiling.
“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 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 (percentages from the field, 3-point range and the foul line) as a shooter who is also the primary threat for an NCAA Tournament team like Washington was … that guy is incredibly valuable.”
There isn’t anything about Nowell’s game that Boone necessarily would call a concern. He described him as a “high-floor guy,” a player likely to 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.”