BLOOMINGTON – He’s been at IU so long it might be lost on some fans that this spring marks Trayce Jackson-Davis’ first foray into the NBA’s pre-draft process. Declared but committed to retaining his eligibility, Jackson-Davis is one of a handful of players who could serve as early case studies for the way the stay-or-go decision has changed in the NIL era.
Already an accomplished college player, Jackson-Davis finished his junior season in March with some of the best basketball of his IU career. In his last seven games, Jackson-Davis posted 151 points and 54 rebounds, shooting 63-of-100 (63%) from the floor and 25-of-33 (75.8%) from the free-throw line.
Now, Jackson-Davis is availing himself of that pre-draft process for the first time. He’s now among a class of players for whom the decision is no longer as cut-and-dried as either staying in college or beginning a professional career, with name, image and likeness reforms now allowing college athletes to profit from their likeness.
And Jackson-Davis — an athlete whose profile could translate to six-figure NIL earnings — probably sits right on the line between seeing greater value in staying in the draft, or returning to school.
Insider:With or without Trayce Jackson-Davis, IU roster for 2022-23 looks promising
“He’s an interesting case,” an NBA source told IndyStar. “I think he does have a chance of getting drafted. Not a lock, but he does fall in that range where I don’t think it’s unrealistic to shoot for a two-way contract, whether you get drafted, or you’re one of the top-15 guys that don’t get drafted and end up on those deals.”
Where Jackson-Davis falls in the draft hierarchy is a matter of debate.
Some projections, including those at ESPN and CBS, don’t currently see him getting picked in this summer’s draft. NBAdraftnet and Bleacher Report, however, both rate him a second-round pick.
Jackson-Davis will have opportunities to boost his stock beyond where it currently stands. But if he is a second-round-to-undrafted-free-agent prospect, Jackson-Davis might find himself weighing the merits of a two-way contract and some time spent in the G League, as opposed to another year working on his game in Bloomington.
“It’s just tough,” a league source said, “because he’s probably going to get stuck in the G League, and it’s going to be luck and timing, like a lot of these guys.”
There would be some benefits to a trip through the G League.
There, Jackson-Davis might have more leeway to experiment mid-stream, to work on developing skills like a face-up offensive game and a jumper without it becoming a detriment to a college team trying to win games.
“His best use for winning college games and getting a team to the NCAA tournament is probably not changing the way he plays,” a source said, “whereas there might be a chance in a developmental pro setting in the G League, you could accept a certain level of failure as you try to see if he could stretch out (offensively).”
Positional fit will also play into Jackson-Davis’ NBA potential.
Listed at 6-9, Jackson-Davis’ best work in college has come with him playing the five. With a good-but-not-outrageous wingspan, he would be slightly undersized at the next level if he stayed at center, but he could further his appeal if he demonstrated the ability to stretch his game at both ends of the floor.
“For him to improve where I think the league projects him, is he able to step outside and shoot?” one source said. “Can he guard more of the mobile four men? As the NBA has gotten smaller, it’s almost like wings have become four men in a lot of situations.”
The most fascinating question around the decisions of players in Jackson-Davis’ position — obviously talented but not guaranteed to be drafted — has never applied before.
Two-way contracts can pay a substantial range in the NBA, based on how much of the time the player under said contract spends in the G League as opposed to the NBA. The value of those contracts will vary based on that time, but they start in the high five figures and can run comfortably into multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Hoosiers For Good:IU athletes net nearly half a million dollars in first wave of NIL deals
So too, now, do NIL earnings for many Power Five schools’ top athletes. Jackson-Davis’ total income from NIL deals is not public knowledge. But given he has arrangements with Merchant’s Bank of Indiana, Pennzoil and, through the Hoosiers For Good NIL collective, multiple charities, it’s certainly plausible he’s already earning as much money playing for Indiana as he could if he wound up splitting his time between the NBA and the G League.
Already, college basketball has seen players like North Carolina’s Armando Bacot and Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, last season’s Wooden Award winner, return to college. In Tshiebwe’s case, numerous reports suggest his NIL earnings for the coming season will stretch into the millions.
By rule, NIL deals cannot be contingent upon participation, thus no agreement Jackson-Davis signs could be voided by his leaving Indiana. But given many deals include things like public-appearance commitments, it would stand to reason he would struggle to fulfill them all were he playing his basketball in either an NBA or a G League city other than perhaps Indianapolis.
The potential of equal or perhaps even greater earnings from another year in college could play a role in Jackson-Davis’ final decision.
“It’s kind of like a lot of these guys, the Tshiebwes, the (Hunter) Dickinsons, the Bacots,” a league source said. “NIL makes a lot more sense if you can get that (dollar figure).”
Jackson-Davis seems likely to receive an NBA combine invite, which could open doors for more in-person meetings and workouts as well. The combine runs from May 16-22, with the NCAA early entrant withdrawal deadline 10 days later, at 11:59 p.m. June 1. Combine invites have not been made public yet but were expected to be distributed at the beginning of May.
Where Jackson-Davis fits in the final landscape, and thus whether he returns to school, could well go down to those final days. Indiana can afford to wait for him. The Hoosiers have a full complement of 13 scholarships if Jackson-Davis returns for 2022-23.
Jackson-Davis must use the next few weeks to show he can stretch his offensive game, mitigate his size as a five by defending multiple positions and generally make himself a more versatile prospect to NBA teams. Even then, NIL opportunities might tempt him back to school for a fourth season, during which he could threaten numerous school records.
“If he shows there is some potential to do that I think that would help his projection in teams’ eyes, probably up his grade a little bit,” a league source said. “This isn’t unique to him, either. This is a lot of players. It might be a little bit different skill, but once you get outside the top handful of guys, there are strengths and weaknesses you have to balance and figure out, project and go to work on starting almost immediately after they’re drafted, to try to bring that out of guys.
“This is not just Trayce Jackson-Davis. This is one out of 50 guys in the draft going through the same thing.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.