Tyson is a seasoned college player who could help the Knicks with their lack of size and dynamic scoring ability off the bench.

In the lead-up to the draft, the narrative has shifted and we have somehow jumped from this being one of the worst draft classes of all time to everybody loving the depth that is filled with awesome role players. While the truth may lie somewhere in the middle, this class is being fairly categorized into two groups.

The first group of prospects whose figurehead would probably be someone like Tyler Kolek.  These are typically older, more accomplished, and experienced players, ready to contribute now but limited in their upside, and likely destined to be role players. The second group would be the less productive and more projection-based players. These are typically younger prospects like Johnny Furphy or sometimes older prospects like KyShawn George whose tools and raw talent bring intrigue where his numbers may not.

This has always been a debate within draft circles, but a class devoid of tier 1 stars has brought it to the forefront. The 2024 draft is likely to be defined by role players, so there is no more important part of the draft than that 20-40 range where teams are looking to bolster their depth by adding impactful rotation players on the bench at the end of the starting lineup. Thankfully, the Knicks have three swings of the bat in that change and can afford to be creative with their thinking.

They have the luxury of not being committed to finding a player that can help now as most playoff teams are, nor are they in a rebuild looking for the highest upside possible. Leon Rose and co. can try to split the difference, as they often have in his tenure, drafting guys with immediately playable skills that have room to grow and develop with much higher upside beyond that one thing. That brings us to Jaylon Tyson, the enigmatic offensive engine from the University of California.

It is important to consider context and role when evaluating a player. What is it that a player did well before going to the NBA, and will that skill translate? These are questions every talent evaluator has to ask of every prospect. Sometimes, that answer is plain and simple, and a floor spacer will be able to space the floor. Other times, however, it is more difficult and nuanced to project how a player’s role will scale down while he continues to develop and grow. Jaylon Tyson is a great example of the nuance that teams will require to evaluate and project his contributions at the next level correctly.

Unlike other potential high-upside guys, Tyson is on the older side at 21 and a half years after playing three years in college, at three different colleges. After an unsuccessful freshman campaign at UT, Tyson moved down the road to Lubbock where he was given far more opportunity in his sophomore season. However, his last change took him much further and was far more impactful on his on-court performance. When he headed out west to Berkeley, his usage nearly doubled his junior year, with a level of production that followed suit.

This is what makes the Plano, Texas native a particularly difficult evaluation as you project the transition to the next level. We have seen Jaylon Tyson expand his game with every opportunity when given a bigger role and more control of that offense. However, the 30.1% usage rate was in the top 20 of all men’s NCAA basketball players who played 30 or more games. Of every prospect in this class, there are few players whose roles were less translatable than Jaylon Tyson who had the ball in his hands more often than not for the Cal Bears.

So, let’s look at what makes the 21-year-old wing such an intriguing prospect and how he could look at the next level in a different role. Tyson measured at 6’5.5 without shoes at the NBA Combine with a 6’8 wingspan. On top of that, he weighed in at 218.2 pounds, with a strong and sturdy frame. That size is important considering that Tyson played point guard at Cal. He used that size well to punish smaller defenders and used his strength to his advantage as a creator.

There is a case to be made that Tyson is one of the better ball handlers in the class. He makes up for his lack of burst with fancy footwork and a tight handle that allows him to create separation using his strength and precise timing.  There is a patience and control that he brings to the table with deceleration and the ability to change direction. It is a certain type of athleticism that facilitates his craft and creativity as a ball handler. This was an extremely effective skill at the college level where he scored 0.95 points per possession which put him in the 83rd percentile among all players per synergy.

This season at Cal, Tyson averaged 19.6 points per game and scored effectively at all three levels. Using that craftiness, he was able to get in the paint and score around the rim with both hands with proficiency. He displayed an impressive arsenal of post moves and rim-finishing moves, whether it is a hook shot, a turnaround, or finishing above the rim. With the craftiness you typically associate with smaller guards parlayed with Tyson’s length and athleticism, he is very dangerous in the paint.

While some players are considered three-level scorers because of the projected ability of what they may become, Jaylon Tyson truly did it in college. Per synergy, he scored 0.93 points per possession on pull-up jumpers which put him respectably in the 76th percentile. Tyson is able to get to those shots because he is armed with various dribble moves including a gnarly step back and sidestep to create space for himself. His pull-up shot-making is high level as he releases the ball at a high point and can get that shot off with ease. Not only does he thrive in the mid-range but he has a nasty floater game he can get to from the free throw line and within. The diversity of his shot profile is as complex as any prospect in this class and the freedom at Cal allowed him to build up his repertoire.

So, you are probably assuming that outside shooting is the big question, or else he would be a more highly-ranked prospect. However, that is not the case for Tyson who projects to be a good but not great three-point shooter. In his sophomore season at Texas Tech, he shot 40% from beyond the arc on 3.5 attempts per game, this year at Cal, he increased that volume to 4.5 attempts but the accuracy decreased to a still respectable 36% on a tougher shot diet with more defensive attention being paid to him. While nobody expects him to lead the league in three-point percentage, as a career 77.6% free throw shooter, who shot well in college and has a great touch with both hands, all indicators point to being a good NBA three-point shooter.

You may be wondering why a big wing creator who scored effectively at all three levels is not being more highly regarded as a draft prospect. However, the concerns are not without merit, as the role he had in college allowed him a lot of opportunities he would not have in the NBA. So, let’s discuss how that could scale down and what that could look like if that pops at the next level.

It is fairly obvious that Jaylon Tyson will not be a primary on-ball creator in the NBA and will not have the ball in his hands in the way that he did in college. So, in what way could he be utilized so that his scoring prowess would be effective? In figuring out how he will play off the ball, the jump shot is the most important part. This season at Cal he shot 37% on catch-and-shoot opportunities, which projects well to him translating in that role. If the shooting is consistent, that would open up the game as a secondary creator. While it is not likely that he will be able to beat defenders off the dribble, he should be able to make plays from advantageous situations.

The floor for Tyson off the ball is relatively high, he should be able to hit open threes and attack a closeout allowing him to be a rotational wing. However, the ceiling is higher if the high-level creation opens up and he becomes a Khris Middleton-type scorer who picks his spots and is methodical with his creation. That part of his game is still blossoming and if it continues to develop, there will be a lot of room for him to attack and score as a secondary playmaker.

A lot of that is contingent on the playmaking to continue to grow. Tyson has shown high-level passing with velocity and pinpoint accuracy. This includes an impressive display of live dribble passing and the ability to facilitate from angles while on the move. However, if this was a true high-level skill, it would take the Cal Bear to the next level as a prospect. Instead, it is both a gift and a curse as his decision-making does not always match his level of skill. A gifted passer who can fit passes through tight windows, he often times forces passes that aren’t there leading to a high turnover rate and a disappointing 3.5:3.1 assist to turnover ratio.

The passing decisions align with similar flaws in shot selection and overall decision-making. That can be chalked up to the usage and role he was given, but in a secondary role, he will need to be smarter and far more analytic with his offensive choices. The scaling down of that role may be more difficult than it presents considering Tyson physically has all the abilities you can ask for, but there is a mental side. If right now, he is given a small role with room to grow and develop offensively, that could pay dividends for whatever team drafts him.

When looking at players with the usage that JT had at Cal, you can sometimes assume laziness or at least a lackadaisical nature on the little things. However, that is not the case for the 21-year-old wing who is a hard worker and a hellacious rebounder. Over his last two seasons in college basketball, Tyson averaged 6.4 rebounds and had a rebounding percentage of 16.5% which are both impressive for a wing holding his offensive load.

A little more could probably have been asked of Tyson defensively who showed much more on that side of the ball while at Texas Tech. Some of that may come from the effort and energy his offensive toll required, but it does not impact his defensive projection. He averaged over a steal a game each of the last two years with a 2.4% steal percentage throughout his career. The advanced stats are very friendly to Tyson defensively, who was one of three players this season with a 30%> usage rate and had at least a defensive rebounding rating, block rating, and steal rating of 15%, 1%, and 2% respectively.

What those numbers mean in layman’s terms is that he is a valuable defender due to his length and versatility. He is switchable and can guard multiple positions while also being an impactful off-ball defender. He has a knack for getting in passing lanes and has active hands that he can use to get his hands on balls in multiple ways defensively including as a weak side shot blocker given his length and athleticism. The projection for Tyson would be that he is a better defender at the pro level due to the lesser offensive role and good positional size in the Association.

The All-Pac-12 wing built a heckuva resume this season after bouncing around from school to school. Tyson showed what he could do at the college level when given the keys to the car, now he will have to show how he can adjust to a smaller role against higher levels of competition. Whoever drafts Tyson will have the luxury of a player who should be able to contribute immediately while simultaneously having the responsibility to help him develop and grow into a new role.

Jaylon Tyson checks a lot of boxes of typical Leon Rose prospects as he is an older and accomplished college player who works hard and should be able to contribute. Theoretically, Tyson would be able to crack Thibs’ rotation early, as his length would give much-needed depth at the wing. His draft range remains fluid but likely in that very heavily congested back of the first round. Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman reports that Tyson is top 20 on some boards, but is expected to go mid-late first round. The Ringer and ESPN have him a little later going 39th and 31st respectively, but no matter how you slice it, he is a prime candidate right in the range where the Knicks have three selections.

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