So initially I planned to talk about a few players here, but when I realized I had written over 1,000 words on the first one I decided to break things up a bit and limit this post to my single most underrated prospect. I’d try to build up the suspense, but I imagine the photo gives it away—that player is Jordan Bell. Most mock drafts seem to place Bell in the 25-40 range. He’d be in my top 10.
If you missed my post a few days ago explaining what I value in a prospect and why someone like Bell is naturally higher on my draft board than others, feel free to check it out here. Otherwise, keep reading for a lot more on Jordan Bell.
Jordan Bell (Oregon) – 22.4 years old, 6’8.5” 224 pounds, 6’11.75” wingspan
Comp: cross between Andre Roberson and Josh Smith
Pop quiz: Who led the NBA playoffs in blocks per game? Rudy Gobert? Serge Ibaka? DeAndre Jordan? The answer is actually Andre Roberson, who tied for the lead in steals per game as well. Roberson was an odd prospect—a guy who averaged over 20 rebounds per 100 possessions as Colorado’s de facto Center but who, at 6’7” and 206 pounds, was widely considered an undersized Power Forward at the NBA level and a likely mid- to late 2nd round pick. The Thunder saw him differently, however, and took a chance on him at the end of the first round. Now, four years later, Roberson has established himself as one of the league’s best wing defenders, splitting his time almost evenly between SG and SF over the course of his career.
Along the same lines, I think many scouts and front offices are skeptical of Jordan Bell’s pro potential because they view him as an undersized PF/C, standing 6’9″ with an sub-7’ wingspan and 8’8.5” standing reach. Despite Bell’s outstanding Tournament performance overall, it’s easy to focus on the negative—the enduring memory of him failing to box out UNC’s massive front line with a trip to the NCAA Championship Game hanging in the balance.
But rather than seeing Bell as a smallish Power Forward or Center, why not think of him as a powerful Small Forward? In my mind your position is defined by who you can defend, and in that respect, I’d consider Bell less a 4/5 and more a 3/4/5, or maybe a 3/4/2/5, depending on the matchups. I wouldn’t want him chasing a shooter around screens all night or battling a legit low post presence, but otherwise his combination of quick feet, quick hands, upper-body strength, explosiveness, timing as a shot-blocker, and uber-competitiveness allows him to frustrate just about any opposing player. He’d essentially be a perfect complement to the archetypal stretch-4-with-underwhelming-defense, taking on the tougher assignment at Forward each night.
Scouts’ other concern with Bell is a supposedly underdeveloped offensive skill set, particularly his lack of an outside jumper, though I think this criticism is overblown. Despite rarely and ineffectively taking shots outside 17 feet—according to DraftExpress he went 3-for-20 on such attempts this year—Bell demonstrates a pretty good feel for the offensive end, based on his work as a screener, passer, dive man, and short- to medium-range scorer. Per hoop-math, Bell has converted 47.5% of his 2-point attempts away from the rim over the past 2 seasons (47/99), primarily off of short jumpers, hooks, and flip shots inside 15 feet.
The most intriguing aspect of Bell’s offensive arsenal is his potential as a roll man in high pick-and-roll sets. Oregon ran this only sporadically, but with excellent results. What I’m referring to is the play the Warriors famously execute with Draymond Green as the roll man, where he sets a screen for the ball-handler up top, most often Curry, and when his defender commits to trapping or hedging, Draymond receives the pass and essentially leads a 4-on-3 mini-break. From there, the roll man’s options include (a) taking the ball to the rim, (b) pulling up for a short jumper, (c) drawing the attention of the rim protector before dishing it off or throwing a lob for an easy layup, and (d) quickly surveying the court, pivoting, and finding an open shooter behind the arc. Bell already possesses the skills to do each of these things as well as or better than the average screener. The ability to execute option (d) tends to be the most elusive and arguably most crucial to running the play effectively, and here are a couple examples of Bell pulling it off seamlessly, courtesy of DraftExpress:
For certain stretches Bell became more involved as a facilitator in Oregon’s offense, including this past February when Bell tallied 26 assists to just 6 turnovers over the course of 8 conference games. Admittedly it’s a very small sample, and Bell has been rather turnover-prone at times when he’s tried to act more as a shot creator, but there are Guards who’ve never put up numbers like that as a distributor, over any length of time. Another positive sign for Bell’s continued offensive development is his improved free throw shooting, which climbed up from around 50% to 70% this year.
Bell does have a frustrating tendency to slip the pick too early when setting screens, in search of an easy finish diving to the rim, but I think that’s easily correctable. The fact that he’s so active in setting screens is more of a positive than his flawed technique is a negative.
And then of course there’s Bell’s defense, his calling card, which warrants a bit more discussion. A couple days ago I wrote about the importance of defensive versatility and a few stats that portend NBA defensive success, represented by the acronym BOSS—Blocks, O-Rebounds, Steals, and Steals (for emphasis). Bell excels in each of these areas. The last NCAA player to post similarly high numbers in each category was Gorgui Dieng, who now rates as one of the NBA’s top defenders according to Real Plus-Minus and Box Plus-Minus.
To get a better sense of what makes Jordan Bell such a standout defender, take a look at this video of his 8 blocks against Kansas in the Elite Eight:
What stands out most to me is his lightness on his feet. Despite his size and strength, he somehow always has his weight forward rather than on his heels, which allows him to change directions or jump much more quickly than you’d expect. In addition, he has exceptional closing speed, timing, and coordination with either hand. Bell’s ability to forcefully contest shots with his non-dominant (left) hand makes up for his relatively unimpressive reach, as he’s always able to take the shortest path to the ball. Notice how 7 of those 8 blocks are with his left hand.
Bell’s quick feet also enable him to defend the perimeter effectively, which he’s often demonstrated on switches. Unlike most rim protectors, Bell clearly relishes his opportunities to defend quick ball-handlers out near the 3-point line. You can see how comfortably he takes on those assignments at about the 23-second mark of the above video, when he’s guarding Frank Mason III before helping at the rim. That Swiss-army-knife matchup ability is so incredibly valuable at the next level, where he’ll be able to cover up teammates’ defensive shortcomings and deny open looks through aggressive switching and recovery.