The Utah Jazz negotiations and subsequent trade of star Donovan Mitchell has been THE TALK of the offseason. Mitchell and Durant’s “availability”, the latter’s status questionable in retrospect, collectively halted the NBA offseason.
The trade was finalized in early September, sending Donovan to the Cleveland Cavaliers for 3 unprotected future 1st round picks (‘25, ‘27, ‘29), 2 unprotected 1st round swaps (‘26, ‘28), guard Collin Sexton on a new 4 yr deal, big Lauri Markkanen, and recent lottery pick Ochai Agbaji.
What. A. Haul.
Collin Sexton et Ochai Agbaji sont bien arrivés à Salt Lake City pic.twitter.com/U8Ywsrv29j— 50 Nuances (@50NuancesDeNBA) September 9, 2022
With Collin Sexton’s 3rd season stat line (25.5 pts, 3.3 reb, 4.6 ast per 75 poss on league average true shooting: 57%), Lauri Markkanen balling out in EuroBasket, and the excitement around rookie Ochai Agbaji, it’s only semi-crazy to think “The Donovan Mitchell Trade” could be rebranded at some point.
Sexton and Markkanen have been around a block and we have an idea of who there are. Sexton is a Mitchell-Lite on an excellent contract while Markkanen is an active, stretch big with some ball skills. With the right coaching and opportunity, these pieces can hit their potential and complement what’s reported as a quick rebuild.
Spence asks Tony to guess which current Jazz player will have the longest tenure:— Dunzo (@Dunzod) September 9, 2022
"Ochai Agbaji. If the Jazz had a 1RP, he would of been at or near the top of their draft board. The front office really really liked him and he's the type of 2 way athletic wing they haven't had"
Ochai Agbaji is the wildcard and unknown here. The organization is certainly high on him and insisted he be included in the deal with Cleveland. Let’s dive into more about Ochai and what the future might hold for him in the NBA.
Ochai Agbaji is...
A 6’-5” guard with a 6’-10” wingspan, sporting a 210 lb frame. He heralds from Kansas City where he played 4 years of college ball at the University of Kansas.
The Cleveland Cavaliers selected him 14th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft. Take a look at his draft video!
He comes from a pedigree of basketball with both parents playing at the collegiate level. He led Kansas to a National Championship and was awarded the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. His growth from an underrated recruit to winning impact player to lottery pick is exceptional.
But at 22 years of age (just 7 months younger than Collin Sexton, for perspective), what is reasonable to expect with Agbaji? Generally speaking, 4 year college players are often evaluated with a lower ceiling.
Let’s take a look holistically.
Ochai was a standout shooter in his final season with Kansas. He developed proficiency from all angles around the arch on terrific efficiency (40.7%). A quick look at his free throw efficiency of 74% further supports him as a great shooter.
Digging into the previous college years where he shot a low of 30% from 3 (Freshman) and a low of 67% from the line (Sophomore) paint a different picture. Is that season an outliner? How good of a shooter is he really?
Going back to high school, he attempted a lot of 3’s (0.335 attempt rate) on 37%. He got to the line often (0.520 attempt rate) and sunk on 78%. His overall college numbers saw him shooting a ton of 3’s (0.509 attempt rate) on 37% and some decent free throws (0.236 attempt rate) on 71%.
Mechanically, the shot is there. Consensus is a smooth motion, high release, varied shot difficulty and situation. He looks the part and has demonstrated the part at points.
Jazz fans should expect a league average shooter on high volume at worst with a good amount of potential for more.
Ochai has the build of an athlete. Lean, muscular frame with size and length. He recorded a 42” vertical at the NBA Draft combine and has been recognized for his long stride and speed.
The collegiate game is notorious for poor spacing and clogged driving lanes. Superior athleticism can be demonstrated in proficiency at the rim. Last season, Ochai scored at a 10.4% better clip than average and 8.8% better in the paint/non-restricted area.
A look at his high school mixtape confirms what was seen at the collegiate level. He can fly high, get around, and over guys.
His handle lacks some wiggle and shift but he’s more than competent handling the ball despite his propensity for turnovers.
All indications are Ochai is a good on-ball defender thanks to his frame, length, and athleticism. He’s touted as very switchable. He isn’t exceptionally active at forcing turnovers or blocking shots but much of that production is dependent on the team’s defensive system.
He’s often caught in a poor stance and is prone to lose some focus. There’s opportunities to improve as an off-ball defender but he has the tools and a reputation already.
I like to think of player comps a little different than most. The fact is most players rarely hit their best or worst case outcomes. In fact, there’s a spectrum of outcomes with different likelihoods. Doesn’t mean that any single outcome can’t happen but certain ones are most likely.
Fellow Jazz fan Riley Gisseman communicated a similar point in a fun visual below:
So I eyeballed how I felt the Jazz prospects (and Victor/Scoot) could play out in terms of potential, then threw in the empirical data from 538's RAPTOR to get value distribution of certain *types* of picks, then threw the two together and was shocked to see how well they fit. pic.twitter.com/JlNISBLCKH— Riley (@rgiss11) August 31, 2022
For this exercise, let’s think about Ochai’s 75%tile, 50%tile, and 25%tile outcomes and what those compare to in today’s players.
75%tile Comparison | Desmond Bane
A painful name for Jazz fans who were disheartened when Utah passed on him in the ## draft. Bane was a standout rookie who exploded into the Memphis Grizzlies’ 3rd best player in his second campaign, demonstrating more off the dribble and playmaking prowess to compliment his excellent shooting and defense.
Last season Bane posted 21.9 pts, 5.3 reb, 3.3 ast per 75 poss with a +2.6% adjusted true shooting. That’s an exceptional year!
Bane measured at 6’-5” height, 6’-4” wingspan, 216 lbs coming into the draft. He had better and more consistent high school and collegiate shooting numbers than Ochai Agbaji.
They were evaluated pre-draft as comparable ball handlers with Bane as better playmaker.
The consensus was Bane lacked the the physical tools whereas Ochai possesses the ideal frame and athleticism for a scalable NBA player.
Bane has certainly hit his higher outcomes and Ochai could do the same. Similar players in this vein are Cameron Johnson of the Phoenix Suns and Lonzo Ball of the Chicago Bulls. He’s got work to do to hit these outcomes but it’s not impossible.
50%tile Comparison | Saddiq Bey
Saddiq Bey landed on a rebuilding, rudder-less Detroit Pistons and instantly produced. It was clear he wasn’t a franchise piece but now with Cade Cunningham drafted and upcoming seasons for Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, Bey’s role will soon be defined.
In a second season featuring some role adjustments incorporating Cunningham, Saddiq logged 17.9 pts, 6.0 rbs, 3.2 ast per 75 poss on disappointing efficiency of -3.7% adjusted true shooting.
Bey had worst high school shooting numbers and similar collegiate shooting marks to Agbaji. He’s carried that into an NBA reputation as a proficient deep-ball shooter.
As a draft prospect, he was evaluated as a comparable defender and ball handler with more demonstrated playmaking. Athleticism was a downside for Bey out of college but was heralded for his motor on both ends.
Bey became a full-time starter in his second season and will compete for that job against a top 5 prospect and pick in Jaden Ivey. Worst case scenario he profiles as a good starter for a good team or elite 6th man for a talented/great one.
For an “average” (50%tile) outcome, Ochai Agbaji could do a lot worse than Saddiq Bey.
25%tile Comparison | Justin Holiday
Justin Holiday has been in the league 9 seasons as an undrafted player. At 6’-6”, 7’-0” wingspan, and 180 lbs out of college, he was not selected due to concerns of no shooting, a slight frame, and little defensive chops.
Obviously, that’s turned around in a big way. He’s not a flashy name, but he’s cemented his role as a bench player contributing in a lot of areas. Splitting time with the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings later year, he put up 8.9 pts, 2.2 rbs, 1.5 ast per 50 poss with -1.4% adjusted true shooting.
Justin was a far worse shooter in high school and college with few attempts and poor efficiency. He worked on it through his NBA career and is a capable, league average shooter on fair volume.
His frame has improved and scaled nicely to the NBA over time but Ochai is already there.
To hit this outcome, Ochai’s shot would have to translate to just an average shooter and the defense to regress into a player who can’t apply their athleticism and frame to neutralize opponents on ball.
A 9 year rotation player would still absolutely be a win even if there was potential for more.
Ochai Figuring into the Team
It’s an excellent sign that the Utah Jazz front office and coaching staff are high on Agbaji. He profiles to start some guys and be a staple of the bench rotation during various points of the season.
The degree to which his opportunities will expand depends on the team moving their flurry of veteran guards or just outright sitting them. Conley, Clarkson, and Beasley are in trade talks as we speak. None figure predominantly into Utah’s future so it would seem prudent to move on from them.
Initially, we should expect Jared Butler and Ochai Agbaji to lead the 2nd unit but should things unfold favorably in production and opportunity, Ochai could be starting often to exclusively by season’s end.
I’m personally most excited to see a lineup of Sexton-Agbaji-Fontecchio-Markkanen-Vanderbilt. That groups profiles to have loads of length, athleticism, and shooting. Playmaking and creation are the question marks that increase the intrigue.
Ochai is touted as a 3&D guy and profiles as such from all perspectives. However, the league is transitioning from pure 3&D players and requiring an extra “D”...driving. Zach Lowe of ESPN discussed this idea on a recent episode of his podcast.
It’s not enough to stand in the corner and hit a C&S 3 while covering a featured offensive option for the opponent. We saw it with Royce O’Neale that 3&D only impacted the game so far. The ability to build off an advantage by attacking a closeout and playmaking is where things are headed for this archetype.
The best comps for Ochai are that type. The ball doesn’t stop and advantage evaporate on a solid closeout. Bane, Johnson, and Ball are all demonstrating more and making teams that much better for it.
He has the tools and it’ll be exciting to see what he can make of them.