Welcome to our Lakers Season Preview Series! For the next several weeks, we’ll be writing columns every weekday, breaking down the biggest questions we have about every player on the Lakers roster. Today, we take a look at Jalen Hood-Schifino.
With Jalen Hood-Schifino entering his rookie season, he might be dreaming of a Magic Johnson-esque start to his career: Donning the purple and gold and playing a key role in the Lakers winning a title. However, even with L.A. entering the season as a legit contender, that’s not the most likely outcome for the 6’5 guard.
The University of Indiana alumn was selected with the No. 17 pick by the Lakers in this year’s draft, which is already a vote of confidence from Jesse Buss (head of the Lakers scouting department) as the team was initially trying to trade the pick for an asset that can help immediately.
But can Hood-Schifino help right away, or is he destined for a pseudo “redshirt” season in the pros?
What is his best-case scenario?
If Hood-Schifino shines in pick-and-roll actions with the Laker bigs, plays well as a point-of-attack defender and knocks down the occasional three, he could end up replicating Max Christie’s rookie campaign and playing in nearly half of the Lakers games while averaging double-digits to low teens in minutes played.
Now, while that may not sound like a glamourous situation, this team is (on paper) stacked and minutes will be hard to come by, so for a rookie to average double-digit minutes would be an indicator of a very good prospect who likely has a bright future in this league.
In Summer League, Hood-Schifino demonstrated some of that promise, averaging 11.7 points, 3 assists, and 4.2 rebounds a game while running the Lakers offense. In his first preseason game against the Golden State Warriors, he only scored 7 points in his 23-minute shift, but what stood out was his fearlessness.
He was relentlessly attacking the basket and staying aggressive. He took 11 shots — the second most on the team — and even though he struggled in shooting 27% from the floor, it was good to see him undeterred and continuing to run the offense with confidence. That energy is something Ham has already spoken fondly of with JHS, as he mentioned him as one of the early standouts of training camp.
What is his worst-case scenario?
What if JHS joins the long lineage of Lakers guards who can’t shoot?
In college, he averaged 33.3% from long range, but in Summer League, that number dipped to 21.7% and in his first taste of preseason basketball, he went 1-4 from deep. If he can’t shoot at least in the 30s percentage-wise, that might be enough to discourage Ham from giving Hood-Schifino much run. The Lakers need their guards to defend well and shoot respectably enough to spread the floor and keep defenders honest.
If you have a rookie out there that teams don’t take seriously creating a clogged-up paint, you won’t see much JHS in 2023-24.
Trayce Jackson-Davis blocks former Hoosier teammate, Jalen Hood-Schifino pic.twitter.com/GooMrxDOqO— Alex Golden (@AlexGoldenNBA) October 8, 2023
On any LeBron James-led team, you have to be good off-ball. At IU, Hood-Schifino didn’t get much time in that setting, so how he’ll perform is somewhat unknown. What if he struggles? Just ball-watching, unable to create passing lanes or free himself up to receive the ball in advantageous spots. This aspect of his game will be something to watch at the start of the season.
Defense is one of the hardest things to practice at the NBA level because you need the reps against actual professionals to get accustomed to the speed and handle the strength. The Lakers ended last year with a defensive rating of 113.9, good for 11th best in the NBA. Hood-Schifino will have to prove that he can hold up his end of the defensive responsibilities against the best guards in the West and the occasional wing.
Can he do that at an elite level, or will he be targeted and run off the floor? Ham emphasizes defensive importance at every opportunity when talking with the media and his rotations back up those words. If JHS can’t defend well, he’ll be riding the bench most of the season.
What is his most likely role this season?
I imagine we’ll get closer to the best-case scenario for Hood-Schifino in 2023-24. He’ll show signs of promise, get some run in garbage time or when the guard lineup is thin due to injuries or rest, and have the occasional stint in the G-League for the South Bay Lakers, where he’ll look too good to be playing there.
If JHS gets significant minutes on this team, then that’s likely a bad sign. Either the Lakers are dealing with significant injuries to their most important players, or the guards are playing so poorly that Ham is opting to give significant run to a 20-year-old rookie in LeBron’s year 21 of NBA action.
Patience will be required for JHS from himself and fans alike as he navigates his first season of professional basketball. He’s not a draft and stash player, but he needs more time in the oven before Ham can cook with him fully.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.