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Jalen Hood-Schifino is the type of Lakers guard prospect we haven’t seen in a long time

Jalen Hood-Schifino has shown more natural floor general aptitude than the Lakers have had from a rookie in decades.

2023 NBA Summer League - Los Angeles Lakers v Charlotte Hornets

When the Lakers drafted Jalen Hood-Schifino with the 17th overall pick in the first round of the 2023 NBA draft, they knew they were selecting a 6’5”, 216-pound guard whose sturdy frame, pick-and-roll prowess, midrange shooting, and point-of-attack defense could translate to him being (at least) a quality backcourt rotation player eventually. I’m sure they figured it could take some time — it often does for 20 year old point guards — but the attributes he possessed made him one of the better prospects they were likely to see selected in the range of their pick.

What was less certain, at least from some national observers, was Hood-Schifino’s “fit” within the context of the projected roster he would be joining and, in particular, the team’s superstars he would be playing next to. Again, JHS’ talent wasn’t in doubt, but rather how that talent might be best deployed into a group with as much (potential) guard depth that could block his path to playing time, and high-usage bigs in LeBron James and Anthony Davis that often take the ball out of guards’ hands in favor of their own shot creation (especially James).

Whether you think JHS is a better fit than some might acknowledge at first blush or one who might not be the cleanest plug-and-play option on this specific roster, both sides of the argument are pretty easy to see.

On the one hand, Hood-Schifino’s feel as a passer and ability to play out of the pick-and-roll look like a natural fit with AD and as a complement to Austin Reaves and/or D’Angelo Russell (who was not yet signed when JHS was drafted, but was in the mix to return). He could form a potent duo and play setup man to Davis in the P&R (just as he did in college with Trayce Jackson-Davis), while also eating into some of the offensive initiation duties of Reaves or Russell, allowing them to slide into the second side roles they’ve also done successfully. Add in the potential for JHS (with his size and physical tools) to at the very least compete defensively right away, and the path to playing time — even if limited — looked to be there.

On the other hand, Hood-Schifino’s lack of 3-point shooting in college and few reps as an off-ball player aren’t the cleanest fit on a LeBron-led team. Yes, JHS has the appropriate feel as a passer, which often translates to feel in other aspects of the game. But the ability to space the floor and be a true weakside player who can thrive as a cutter, screener, secondary ball handler and shot creator simply weren’t things JHS had proven he can do (or had to do much of at all). The reason players like Reaves, Russell, and the countless other guards before them (Caruso and KCP most notably in L.A.) have thrived next to LeBron is them finding that niche as an off-ball worker who can make defenses pay for all the attention Bron draws.

Heading into summer league, then, I was looking for the first glimpses of how these open questions might be resolved. Of course we weren’t going to get definitive answers, but we would get more data on the player JHS actually is, and thus we could start to better project how his game actually would fit on a roster that is now more complete than what it was at the time he was drafted back in June.

But, as it is with most things in my life, when I go looking for answers in one specific way, I end up seeing things in an altered light than I expected going in. Because while questions of fit will ultimately be answered once JHS gets meaningful rotation chances with the team’s best players, my mindset has now shifted somewhat from what he can be when trying to contort his game to better fit next to others in favor of him showing flashes of being the type of on-ball player at the point guard position who can (eventually) help slot others into spots that work off of his own game.

And, for the Lakers, that is not just a (possible) change to what they envisioned when drafting him, but an archetype of young guard prospect they’ve not had for quite some time (more on that later).

One of the things that has stood out most to me about JHS is the pace he plays at, and how that translates to his ability to get the team into positions where they can get good looks at the basket — either because he created the shot for himself or for a teammate. He never seems to be in a hurry; even when he’s moving fast, there’s a steadiness to his pace that belies the quickness in which he gets from point A to point B.

At times it’s as if he’s traversing around the court on one of those airport motorized walkways, moving with an earnest effortlessness that stands out for both its effectiveness and its efficiency. He combines this pace with what I refer to as a strong “functional handle” where he’s able to go left or right to get to his spots with ease and does so without a reliance on fancy dribble combos to shake his man.

One of the plays that JHS has shown most comfortable making is the cross-court pass to a shooter out of the P&R. Hood-Schifino seems to grasp the help responsibilities of all the defensive parties involved and has consistently done a good job of coming off picks, getting into the teeth of the defense where he’s threatening both the hedging/dropping big man via his ability to hit the pull-up jumper, and the weakside help who has tag responsibilities on the roll man.

JHS has consistently made the read to punish the weakside tag by spraying the ball to the opposite side of the court to set up a teammate for an open jumper.

He’s also done a really good job of showing how to leverage the threat of a ball screen to get downhill and work in more isolation actions. Here he declines the ball screen to dart to the hoop with his left hand. On his way, he keeps the helping big attached as he lurches closer to the restricted area. Once there, he turns down a potential shot at the rim to create another open corner three to a teammate.

Getting into the midrange (where he’s flashed the same ability he showed in college to score with good efficiency on his pull-up) or to the basket are steps one and two for JHS when operating out of the P&R, but the shot he’ll really need to knock down to be a high-level on-ball player is the pull-up 3-pointer when defenders either lay off him or go under screens.

Here, JHS takes the handoff and sees that his man has ducked under the pick to meet him in the midrange. Instead of barreling towards the rim and rewarding that defender’s choice, JHS pulls away and steps back behind the arc to take an off-the-bounce triple that he buries.

Beyond the craft that JHS has shown as a halfcourt operator, some of the reads he’s made in transition have also really stood out. Here, after a steal got the Lakers into the open court, Hood-Schifino gets the ball on the left side and heads towards the basket waiting for the defense to help inform his decision to either pass or shoot. As he gets closer to the basket, the defense converges and while he probably could have elevated in an attempt to score in traffic, he holds the ball an extra beat, eyes a potential pass to the corner for a 3-pointer, but instead throws a drop pass to the trailer for an easy finish at the rim.

Not since Nick Van Exel have the Lakers drafted an on-ball point guard quite like Hood-Schifino; one who looks most comfortable running a team’s offense and being the primary initiator rather than playing second fiddle to a teammate as the main organizer and shot creator. Both the Kobe and LeBron era teams have preferred more off-ball types who defer shot creation to those bigger wings, while both D-Lo and Lonzo Ball were more combo guards who split time between working on and off the ball.

JHS though, looks to be in the mold of point guard who will organize a team while having others play off of him; a player whose skill set has been replicated in veterans like Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash, but not in the young guys who would purport to be future floor generals. Of course, he has a long way to go in order to be that type of guard. But the fact that he’s of that mold at all is a shift for this Lakers team and opens up possibilities rarely considered for a roster that has LeBron James on it.

You can follow Darius on Twitter at @forumbluegold.

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