Jordan Bell: To the NBA or Not to the NBA?

Oregon fans have rarely, if ever seen a player like Jordan Bell, but the NBA is filled with them. Long and athletic, a leaper, passer, terrific pick-setter with a high basketball IQ and a guy who finishes well on the break. If he had a proven low post game or a 12-foot jumper he’d be a sure-fire NBA 1st-round pick. But Bell doesn’t have either of those and that’s why he’s a 2nd-round pick on most draft boards.

The NBA game has become about four or five things. The NBA game comes down to running and defending the Pick and Roll offense, scoring or defending in one-on-one isolation situations, shooting off a screen or pick or a pick and roll, running the break and creating mismatches that teams have to compensate for, so more limited players can get shots. Bell can do a few of those things, but the limitations put him in a similar spot as Dillon Brooks. Fighting for one of the last 3-4 spots in the first round. And as we said last week, if you don’t go on the 1st round, you shouldn’t leave early. I give Bell more than a 50/50 chance of being back. Here’s why:

Bell’s strength around the rim is terrific. Photo Credit: Gary Breedlove

Bell is a defensive dream for a lot of franchises. His length and leaping ability mean he can guard the bigger 3’s or the smaller 4’s in the NBA. And there are a lot of those kinds of players to guard. Bell rebounds tremendously well and has learned to block shots without simply knocking them out of bounds. He’s got a little Bill Walton in his game now where he tries to block it up court to start the break. He’s done that a few times in the last few months.

Bell also did something in the Arizona game I hadn’t seen him do. He threw an overhead half-court outlet pass in stride out front to Tyler Dorsey who took it straight to the rim and kicked it out for a wide open look for another trailer. Very nice. NBA scouts will love that.

Offensively, Bell has become a very good passer out of the block. This might be the most improved part of his game. He feels the defender and has good timing to catch the wing or guard on their way down to him with a pass to the man they’ve left, leaving good time for someone to get off the shot. He also hits guys in the shooting pocket more often than not. Entire offensive sets are often ruined when someone throws a pass at the waist or away from someone so they can’t catch and shoot in rhythm. Defenders in the NBA recover in a heartbeat and with their length they don’t have to be up on the shooters to block or bother the shot. Passers like Bell are important.

What Bell lacks is a proven low-post game. He backs a few guys down, has a little hook shot and can get guys off their feet. At the next level he’ll have to grow those things a lot. His up and under game doesn’t exist yet and he hasn’t proven he can consistently hit a 12-15 foot jumper off the pick-and-roll. Honestly, he has so many good qualities that if  all he did was practice shooting 2,000 jumpers a day in the pick-and-roll with Dorsey, he could play for years in the NBA. Dorsey working on his pick-and-roll game and Bell doing the same would elevate them both.

Bell’s next step is to develop a consistent jumper in the Pick-and-Roll game.
Photo Credit: Gary Breedlove

Lots of draft boards out there, of course. The latest look like this. Bell goes 42nd to the Charlotte Hornets? If so, he shouldn’t go. Again, the 2018 draft is a bit softer and he could be a 1st-round pick then. DraftExpress has him going 45th to the Philadelphia 76’ers.

This continues almost everywhere you look and honestly, they’re right. Here’s another where he goes 40th. But … if Bell can prove he has a Pick-and-Pop jumper from the elbow in the Pre-Draft camps, he could move up to the edge of the 1st round. Then he’s got a decision to make. Until then, just like Brooks, we can only hope he gets good advice and sticks around rather than go in the 2nd round.

Second-rounders don’t make it more than a couple years in the NBA. And again, 80% of them never really get on the court. First-round picks have guaranteed contracts, so they’re all but guaranteed a roster spot. Most teams will send a 2nd-round pick to Europe or ask them to play in the NBDL. Returning to play for Oregon is probably a lot better for his game, his career – and, honestly – his life. If Bell’s going to Europe or Asia, he can do it after he graduates and tries to become a 1st-round pick with that 3-year guaranteed deal.

If Brooks and Bell both return, Oregon’s a lock for a pre-season top-10 spot with everyone else they’ll return and Troy Brown showing up this summer. (Let alone Brandon McCoy.)

Bob Rickert
Portland, Oregon

Top photo credit Craig Strobeck

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