Drafted by: San Antonio Spurs, 58th pick overall
Traded to: Philadelphia 76ers for Nemanja Dangubic
Height/Weight: 6'5", 179 lbs
Age: 23 years old
Projected NBA Position: Shooting guard
Pro Comparison: Jeremy Lamb
Twitter Handle: @JordyMac52
Four years at Tennessee ended up being four years well spent for Jordan McRae.
Although he received just minimal playing time as a freshman and was more of an afterthought the year after that, McRae became a featured scorer during each of his final two seasons in Knoxville. He was particularly impressive during his senior year, carrying the offensive load while developing into a vocal leader for the Volunteers.
It was enough for him to work his way onto draft boards, despite his lanky frame and lack of strength. Given his all-around knack for finding the bottom of the net, that shouldn't be even remotely surprising.
McRae, now 23 years old, doesn't have the perceived upside of other similarly skilled players in this class, but he should emerge as a potential second-round gem, assuming no one takes an early risk on him during the June 26 proceedings.
|Statistics at Tennessee|
Size? Check. Athleticism? Check. Strength? McRae might not be able to hold up the pencil long enough to fill in that last box.
While the Tennessee product has the prototypical size for the shooting guard position—especially with his impressive wingspan that measured in at 7'0.5" at the NBA Draft Combine, per NBA.com's database—and can jump through the roof, he's one of the weaker players in this class, prone to getting pushed around. It's tough for him to assert himself on the interior, and the lack of physicality works against him defensively as well.
That said, the overall physical tools are still positive.
Not many shooting guards have this much length, nor can many showcase his brand of smooth athleticism. He doesn't stand out as a leaper or speed demon, but he plays with fluidity. His lateral quickness isn't elite, but that's the only actual knock on his movement.
If he can bulk up without sacrificing his quickness or hops, he'll stand out even more as a physical specimen for the 2-guard position.
Overall Scoring Ability
McRae can flat-out score the ball.
Though his shooting form is rather unorthodox, with the ball situated right around his forehead on most shot releases, it's managed to remain effective during the latter portion of his collegiate career. Developing more consistency on that stroke is of paramount importance at the next level, but McRae already has an extremely quick release that allows him to score in a wide variety of jump-shooting situations.
But he can also put the ball in the basket as an athletic slasher and a player who can create some looks for himself off the bounce. As Matt Kamalsky writes for DraftExpress.com, he manages to counter his scoring weaknesses with more strengths:
McRae was relatively more effective attacking off the dribble and scoring around the rim this season than he was spotting up outside. He made a very good 40% of his pull-up jump shots this season, but finished at only a slightly above average 53.9% clip around the rim, as he sometimes struggles with contact with his narrow frame and struggled with the lack of spacing created by Tennessee's two centers inside. McRae is not a great ball-handler or one-on-one scorer, but showed the ability to use ball screens to get a step on his defender where his rangy strides help him find angles to the rim and room to stop and pop and pull-up over when he sees daylight.
It's not particularly easy to average 18.7 points per game while spending just over 32 minutes on the court during the average contest. But that's exactly what McRae did during his senior season at Tennessee.
As a scorer, he's distinguished himself rather significantly from the limited player who first came to Knoxville in 2010.
Though McRae is prone to shooting slumps, he never loses his confidence.
That's the benefit of spending four years playing college basketball and facing just about every situation imaginable. McRae has seen and done it all, which makes the moments like the ones he faced near the end of his career seem nondescript. Let's not forget about games like his 24-point outing against Michigan in the NCAA tournament, one that featured a spirited comeback that showcased his mental toughness, though it ultimately fell short.
When he first came to Tennessee, he was a player who relied on athletic gifts, often finding himself in disadvantageous situations. But he's gained plenty of mental smarts throughout his time, and the above-the-neck game is actually a strength now.
Additionally, McRae became more and more of a leader with the Vols.
He went from being suspended as a freshman for a verbal altercation with a teammate to using that same mouth to inspire his team when the going got tough. It helped that he scored more points per game as a senior than he did throughout the cumulative efforts of his entire first go-round, but his leadership was invaluable as well.
It's worth noting the major difference between "defensive potential" and "defensive effectiveness."
Right now, McRae still isn't a standout stopper, unless he's able to match up solely against other shooting guards. He doesn't have the lateral quickness to keep up with squirrelly point guards, nor does he have the strength to bang around with frontcourt players.
However, that can change.
McRae consistently showed good instincts when jumping passing lanes and timing shot contests on both the interior and the perimeter, which bodes well for his future. So, too, does that lanky frame, as his incredible wingspan allows him to insert himself in far more plays than he would otherwise.
He's already an active defender, one who loves getting right up in another player's jersey and providing tough on-ball work. That type of engagement is something that can't be taught.
As long as he's able to gain a bit of strength, he'll become a quality—and versatile—defender at the sport's highest level.
As you've probably gathered by now, strength is an issue.
Not only does it hinder his defensive game, keeping him from bodying up against the bigger players he'd otherwise have the size to guard, but it also prevents him from finishing around the basket as often as a player with his athleticism should. Basically, it limits him to a smaller role in the NBA.
But that's not the only weakness, even if the weakness itself is indeed the biggest weakness.
McRae also needs to tighten up his offensive game by becoming a more capable ball-handler rather than looking stiff when he has possession of the rock. Developing more consistency with his shooting form would do wonders for him as well.
Both of these issues keep him from looking like more than a role player with an offensive speciality right off the bat, as it's too easy for the talented defenders in the Association to just step up the pressure a smidgen. Tight on-ball defense can lead to turnovers, and sticking with him around screens means he'll rush his delivery even more, thereby losing any consistency he would've otherwise possessed.
Finally, there's the issue of his age.
Younger players tend to get more hype in the draft, and for good reason. McRae is already 23 years old, which limits his potential upside, as well as the time a team can control him before his impressive athleticism begins to decline.
McRae has the tools to come in and make a minor impact as a rookie. He'll just be limited to a small role off the bench. Think of him as an incredibly raw version of Jamal Crawford, one without the same type of ball-handling skills and devastating crossover.
Crawford averaged 4.6 points, 1.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game as a rookie, and that should be pretty similar to the expectations for this Tennessee product. He's simply not strong enough to withstand the rigors of an 82-game NBA season if he receives much more playing time.
Will he be efficient? Nope.
But the hot shooting streaks and highlight-reel dunks will be enough to keep him on the court, albeit in small doses.
Though he'll never be a star player, McRae has the tools necessary to become a key rotation member a few years down the road. Maybe even a mid-tier starter at the 2 if he's able to shore up the primary weaknesses, though his age necessitates immediate improvement, as younger players will always be gunning for his job.
The former Vol is fully capable of making a two-way impact, and that will serve him well down the road, especially once he's adjusted to the speed of the NBA.
But still, it's all about strength, and McRae's narrow frame limits how much weight and muscle he can put on without sacrificing the athleticism and quickness that makes him a special offensive player. Because of that, a truly large role is never in the cards, as he'd be forced to undergo too much wear and tear throughout the lengthy NBA campaign.